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Get Real: Black & White leaders Talk Tech Talent

The Karat Team image

The Karat Team

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Last week, Karat had the opportunity to bring our Real Talk: Diversity in Tech series to SXSW in Austin, Texas with a twist. Karat Co-founder and President Jeffrey Spector joined Head of DEI Portia Kibble Smith alongside Zillows Head of Tech Recruiting Roz Francuz-Harris and Redfin Recruiting Manager Rafael Williams to discuss the current state of tech hiring for underrepresented candidates in tech and how leaders can step up and create inclusive practices for everyone.

Our team also had the opportunity to host a #RealTalk breakfast event before the panel with leaders from around the industry committed to helping more brilliant Black engineers break into the tech sector. There was good food, and even better conversations. Check out our slideshow at the end of this post for a glimpse into our day.

Leaders converse during #RealTalk breakfast at Canje Restaurant in Austin, Texas

If you didn’t have the chance to follow the panel in real time via Twitter live-tweets, read below for the main takeaways!

Proximity builds understanding

Sometimes it is easy for business leaders  to exclude themselves from conversations around diversity because they don’t feel like they can relate or feel comfortable. But Jeff shared a piece of advice that Roz gave him during panel prep: “proximity builds understanding and awareness.” Commit to spending time with the diverse communities you serve and work with.

“Understanding builds advocacy, and helps leaders break out of their status quo and shift the narrative,” said Francuz-Harris. She reminds leaders of the privilege in not only what you look like but also the position you hold as a leader within your companies to advocate for real change.

Navigating job opportunities through identity is challenging

As a candidate, looking for job opportunities is hard enough. As a Black candidate, there is an extra layer of challenge and scrutiny added to the job search process.

The panelists before session began

“There is a green book in tech,” said Williams. Francuz-Harris and Williams recount countless times where they had to advise underrepresented candidates to rethink joining companies that were psychologically and economically unsafe. The sad reality is, many under-represented candidates “compromise as they navigate tech careers on their way to FAANG companies,” said Williams. This can be anything from compromising their mental health in a non-inclusive culture, or compromising a lower pay just to receive a title that will land them a role at a bigger tech company.

Anthony Mays, Senior Advisor of the Brilliant Black minds program joined the conversation and added that when he first started working at Google, he felt an insane lack of trust. “In the beginning, I was not sure if I could trust anyone and felt like I may just be a diversity hire,” said Mays. Now more than ever, especially in the midst of the great resignation, is it a critical time for companies to prioritize regaining the trust of underrepresented minorities in tech.

It’s unacceptable to think there’s a pipeline issue

The pipeline myth has been dispelled countless times. At one point in the panel, Francuz-Harris asked what percentage of the audience were leaders. Arms shot up swiftly. She followed with- “How many of you believe there is a pipeline issue in hiring underrepresented talent.”

“It’s 100% unacceptable as a leader in 2022, to think there is a pipeline issue in tech,” said Francuz-Harris. Instead, leaders should be reflecting on what they’re doing to strengthen their pipelines. “What programs do you have at the high school level? What initiatives are you building within your company,” Francuz-Harris asked.

It’s not only about refining your pipeline, but also making sure your hiring process is equitable. “Define what you’re hiring for and what the must-haves are. What does a strong collaborator look like? What does a good interview look like? And everyone in the hiring process needs to understand these definitions,” said Spector.

It’s a good reminder to implement enough processes that it limits an individual’s ability to inject bias. If your team doesn’t have a clear interviewing process and expectations- there’s room for unconscious bias to creep in and eliminate some of your underrepresented candidates. Creating structured scoring rubrics is one way to limit subjectivity.

Rafael, Portia and Roz pose with Mikaila Ulmer

The panel concluded with all the leaders encouraging both present and future engineering candidates to find community, build strong connections outside of work and find resources to help improve and uplevel their skills.

Williams left candidates with this final note: “Although we come as one, we represent 10,000. However, tech is not grim. It requires a lot of love and light. Find your tribe, learn and grow from them.”

To learn more about #RealTalk and watch previous sessions, visit our page here. Keep up with our panelists on twitter: Roz, Rafael, Jeffrey, Portia

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