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How can recruiters stop discrimination from happening in the tech industry?
In the light of recent events, diversity and inclusion has been at the forefront of last week’s news.
Some high level executives voluntarily left their offices as complaints about mistreatment of black workers have been on the rise recently. We can quote Alexis Ohanian for instance, who stepped down from Reddit’s board of directors, asking to be replaced by a black candidate: “I’m saying this as a father who needs to be able to answer his black daughter when she asks: “What did you do?”. Others, such as CondeNast, have been exposed for not doing enough.
The discrimination that is now coming to light seems to be a common phenomenon, independent of industry, job type, seniority or even country. And it begs the question: what can we do to help -- in the recruiting industry -- to change things around?
A historical lack of diversity and inclusiveness in U.S. companies
Discrimination has been a recurring theme in the recruitment industry. James, 27, a black professional at the beginning of his career,experienced it first hand when he interviewed for jobs; “I feel like I have been discriminated against by my black skin color” he tells us. “fresh from college, I start applying everywhere from Tech companies to staffing agencies. The only experience I had was college, self teaching myself and implementing my knowledge for a small business I created myself. I have interviews almost every day for entry tech positions but I didn't get many calls back after the interviews. At the beginning I was ok with it but it got to the point where interviewers would tell me at the end of the interview that I'm not going to get the position or they are looking for someone with more experience. [for an entry level position?] None of the interviewers were able to give me a reason for why I wasn’t a fit for the job”.
In the tech industry, we have been witnessing the same thing; “I’ve chosen to take out my Linkedin picture” tells Amy, 29, a black software developer in New York City. “I can tell you that the number of job opportunities tripled since I’ve taken it out 2 weeks ago”.
The lack of diversity was pointed out years ago by Liza Mundy in her article “why is Silicon Valley so awful to women?” where she recounts how -- although they are very innovative in many other ways -- Silicon Valley startups haven’t changed much about discrimination against women.
As for the Black Lives Matter movement and its effect on tech companies, Paris Chandler, founder of the startup Black Tech Pipeline confirms; “there’s a major lack of black and POC [people of color] representation in the tech industry as a whole”. “It ranges from racism, discrimination and bias, to simply not seeing enough of them applying in the pipeline. Not having enough of these applicants still falls on the fault of the company. If they truly wanted to improve Black/POC representation within their space, they’d go out and do the work of making it happen.”
The anti-discrimination movement that is resurfacing with full force now has been a “staple issue” in the United States for many generations. These issues aren’t things that are easy to change quickly and that’s why it’s important to maintain or create diversity in all walks of life as soon as possible, including the workplace. “Sitting by waiting, hoping something comes through is not an action, it's an excuse” continues Chandler. “Many companies hire a couple of diverse candidates from underserved communities and then pat themselves on the back. Doing the very bare minimum is not enough. Diversity, equity, and inclusion takes work, and takes time. It's not something that is accomplished in a couple of hires. It's worked on, and improved throughout the entire existence of the company”.
Public polling data also suggests that there remains much work to be done. When asked in a 2016 opinion survey to assess the financial situation of blacks compared with whites, only 50% of Americans recognized that white households were better off financially. Reasons such as “lack of motivation to work hard” and “family instability” were given -- which data reveal that none of those factors actually account for the persistence of the racial wealth gap.
Even though the past has shown little progress as a whole, America is starting to move the needle in the right direction; the Supreme Court has ruled that discrimination of gender, sexuality and sexual orientation in the workplace are now prohibited under title VII of the Civil Rights Act. A recent survey from the New York Times may also give us some hope; in the last two weeks, the american voter's opinion has shifted in favor of supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. A surprising result considering that the opinion polls on abortion hasn’t moved in the past 50 years.
If Americans are ready to change their minds faster and shake the status quo, what can we do to accelerate that change in the workplace?
Our biggest challenge: to fight subconscious bias during hiring
Some shocking stories have come to light recently. Yael Aflalo, founder of Reformation, a sustainable clothing brand, posted on Instagram that she had “failed” after a former employee posted that women of color were overlooked and undervalued; Greg Glassman, CEO of CrossFit, posted offensive comments on Twitter saying he wasn’t mourning George Floyd’s death, which resulted in partners bailing and Glassman resigning. Many more can be cited and many more will continue to be exposed by former employees. Who is to be blamed for?
In the recruitment industry our biggest challenge is our subconscious bias even when we try our best to be without prejudice and bias. Lisa Mundy talked about this emerging trend in Silicon Valley to do a so called “unconscious bias training” in her article in the Atlantic, . A training in which “people are made aware of their own hidden biases”. This sounds very ironic; an industry supposedly built on meritocracy that would need training to recognize talent beyond race, gender or other factors.
Making diversity and inclusion a priority for companies
Pariss' advice to startups is to make diversity, equity, and inclusion a priority at the foundation of the company. “don't build up the company and then think of bringing on people from the Black and POC communities afterwards” she says. Companies should actively seek out different platforms, organizations, and agencies working with underrepresented communities.
By making it a priority we’re actively doing something to finally close the racial wealth gap by elevating black and POC communities. If this effort is left to last minute, those few black and POC workers in companies that have a problem with this will need to endure being the only one who looks like them and feel the loneliness and pressure to assimilate.
“You can do this right on Twitter, and other social platforms. Meet and engage with those from other communities and backgrounds. Be willing to pay the money to put your open roles on job boards catering to Black/POC communities. Pay the money for diversity, equity, and inclusion consultants or take up workshops that teach you how to improve it within your workplace”.
Starting with salary transparency and for talent to know their worth
Racial inequalities in wealth are rooted in historic discrimination and is perpetuated by policy: a study made by Demos.org called “asset value of whiteness” shows that individual behaviour is not the driving force behind racial wealth disparities. Black and latino people with the same degrees and same colleges still have much less wealth than similarly situated white people. Differences in spending habits also fail to explain the existing racial gap.
One of the factors that explains some of these differences is conscious or unconscious discrimination. Therefore, anonymity and salary transparency in hiring can be a strong first step to eliminate bias in interviews. 98% of the candidates are eliminated at the initial resume screening. By increasing the chance for black/POC to make it to an interview with a clear idea of how much the company is willing to pay for a job requiring a certain experience and skills, we increase the chances to make job opportunities equal to everyone. At Wanted we have chosen to implement it by making employers commit to salary first, based solely on skills and experience, without seeing the candidate. This way, a company cannot offer a different compensation based on racial or other factors, not even subconsciously.
Building a more equitable workplace and recruitment process will require us to shift our focus away from talking about inequities towards working to fix inequities. Startups are the future of work. We believe that equal work deserves equal pay and that innovative recruitment techniques can lead the way to a more diverse and inclusive workplace.