Inclusive hiring: 3 best practices for software engineering leaders

Proactive tips to make inclusive hiring a reality in tech

Inclusive hiring is essential for improving the diversity of your software engineering team. No longer is inclusive hiring the sole responsibility of the talent acquisition team. Software engineering leaders — from the CTO to the Engineering Manager — are taking ownership of creating equitable hiring processes and decisions.

Karat has studied thousands of recruiting processes and found that the most inclusive hiring processes follow 3 best practices:

  1. Proactively source non-majority candidates
  2. Train interviewers for inclusive hiring
  3. Segment inclusive hiring KPIs using EEOC data

This article will explore why these best practices matter and how to put them to work.

1. Proactively source non-majority candidates

Bias often creeps into the hiring process before a recruiter even speaks to a candidate. Teams commonly use pedigree bias as a means of identifying the “best” candidates early on. This approach will build a homogeneous team.

Pedigree bias is easy to identify. When hiring teams only want to interview candidates who went to a top 10 Computer Science school, worked at the same company they did, or have worked at other high profile companies — that’s pedigree bias. In majority white countries, this overwhelmingly disadvantages software engineers who are Black, Hispanic, or from an indigenous population.

The most inclusive hiring programs are finding ways to source Black, Hispanic, and indigenous candidates by meeting them where they are and proactively sourcing them. Work with your talent acquisition team to leverage these best practices:

Last but not least, slow down the hiring process in order to positively impact diverse engineering teams. Take time to build the diverse talent pipelines with the approaches above. This is especially needed when hiring senior, specialist, and leadership roles. Avoid filling these roles before you have the chance to interview a diverse array of candidates.

2. Train interviewers for inclusive hiring

Bias creates noise in the hiring process. It reduces useful hiring signals and eliminates candidates who objectively have the skills to do the job. Even the most seasoned leaders can have biases that have gone unnoticed.

Building an inclusive hiring process for software engineers means identifying and mitigating these opportunities for bias.

  • Use an interview rubric. Inclusive hiring managers ought to identify the technical competencies candidates need to be successful on the job. Map those competencies to an interview rubric.
  • Train interviewers to use the interview rubric. This also means supporting them with consistent and calibrated interview questions that represent the competencies in the interview rubric.
  • Use a live technical assessment. Non-majority candidates may be unfamiliar with the specifics and expectations of a code test. They may need more opportunities to ask clarifying questions and get guidance from the interviewer. That’s okay. An experienced interviewer can do this without giving away the interview.

Note: Interview rubrics can also be used for behavioral interviews by substituting your company’s leadership principles as competencies.

3. Segment inclusive hiring KPIs using EEOC data

Hiring KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) provide real-time measures of the likelihood that a hiring process will reach its target number of new software engineering hires. Segment these KPIs by EEOC data to get a view of success for non-male and non-majority candidates. This also causes your team to ask “is this process successful for the candidate?” As opposed to “is this process successful for me?” Spoiler alert: if candidates are winning, so are you!

Monitor your inclusive hiring process with these KPIs:

  • Resume screen to technical assessment rate
  • Technical assessment pass rate
  • Onsite-to-offer ratio

You may find at first that one of these metrics is far lower than average, or far higher than another group. If so, seek out the bias in the process. Revisit how your team is sourcing candidates, interview questions, interview rubric, and live technical assessment.

Final takeaway

Countless studies have concluded that diverse teams are more objective and innovative. “Making a business case for diversity” is ancient history. In a recent panel on “How to be anti-racist in tech hiring”, Flatiron Health’s VP Engineering Cat Miller reminded the audience that prioritizing diverse engineering hiring doesn’t need a business case, it is just “the right thing to do.”

Are you unsure about your organization’s attitudes towards prioritizing inclusive hiring? Consider the following:

  • Survey your software engineering team, candidates (after the interview), and Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). Use these inputs to determine if your inclusive hiring process is on the right track or needs improvement.
  • Build community around inclusive hiring. Create interviewing teams who own question development, interview rubrics, and interview training.
  • Be transparent about your inclusive hiring KPIs. Once benchmarked, be transparent about how your team is doing. This will create accountability and allow teams to celebrate when goals are reached.


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