The path to more diverse technical talent


4 learnings for technical talent acquisition based on data from a new report by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, sponsored by Karat

In March 2021, 309 tech leaders shared observations of their companies’ approaches to improving diversity on their technical teams. The results show that most teams (62%) have established that diversity of their technical workforce is a priority and 50% have launched or expanded programs to increase diversity of their technical staff in the last year.

Yet, most struggle to change old habits that prevent fair hiring outcomes on technical teams. Why? Measurement and accountability of processes and impact are often lacking — or missing altogether.

Click here to download the full report featuring contributions from:

  • Jonathan Kehoe, Director of Technical Recruiting & Employer Branding at Wayfair
  • Melissa Abad, sociologist at Stanford VMWare Women’s Leadership Innovation Lab
  • Jeffrey Spector, co-founder and president of Karat
  • Bärí A. Williams DEI consultant
  • Bhaskar Chakravorti, dean of global business and executive director for The Fletcher School at Tufts University

Read on for background on the top four takeaways:

    1. Dependence on employee referrals inhibits diversity in the talent pipeline
    2. Remote and interviewing are the most effective tools for increasing diversity
    3. Measure diversity in technical hiring and on your technical teams
    4. Establish company-wide accountability for fair hiring outcomes

Dependence on employee referrals inhibits diversity in the talent pipeline

“I don’t believe there is a pipeline problem. I believe there is a myopic view problem,” says Bärí A. Williams, a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant.

The survey found that employee referrals are the top method of finding technical talent — with 74% saying they leverage this approach. This approach may inhibit diversity because candidates typically reflect the current makeup of the organization.

A Karat survey of 300 software engineering students at Howard University revealed that:

  •  50% of respondents didn’t know anyone in big tech and felt that they were somewhat or very likely to succeed in their career.
  • That number jumps to 67% for people who have 1 to 4 contacts in the industry, 73% for people with 5 to 10 contacts, and 79% for those who know more than 10 people working in big tech.

While University Recruiting is known to be one of the most effective strategies for building diverse software engineering teams, it was the fourth most popular approach. 61% of respondents reported having a University Recruiting program in place.

Remote work and interviewing are the most effective tools for increasing diversity

The shift to remote interviewing and hiring processes have been an opportunity for organizations to change the status quo in how they hire technical talent. 65% launched or expanded targeted recruiting of underrepresented groups, while others looked at the actual technical assessment and interview itself. 47% reevaluated and/or updated the interview format to be more inclusive and fair.

But what was most effective? 63% reported that increased online interviewing and increased remote work roles had the most notable successful impact on diversity in their technical teams.

Measure diversity in technical hiring and on your technical teams 

It’s impossible to manage what you don’t measure — and very few organizations measure diversity. This raises the issue of what constitutes hiring success. Only 28% reported that their organization uses metrics to measure diversity. Far fewer yet publish these outcomes outside the organization.

Taking a step back, we know that tracking metrics has a massive impact on overall hiring success. In last year’s Interview Gap report, we asked engineering leaders if they tracked detailed hiring metrics. 73% of leaders who reported being very satisfied with the performance of their teams said yes, compared to just 57% of others. It likely holds true that measurement is key to improving diversity and accountability as well.

Establish company-wide accountability for fair hiring outcomes

Without measurement, it’s nearly impossible to establish accountability for any key performance indicator. Hiring is no different. The half of survey respondents that say their organizations have not launched or expanded programs to increase tech diversity over the past year indicate that this absence may be due to a lack of accountability.

23% felt that the CEO is responsible for the diversity of technical staff, followed by 20% who said no one person and/or office has this responsibility. Just 8% said the Chief Technology Office is responsible.

Download the full report with insights from the experts on how to make a lasting impact on diversity, equity, and inclusion in your organization.

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