Why your team is so… vanilla.
There has been a lot of dialogue around the lack of diversity in tech and STEM in general. The need for a diverse workforce in many tech startups and the development teams within many larger organizations has been a topic of discussion for quite some time now. There are initiatives, training, programs, and scholarships being created to increase and alleviate some of the identified obstacles of creating such a workforce. In speaking with many colleagues and reading numerous articles/blogs dedicated to this subject that earnestly wish to hire and/or create a talented diverse workforce, they point out that the only people that walk through the door all look the same i.e. young white males, often with beards, ready to get to work! One of the major reasons I hear repeated over and over again is the lack of qualified applicants that come from diverse backgrounds. It seems that the only people qualified enough to meet the rigorous requirements of many companies looking for roles such as a web developer are only met by those white bearded guys. As a matter of fact, oftentimes others don’t even bother applying. What’s the deal with that?
Everything is wrong with that!
I’d like to offer a different perspective to this challenge.
One of the causes for this lack of diversity in the applicant pool is directly correlated to how the company is viewed externally by those non-traditional tech professionals.
Something that most companies don’t know or realize is that very few people want to be the first one. Just think about that…. the first one, the only one, the chosen few.
As self-sacrificing and noble as the idea of being the only female, the only person over 40, or the only Black/Latino person inside of an entire organization’s technical department may sound — this is not of great appeal to many people (or even one of two). After overcoming the very real effects of the imposter syndrome you face yet another obstacle, that “cultural fit” buzz word that is being thrown around these days. When applying for a career in any field it is important to remember that it is not only the applicants that are interviewed and pre-screened. Companies websites and stats are researched in an effort to answer the core question of every aspiring tech professional, “Do I want to work here?”
NOTE: Not everyone is willing to be Katniss Everdeen and volunteer as tribute to this cause.
There are some organizations that were founded by a diverse set of people from the very beginning that organically created a diverse board of directors, management pool, technical team, client base and have just interwoven this inclusiveness into their culture without it being a policy or plan. These companies will quickly grab the attention of those looking for a safe and comfortable place to grow their careers. This, of course, leads to more diversity; while those that look to implement it later may find it more difficult.
Your job posting says what?
Many companies filter out most diverse applicants right at the very beginning whether intentionally or unintentionally. Here’s an example of a recent job posting I came across…
I’m just leaving this right here…. actual job posting for Eligo Energy, Chicago, Illinois
If you don’t recognize the bias or deterrents in this posting for the the typical nontraditional developer allow me to point out a few:
The use of the word “you”: Multiple times in this posting the company references this new candidate as being the solely responsible for a lot of stuff! This implies that there is no team to support them — there’s multiple things wrong with this but I won’t go into them here.
3+ years in a professional development organization. Experience is usually the biggest kicker. It is a statistical fact that people from nontraditional backgrounds historically (and currently) account for a very small percentage of developers; which also means they will most likely not have the years of experience since this field is new for most of them.
Finally, that last requirement — I can’t even and I don’t think I need to expound on it.
At least a 4-year CS/CE/EE degree from a top engineering school (coding camps/academies do not count)
Circle of Influence
It is a well-known fact that most people land jobs by reaching out to their network or immediate circles of influence (sorry recruiters). I am not referring to the over 1,000 connections someone might have on LinkedIn but those they actually communicate with on a regular basis. This would be people someone reconnects with at events, community programs, former coworkers, friends, family, etc. If you look around you on a daily basis and only see one or two groups of people — those will be the same people that you turn to when looking to recruit, network, hire or collaborate with; thereby, greatly limiting the chances that any company you start or join will reflect a more diverse culture without a change. I will not go into all the benefits to an organization for having a diverse culture but there are many posts regarding this out there to be googled.
There is a long-term resolution to this gap in tech that does not get stated and if it does it is not being said loud enough. Making tech or any industry more inclusive, more diverse and in my personal opinion less boring requires purposefully expanding your network. Again not your LinkedIn circle of friends but your real-life-people-you-actually-speak-to network!
Get out there and attend events that draw a diverse group of people.
Resolve to work with and for organizations that reflect a diverse workforce and teams.
Better yet join or start a company that is owned and/or operated by a person of color or a female.
Expand your group of friends. Move into a neighborhood and live next to people who don’t look like you.
Invest in people who can do more than just write a few lines of code… choose to make a difference!
about the author: What do struggling musicians, construction workers, attorneys and social workers have in common? Kimberly Lowe-Williams has helped them all pivot their careers and become developers. She's the CEO and Executive Director of The Difference Engine, a non-profit dedicated to helping those with non-traditional backgrounds -- women, minorities and older career changers -- take pre-existing tech skills and transform them into coding careers.
Learn more about Kimberly Lowe-Williams.
Learn more about The Difference Engine.