Top Tips for Hiring Diverse Teams

A smiling pink heart

Like many women in tech, I sometimes get asked how companies can recruit a more diverse team. It’s no secret that the tech world is very male-dominated. While I don’t have a magic bullet, I have my own experience of seeking employment in the tech industry, and consequently I have a few opinions on what companies could be doing better in order to attract more diverse applicants. As in so many cases, making something better for a minority of people also has the bonus effect of making it better for everyone. So there’s really no excuse not to be proactive on this.

Please note, these tips specifically relate to my experience as a female front-end developer in a male-dominated field. I am aware that diversity encompasses much more than that, and that people of colour, trans people, LGBTQ+ people and those with disabilities frequently experience discrimination, and to greater degrees. I can only speak to my own experiences, but if you are a person from a marginalised group and would like to add your voice to this article, feel free to reach out and I will be more than happy to make some edits.

So, here are my top tips for hiring (and retaining!) diverse teams:

Acknowledge the problem

If you’ve read this far, congratulations – you’re probably someone who cares about having a diverse team, and that’s the first step! Many people don’t want to ackowledge the issue at all, and don’t see having a team dominated by young, white males as a problem. There are lots of reasons why we should care, but one of them is that hiring only people with similar life experiences to you, is at best limiting and at worst outright dangerous. A team with a restricted collective experience is less likely to spot problems, oversights or design issues that impact those with different life experiences and, as a consequence, is more likely to perpetuate these problems by implementing inconsiderate products.

Be an ally

Recruiting diversely isn’t always easy in the tech industry, as the pool of candidates is overwhelmingly white and male. But companies who care about diversity, and are actively making an effort to attract and retain a diverse workforce feel far more welcoming than the ones that look (from the outside) like an all boys club. Companies that are, mentoring, sponsoring and advocating for minorities in tech are more attractive, and those that are visibly putting into practice anti-discrimination policies (e.g. in their job descriptions) and stamping out bad behaviour are even better.

Go along to meetups (without an agenda) – listen to people’s experiences. Don’t expect them to have all the answers, but make them part of the discussion. Don’t expect a flood of candidates overnight, but cultivate a long-term culture that makes your company attractive to people from all backgrounds.

Do you really need all those “requirements”?

Studies show that women are less likely to apply for jobs where they don’t meet 100% of the requirements, while men will apply for jobs where they meet only a few of the requirements. If you pull a long list of “requirements” that aren’t really essential to the role, you’re already cutting out a lot of potential candidates.

The language you use in job descriptions is important. Try running your job ad through this gender decoder for job ads to see if your job description could be discouraging female applicants.

Have a robust pay policy

Too often, both starting salary and subsequent pay rises are opaque and bound up in negotiation. Study after study shows that women are missing out, frequently being paid less than their male counterparts for the same work. Make your pay policy transparent: Set out clear expecations of what work you expect an employee to be able to handle in order to achieve a specific salary. This could be done at the personal level (in employees’ reviews, for example) but is even better if you can make it public within your company.

Hire juniors

A seeding growing into a large flower

More and more new developers are coming to the field via coding bootcamps, and the great news is they’re bringing more diversity to the industry. But the reality is, when they’re ready to unleash their skills on the world, the number of jobs out there for junior developers is relatively small. If you’re only looking to hire candidates with 5+ years of using the hottest Javascript frameworks, you are going to have a less diverse pool of candidates to draw from.

A great way to hire a diverse workforce is to bring in juniors, invest in their skills and train them up to be great developers.

Look for good learners

This is directly related to the previous point. Someone who might not have all the technical skills but is adaptable, and demonstrably a great learner, is more valuable than someone has only technical skills but no aptitide for learning, teaching, mentoring, and team working. Technical skills can be learnt. So-called “soft skills” are much harder to teach someone.

Cultivate a culture of feedback

A good manager should regularly review their employees and help them be the best that they can be. Bake these reviews into the company culture, don’t just do them on an ad-hoc basis. If an employee is struggling, understand why that is, and what you can do to help. Help them set out clear action points to handle their current workload better, or advise on responsibilities they could take on to help them progress to the next level.

And very importantly, when your employees are doing great work, tell them! Happy, valued employees are more invested, and make for a team that everyone wants to be a part of. Conversely, only ever hearing negative feedback is demoralising and will make employees desert you in droves.

In-work training and mentoring

Training is an important part of enabling employees to thrive, and web development doesn’t sit still. Employees and companies who don’t have an awareness of the latest technologies will get left behind. Web development is moving at lightning speed these days, and it is often assumed that employees who are passionate about the job will find a way to keep up with new developments in their spare time, by undertaking personal projects, for example.

Not only is this an incredibly unhealthy attitude (there’s a reason why rate of burnout is so high in our industry), it’s also an enormous assumption about level of priviledge. Women in particular are more likely than men to have caring responsibilities outside of work (whether for their own child, or another dependant, friend or familiy member). Even women who don’t have these responsibilities are far more likely to do the lion’s share of domestic and emotional labour (such as booking doctors’ appointments, remembering to buy birthday gifts, and dealing with household admin, in addition to household chores), and effectively go home to work a second shift.

All this can leave very little time for personal development outside of working hours. If you don’t make time for this during the working day, you are severely limiting employees’ opportunities to progress, and perhaps even damaging their health.

There are several forms that in-work training can take:

  • You could set aside an afternoon per week for structured learning, or experimental projects. Plan these out in advance, so they benefit the company as a whole, and don’t result in wasted time.
  • You could set aside an annual training budget (both time and money), which would enable employees to attend conferences.
  • A company blog can be a good way to enable employees to focus on learning a small skill, and write about it so that it benefits everyone.
  • If an employee wants to speak at conferences, you could support them by helping them with their proposal, or scheduling in a practice-and-feedback session.

Be transparent about career progression opportunities. If they are looking for ways to progress their career and achieve that next salary milestone, set out clear objectives that they would need to meet in order for that to happen.

Parental leave

How you treat employees who are also parents (or have caring responsibilities) says a lot about your company. Regardless of whether or not they want to have a baby, women do not want to have to ask about your parental leave policies in the interview. I cannot stress this enough. I and many other women I know have resisted asking about this, for fear of being judged as less commited to the job. Have a generous maternity and paternity leave policy, actively encourage all new parents to take it (regardless of gender), and don’t for a second make assumptions about when they should or shouldn’t return to work. Someone who feels supported and confident in their job is far more likely to return to work, and work better, than someone who feels overlooked or expendible. Support them, discuss a plan with them, by all means. Don’t make them fear for their jobs while pregnant or on parental leave.

And, for goodness sake, put it at the top of your list of company “perks”. Spell it out in detail. It’s far more important than your pool table or free beer fridge. Speaking of which...

Be mindful of your office perks

Job ads that emphasise a “fun” company culture, table football, treating everyone “like a family”, and (of course) free beer are a big red flag, and can be exclusionary. You’re more likely to get a bunch of applicants with very similar life experiences. The biggest office perk is paying your employees well, treating them with respect, and enabling them to go home on time at the end of the day.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t have office perks – but be mindful about what they say about you. If you’re emphasising them over and above the actual day-to-day working environment, there’s something wrong.

Facilitate remote working

Remote working has never been easier, and many companies these days have a 100% remote team. Even if that’s not right for you (and it’s not for everyone – there are benefits to an on-site team too!), then it could help to attract a more diverse pool of candidates by embracing a partially remote approach. Perhaps you could (optionally) offer a partly remote working week, or try it out on selected projects.

Remote working can greatly help with work-life balance – as long as you don’t abuse it by expecting employees to be logged on at all hours – and help ease the burden on employees who have external responsibilities by cutting out commuting time.

Part time working

There is absolutely no reason in 2019 why the vast majority of web design and development jobs can’t work on a part-time or job-share basis. This will open up opportunities for many people who have health conditions, disabilities or responsibilities which mean they would struggle with a full-time role.

Be flexible with holiday and unpaid leave

For employees who have children, being able to take days off when they need to for emergencies can be a godsend. If you can enable this without eating into their holiday allowance that’s even better. You could consider offering unpaid leave in addition to regular holiday allowance, which could be capped or uncapped.

Be mindful of implicit bias

Bias is not always intentional. The fact is, as a society we’re conditioned to hold implicit (or unconscious) biases, which, studies show, disadvantage women and minorities in many cases. It can take a lot of personal effort to be aware of our own biases and act upon them. This article suggests that writing down priorities beforehand can help assess candidates more objectively and eliminate unconscious bias. This applies to employee reviews, as well as the interview and selection process.

Be the change you want to see

In my previous job, both the company directors cut back their working hours to four days per week so that they could spend more time with their families. When people in senior and management roles take a lead on this, it sends a great signal to employees that their personal lives are valued, and they’ll feel much more comfortable discussing working hours if they’re struggling, or negotiating hours during the selection process. As with many of the other points above, this can really benefit people with additional needs and responsibilites, and make your workplace far more attractive.