With the major West Coast tech companies publicly announcing their employee diversity stats, an honest conversation is starting about the dominance of white male culture in most large tech organizations. Good intentions and accountability can make a difference, but the difficult question remains about how to change.
Of course, for tech companies, there is unquestionably a supply issue and the long-term solutions require systemic changes in our educational and immigration systems. But the shortage of developers has never been a reason that Intel, Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple have accepted for not meeting their hiring goals.
And on almost any corporate career page, there are pictures of diverse employees. It is possible to pull out a checklist and fill in all the boxes on a diversity checklist because these pages are so contrived that there is undoubtedly one of each. And laughably, many of the same faces appear on multiple corporate sites, the result of using stock photographs. Just walk around a college career fair and see how many booths feature the same group of diverse “employees.” This gang, available on shutter iStockphoto.com, is everywhere.
What happens if the team you are hiring for is currently all male and you would like to add some diversity to it? Doesn’t showing three men send a strong message about what the organization is like and what the organization aims to be? But including a woman or person of color who has no connection to the position is disingenuous and deceptive. What should you do? As always, the answer is: it depends.
For real change, there needs to be some credibility. If your organization advertises itself as wildly diverse and a candidate arrives for an interview just to realize that nobody looks like him or her, you’re going to have a tough time convincing that individual of anything including assurances of challenging work and career progression. I’ve seen recruiters genuinely dumbfounded at the reluctance of women and minorities to accept job offers. Who would want to work for a company that misrepresented itself right from the get-go?
But talent acquisition managers face the reality that candidates want to see people like them succeeding in the organization. Imagine if you spoke no Chinese and were applying for a job with a Chinese company in China. Wouldn’t you want to know that at least one other person like you was able to succeed in that situation? For women walking into tech companies, veterans entering civilian employment or under-represented minorities applying for any job, the workplace can feel that foreign to them.
So what do you do?
If you are recruiting for a role on an all-male team, don’t include three videos of women.
One solution is to give visibility to the diversity you have, but this can be tricky. I’ve never met a black person who didn’t know that they were being included in a corporate photo shoot because they were black. Some of them resent the exploitation, some are just resigned to it, and some are excited to be a welcoming beacon to other minorities. It is important to understand that there are employees who just want to be regular employees rather than be labeled as black/gay/veteran. Hopefully, there will also be employees who want to take an active role in improving the workforce. Chances are, they are adults and it is possible to have adult conversations with them about the role they want to play.
Start with some honest conversations. These may be one-on-one or they may be in small groups. But the most important thing is to listen and be prepared to act on the suggestions.
If a woman confides that she is unwilling to actively recruit other women to the organization because the Friday afternoon beer blasts initiate unwelcome behavior, the organization needs to do something about it. There may also be suggestions about participation in events or other investments that will make a difference. And then be prepared to respect individuals’ feelings about participation in recruiting. If they don’t want to be a token, don’t ask them to be. If they want to be actively involved in recruiting, give them time and recognition for doing so.
The other side of that equation is being honest with candidates. Tech companies have taken a brave and admirable step in releasing their diversity stats. The numbers aren’t flattering, but Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook and Twitter have publicly acknowledged their situations. Their credibility soared by telling the world that they are prepared to be held accountable. Who knew that honesty could be so powerful?
So when clients ask us about diversity, our answer is this: be honest. If you are recruiting for a role on an all-male team, don’t include three videos of women. Be thoughtful about who you have to represent co-workers. And use the videos for the incredible capability they have – let your veterans state their service and let your dyslexics mention their dyslexia. Candidates like the authenticity of employee-generated video and often watch the videos for jobs other than the one they are applying for. When you crowdsource video clips from your employees, amazing things can happen. Stop scripting a hoax.
This article was previously published on TechCrunch, January 21, 2016.