Why DEI hiring builds better engineering teams

By Zahin Helal, Nightfall Lead Technical Recruiter

As we reach the halfway point of 2020, we see a long and overdue dedication to the BLM movement across the country. The senseless murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and countless others underscore the severe issues of racism and injustice we live with every single day. At Nightfall AI, we will do our part to ensure safe and equitable environments for black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) and for LGBTQ+ people, both inside and outside of our business. Not only are these communities facing life-threatening issues of an unjust system, but they must also simultaneously deal with the consequences of the global pandemic. 

Due to the surge of COVID-19 layoffs, BIPOC and LGBTQ+ people are struggling to re-enter the (already discriminating) job market. Our rapidly changing world demands that we keep up with the needs of our most vulnerable populations. A big step forward is the Supreme Court of the United States of America’s historic vote to protect the rights of LGBTQ+ workers. Everyone in the workplace also has a role to create more inclusive spaces.

Building diverse teams isn’t easy. As recruiters bring in candidates from all educational backgrounds, geographic locations, and racial and ethnic groups, they must also take a diversified approach when considering all the variables that go into making a great hire. That means seeing past the surface attributes of a candidate — from their appearance or what’s on their resume.

One of the greatest tools at a recruiter’s disposal is a deep understanding of DEI. This acronym stands for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Diversity is the representation of people from various backgrounds and all walks of life. Inclusion is our ability to celebrate everyone and these different backgrounds, making each individual feel equally welcome, valued, and respected. Equity is the idea that we must “level the playing field” to allow individuals from all backgrounds to have equal access to opportunities. 

Giving into bias (unconscious or otherwise) means missing out on excellent candidates to join your team. When hiring with DEI in mind, recruiters must also apply their diverse thinking to the company’s trajectory. Adding people who are different from everyone else on your teams can bring new perspectives, solutions, and skills to the table. Here’s how Nightfall sees the DEI mindset as a strength of our company and how we put this to work every day in finding the best people for the job.

Why is DEI important to the recruiting process and why should companies care about DEI?

DEI and recruiting go hand-in-hand. A true focus on DEI in the realm of recruiting is intentional, thoughtful, and prioritized. As recruiters, hiring managers, and other stakeholders guide candidates through the interviewing process, all partners must be highly aware of any potential unconscious biases they hold. The interviewing focus must remain first and foremost on the candidate’s ability to complete the job.

It sounds simple, but you’d be surprised how easy it can be to go astray. Often, unconscious biases, such as on communication styles or candidate appearances, may sabotage the chance for a company to fill its roles with otherwise elite and qualified talent. If companies do not provide their employees with the necessary training on DEI in the workplace and unconscious biases, it’s nearly inevitable they will lose great talent along the way. 

Why do we need the “E” in DEI and not just call it D and I?

The “E” in “DEI” stands for equity: The most important piece of this concept. Equity is what allows us to level the playing field for people from all backgrounds so that each individual has an equal chance when interviewing for roles. Without equity, both the diversity and inclusion elements are unsustainable. If companies aren’t continuously innovating on how to open the doors to all types of backgrounds, they will fall short in their ability to hire underrepresented minority (URM) candidates. 

How can companies create an equitable hiring process for candidates from all types of backgrounds?

DEI hiring can start small, by changing a few things like slightly relaxing experience requirements or opening up the sourcing process to include new or untapped resources or areas. Here are a few ways to put DEI recruiting in action for your next round of recruiting:

  • Disregard schools as a limiting factor — this is especially relevant in the engineering and computer science fields. Many female engineers started their careers in a completely different field (often not even STEM) and did tech bootcamps later in life. This is a good sign of tenacity and grit.
  • Open up the required years of experience (YOE) slightly. If you’re looking for five YOE, think of allowing for four years for URM candidates. Each candidate must pass the technical screening like everybody else, but this allows for more URM talent to get in the door.
  • Get creative with sourcing from Linkedin groups and also by researching minority employee resource groups (ERGs) and affinity groups at top companies and searching for members there.

What does inclusion look like at a company in general? What are tactics we can use to create a more inclusive workplace?

This question opens up an important concept around company culture, and that’s referring to new hires being a culture “fit” when we really should be considering if they are a culture “add.”

Inclusion in a company means you aren’t just looking for the type of folks you already have in your company, but looking for and being accepting of individuals who add to the culture of your business.

The first thing a business can do to create a more inclusive workplace is avoid toxic terms like “culture fit” and rather come from a perspective where we ask “Who can add to the amazing culture we’ve already created in our company?”

What are some common challenges in DEI hiring in the tech industry?

One of the biggest challenges recruiters face is balancing the ratio of women and men put into the hiring process. Many times in today’s market, hiring managers are recruiting primarily senior level engineering talent. The underrepresentation of women in the engineering space is a big problem as is, but when you further limit that pool to only include applicants with five or more years of experience, the lack of representation is even worse. This is a tough situation for companies as they seek to balance their business needs with creating an equitable hiring environment in the tech world. See the above section asking “How can companies create an equitable hiring process for candidates from all types of backgrounds?” for suggestions on how to alleviate these types of situations.

Another common challenge for DEI hiring in tech is a lack of attention to issues with intersectionality. American lawyer and civil rights activist Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term and defines it as “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.” People that fall into different minority groups face their own challenges within the DEI space. When individuals identify with more than one minority group, we must acknowledge their unique situation.

Take the above example of the underrepresentation of women in engineering. Many businesses succumb to the mistake of only looking through a single lens to identify inequitable hiring processes; simultaneously, these companies allow the underrepresentation of women in engineering to become a misrepresentation. In other words, the struggles and challenges a Caucasian woman faces in the tech world are far different from those of a Black woman — and for that matter, a woman who identifies as lesbian, a woman with dyslexia, or a Black woman who identifies as lesbian with dyslexia. And because the facets of diversity are endless, our hiring processes must continuously be adjusted to match the evolving landscape of minority groups who deserve an equitable hiring process.

How can a company retain URM talent?

This question is a callback to a common conversation with candidates. A female software engineer is asked the question “What are you looking for in your ideal next opportunity?” during an initial interview. In her answer she states that a focus on diversity was something she was looking for in her next company, but with a different method than what we may be used to hearing:

“I don’t care how many female engineers are at the company,” says the female engineer. ”I’m used to being the only female in a working environment. What I do care about is the company’s approach to diversity, which is how the company handles and thinks about diversity. I want the company to be focused on diversity initiatives in the right way, like making sure they are looking through a diverse resume stack or filtering for bias in their selection process.”

This candidate’s response is an eye opener. Recruiters often worry about hiring and retaining URM talent for fear that these candidates wouldn’t want to work for the company due to lack of diversity. The conversation with the female software engineer that reveals perspectives on the most important thing for businesses to not only attract, but to retain URM talent, is to simply own the right mindset for DEI.

We must truly care about DEI and invest in training to ensure their employees and leaders are well versed in the subject. If URM talent can see that their employers have a genuine interest and care for sustaining a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace, then they will stay.

Embracing DEI in recruiting and hiring is a smart move that will help your company scale. And it’s more than just differences of gender, race, orientation, and other factors. Companies can thrive when they bring in people with varied educational backgrounds and life experiences. A 2019 Gartner report stated that diversity and inclusion is the top priority for many executives, but most executives polled admitted that they were far behind on making these hires a reality. We created this article to help recruiting teams get started with a DEI mindset and to offer roles to the best people possible — based on their total merit.

About Nightfall

Nightfall is the industry’s first cloud-native DLP platform that discovers, classifies, and protects data with workflows and remediation tools. Nightfall is designed to work with popular SaaS applications like Slack as well as IaaS platforms like AWS and repositories like GitHub. To join the Nightfall team, check out our careers page for open roles.

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