Big problems can either trap you into inaction, or give you lots of room to make change.
Hiring a diverse team is just that kind of thorny problem. If Black students are more likely to fall behind in grade school math and those who make it to college engineering schools are more likely to drop out, then it figures that Black people are underrepresented in STEM fields.
If you hire technical talent, especially in a big, diverse American city, you could look at centuries of systemic racism and decades of misaligned policies and say it’s too big a problem to confront. You could then build a mostly white and mostly male staff and try to build products for an increasingly diversifying world.
Or you can get to work.
“Where are you casting your net?” That’s how Uva Coles puts it. She’s the diversity, equity and inclusion strategist who built a career around heady workforce development issues from a perch inside higher education. This summer she launched an inclusion consulting firm called Inclusiva to help companies build workforce solutions.
For Coles, to address a systemic problem, you have to have systemic solutions. That means investing at every level of this thorny gap.
Look at the long road being taken by custom software development firm Promptworks, headquartered in Center City Philadelphia. Founded by three white male software engineers, the 32-person company now funds youth STEM programs, maintains relationships with differently experienced developers and has invested widely in where it hires talent.
“If your network doesn’t change, you won’t change,” said Nicole Phoenix, the firm’s operations and community engagement coordinator. Adds her coworker Jess McManus, a talent acquisition specialist: “That includes working with kids, considering nonlinear career paths and where we tell our story.”
Insight from Coles and the case study from Promptworks became the heart of this week’s episode of The TWIJ Show, Technical.ly’s weekly interview series on building better companies.
- Read these six ways to make your hiring process more inclusive. This is the most visceral and direct place that many tech firms still struggle. Find other tips here. As McManus put it: “Look at your habits; don’t just copy and paste what you did before.” Coles added: “Contrast credentials with competencies.”
- Have a diversity committee (in fact, find here tips on doing that better), but this is a far deeper problems. “You have to invest in the pipeline from the very beginning,” Coles said.
- Push your company to do more. If you don’t feel aligned with company leadership, agitate for more. That can include finding investments in youth programming and also communities that are welcoming to and those that are built for professionals of color. As McManus put it: “Attitude reflects leadership.”
- If you don’t have the workforce you need, what are you doing about it? This brings to mind the private companies that have built apprenticeship programs — and even outright academies like the one run by Power Home Remodeling, a construction services firm with an outsized investment in software and product.
- Retention plays a longterm role. Just as any SaaS company knows to combat churn of clients, so too must companies see employee retention. To do so diversely means building a workplace of inclusion. As Phoenix put it: Black women and other candidates from underrepresented backgrounds have reached out to her to get “the real deal” about her workplace. What is the “real deal” feedback about your company? Does it help, or hurt your diversity efforts?
- Put your plans into writing and be transparent. Update your staff; publish them publicly. Make commitments and goals. Stick to them. Draft policies for inclusion. As Coles put it: “Inclusivity is an invitation or a signaling what isn’t welcome.”