171

Let's say that I've attended all the talks, I've read all the research, and I've concluded that what's best for my team and my company is to increase the amount of diversity in my software engineering team. So, I already want to hire more people of color, more women, etc.

The frustration I've had—especially on small teams in the midwest—is how to actually do that? Let's say after a typical round of interviews, I've talked to 10 candidates. 8 of them are white men, 1 is a white woman, and 1 is a black woman. Let's assume they were all reasonably good in the interview.

It seems like as a member of the interview loop, I have the following choices available to me:

  1. Tell my boss, truthfully, "we have no people of color and no women, this is the best person to hire based just on her gender and race".

  2. Tell my boss, truthfully, "this candidate, who by happenstance is a black woman, also did the absolute best in the interview".

  3. Tell my boss, lying, "this candidate, who by happenstance is a black woman, did the absolute best in the interview". (Clearly unethical.)

Is my dilemma a real thing, or am I just making stuff up here?

  • I'm not sure Option 1 is even legal, let alone good HR practice.

  • Option 2 is ideal, but by definition, if 90% of your candidates are white dudes, then the chances of a more diverse candidate being "the best" in the interview is ~10% (and that's before you account for the unconscious biases of the all-white all-male interview panel).

  • Option 3 is a path towards the goal of a more diverse team, but isn't a viable option.

EDIT: I should have mentioned that I am coming from a United States background, so I took it as simply a given that you cannot hire someone based on protected status (so, neither Option 1 nor Option 3 were intended to look like real options here).

As one of the answerers correctly identified, Option 3 is a stand-in for what I feel is a frustrating "wink wink nod" aspect to conversations about team diversity. "We're going to be focused on team diversity this year", a colleague might say - what exactly does that mean, and how will it affect your next interview?

Luckily for me, moving from the midwest to the coast has made this question a non-issue right now, but I expect I will run into it again. Hopefully some of the answers below are helpful for others with similar questions.

TLDR: How to increase diversity of an already non-diverse team, if you aren't allowed to take the diversity of candidates into account?

Controversial Post — You may use comments ONLY to suggest improvements. You may use answers ONLY to provide a solution to the specific question asked above. Moderators will remove debates, arguments or opinions without notice.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Snow Feb 7 at 6:49
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    Please edit your question to include the benefits of diversity that you said you discovered. That way your question will be more specific (since answers can focus on said benefits). Also, it would educate others as to why diversity is useful in programming. – Fermi paradox Feb 7 at 6:56
  • Option 2 and 3 are the same. How can one be truthful and the other a lie? – D Drmmr Feb 8 at 12:37
  • @DDrmmr 2 is tied for someone else as best, 3 is lying by saying better than everyone else – Izkata Feb 8 at 14:49

21 Answers 21

303

Unless the job duties specifically require it then hiring someone because they are black, white, green, male, female, etc is discrimination against the other candidates who weren't your preferred flavor of human.

As this is , both options 1 & 3 would be illegal so I wouldn't recommend either of those.

Your best option is to aim to increase the diversity of the applicants, and thereby increase your odds of scenario 2 happening naturally. It's hard to give specific suggestions without knowing way more specifics but do some homework into the demographics of your region - Are there specific colleges that have more diverse student populations? If so advertise the openings heavily (not exclusively) there. If your region isn't diverse enough - advertise the position wider and state that those looking to relocate are welcome.

But remember - all of this is only to increase the applicant pool, not a way around the fact that you still are not allowed to hire someone because they are a particular colour or gender.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Snow Feb 6 at 7:12
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    Something that got lost in the comment flood: you need to be careful if you do this. There have been court rulings (admittedly, in real estate rather than employment) that found that selecting where you advertise based on the racial demographics of the viewership can constitute illegal discrimination. – Mark Feb 8 at 20:35
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    It may not be necessary to look in new "places" at all for more applicants. I think this answer could benefit greatly from incorporating the key insight in the other high-voted answer: to the extent that an imbalance/bias exists currently, stereotypical scouting methods like looking for experience in similar jobs--even when they don't apply any additional bias--explicitly perpetuate the existing industry imbalance. Industry experience in particular should be de-prioritized in the hiring process, and managers need to find other ways to judge applicants' current soft and hard skills. – GrandOpener Feb 8 at 21:47
  • I agree with the high-voted answers, but both miss a point: if you want to increase the pool of applicants you can also underline this benefits of your company, which are interesting for diverse people. For example home office and part time (better fit with care work), or the reachability (for people with limited mobility), or flexible working hours (to fit with religious day cycles), or near child care (shortens the way to work for families) and so on... (finally earned 50 reputations to comment THIS question :D ) – Allerleirauh Feb 25 at 11:28
143

It's clear that your "Option 3", lying about the results of interviews to favor minority candidates, isn't the appropriate solution. So how do you ensure that you'll be able to go with "Option 2" more of the time?

Reassess the criteria you're using to judge "success" in an interview.

If you're judging your candidates purely on conventional criteria such as who has the most impressive work history with other tech employers, or who has the best textbook answer to really tough technical questions, then you're playing into a feedback loop, and your crop of candidates who "score highest" on the interviews are likely going to reflect the current state of software engineering overall - disproportionately white and male. However, these aren't the only criteria available to you when judging interviews.

When you're designing the scoring rubric for your next round of interviews, consider advocating for explicitly emphasizing the fact that you're looking for candidates who will bring a diversity of thought, life experience, and perspective. These are qualities that can add huge value in a software engineering team, when it comes to empathizing with the end user, creatively solving problems, and so forth.

Codify the fact that you value candidates who can demonstrate that they will bring soft skills and perspectives that do not significantly exist within your current team, and make sure that your interview scoring process reflects that priority. By doing so, you're able to still apply the same criteria evenly to all candidates, while implicitly making a space for people who may have taken unconventional life paths to a software engineering career, or may have been overlooked by other employers based on race or gender, and who may bring a whole array of strengths that aren't being identified and captured in your current interview process.

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    As a an older military veteran who falls into the “other” minority group I like this answer the best. Re-examining success is different than moving goal posts. Asking what Big-Oh an algorithm is and watching me squirm is maybe rewarding (or a red flag) to some. But asking me to practically apply my knowledge/experience and creativity is, like many people who haven’t had the opportunity to go through the traditional CompSci pipeline, a better gauge than academic quizzing. I don’t think ANYONE wants a job where the goal posts were moved for them. Hire smart people first then train them. Why not? – NonCreature0714 Feb 8 at 19:49
  • You make an excellent point regarding the judging of candidates only on conventional criteria. What I disagree with though, is the mention of 'candidates bringing diversity of though, life experience and perspective' - If these things cannot be harnessed in such a way that it increases the effectiveness of a team - then it really isn't very relevant, is it? I mean sure, it's probably highly situational based on the specifics of the business/team, but these things will not always result in a net positive – Jnthndjgr Feb 12 at 9:33
48

As you already said you shouldn't be taking the diversity of candidates into account because it's discrimination not to mention misguided.

The answer is .... Marketing!

Increase the number of candidates (and therefore the number of candidates of a desired demographic). That way, you increase the likelihood that the best person for the job also happens to be from a desired demographic.

In addition, you could focus the way you market your role. Advertise in areas / places that you think your desired demographic operate. I.E. career events specifically for women in engineering (there are some Career events like those hosted by 'Equal Engineers' that are tailored for minorities).

You have a product (the role), you want to sell it to a certain demographic, so fall back on the classic marketing tactics.

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    I'd also add, offer a job and perks that women would be attracted to. Medical benefits, family leave, and childcare benefits are all things that make a job attractive to women. – stanri Feb 6 at 16:49
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    "Advertise in areas / places that you think your desired demographic operate". So we're actually saying that a certain demographic is more desired than a different one. This actually introduces a bias towards minorities. I can see where this comes from, but this goes against equality. – Simone Feb 7 at 8:55
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    @Simone Yeah it does introduce a bias but I'd wager it's impossible to hire more diversely without introducing a bias, excluding pure luck. Even if you stick to only increasing the candidate pool without targeted marketing then it's no guarantee of diversity and chances are it wont actually result in a more diverse team. You can double the number of candidates but still have many more white male candidates because they make up a larger % of the workforce in the industry. If you care about equality then don't make diversity your goal it's an oxymoron lol – HelloWorld Feb 12 at 10:35
24

Ask yourself this question: Are you targeting diversity for diversity's sake, or are you trying to make sure you are not accidentally targeting a particular demographic.

I would warn you not to focus on diversity for it's own sake, as it can have disastrous results.

As a person who falls into several "protected" categories, I can tell you that you may find some pushback from people who will definitely resent being a "diversity hire". This is essentially telling them that they're not good enough to be hired without doors being opened especially for them.

This is a real concern for many of us. I even asked a question on the topic

Personally, I'd rather be hired on my own merits than by some quota. I think other people who fall under diversity categories feel the same way.

If you want diversity, cast a wide net and get the most candidates you can, then pick the best.

Now, for your category 3:

This is perhaps the worst thing you can do, because you'd be hiring someone who is not up to the job. That person would be either set up to fail, or her coworkers would have to cover for her. She'd be wearing the label of "diversity hire", and her coworkers would resent her even IF she managed to get up to speed.

So, if you want diversity for it's own sake, go ahead, lower your standards as in case #3, but you will be hurting the very people you claim you want to help, but at least your company would look good, right?

22

The inherent dilemma here is that a completely bias-free, technical-only interview process will mean that your hiring will approach an approximate representation of the candidate pool, assuming equal skill distribution. But that won't necessarily rectify the existing distribution of employees, especially in the short term, and if the candidate pool itself is not diverse or well-distributed (as you indicate) then you'll end up with less diversity than desired.

I'm restating the problem to make it clear that every solution will necessarily introduce bias. It's important to recognize this, so that you can pursue it in a legal and ethical manner. You require a different sort of bias.

Your end goal, as an effective team leader in your business, is not diversity for diversity's sake; it is to increase the effectiveness of your team. As you said, the research indicates that having multiple diverse viewpoints is important for this. So you should be biased towards actually diverse viewpoints, independent of the people holding them.

This means that your interview process must select for this! You ought to have part of the process dedicated to talking to the candidate about their goals, their passions, their thoughts on the business, and what they feel they uniquely bring to the table. And you listen for what is different, unique, what you hadn't considered before, what is missing from your team. This is not dissimilar to the common "Culture Fit" interview, but instead of selecting for people who fit a specific mold, you're selecting for people who add the value you're looking for. It is not of course guaranteed that this will result in a team that "looks" as diverse as they are, but it is awfully likely.

Per the other answers about marketing, you can also apply this to your job postings and so on. If you are looking for unique experience and approaches, say so!

And if you wish to take a longer view of the problem, see if you or your company would be able to work with an organization addressing the systemic issues that reduce diversity in tech before they ever see your job posting.

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    Hoping that 'diverse viewpoints' will satisfy your HR manager is a good way to be fired. See nypost.com/2017/11/17/… for a prime example. – DrMcCleod Feb 6 at 19:25
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    There's a little bit of difference between a team lead hiring the people best fit for the job, and a division figurehead of one of the most valuable companies in the world making a public statement at a global conference. In any case, the point is to say "Joe has X. We need X" or "Sally has Y, the team has no Y" rather than talking about their skin color in either direction. – Matthew Read Feb 6 at 19:32
  • As it happens, I agree with you. But people with power over you might not, so be careful with that line of recruitment. – DrMcCleod Feb 6 at 20:48
  • That's fair enough @DrMcCleod. Really I think any line here is going to be tricky .. but unlike quotas or other "positive" discrimination, at least there's not a clear-cut legal case that additionally motivates the company to fire you. – Matthew Read Feb 6 at 21:09
18

The top rated answers thus far make sense from a long term company strategic perspective but in my opinion do little to help guide a hiring manager who is faced with the tactical dilemma of picking the new hire. Certainly, expanding your pool of applicants and marketing out to different areas is important but let's be honest... as a hiring contributor the OPs ability to do this is likely limited. That is more the domain of HR or Senior Leadership.

First, a couple of disclaimers:

  • IANAL but I have hired quite a number of individuals in the midwest US and believe that I have a fair understanding of the law. Hiring managers in the US must have a good understanding of what constitutes a Federally Protected Class and be sure to treat all candidates as equally as possible during an interview regardless of their attributes, skillset and even performance. This translates to standardizing questions, ensuring that all candidates are given the same amount of time to interview (within a single round of the hiring process) and ensuring that all members of the interview team understand what topics are permissible vs. what are strictly off limits. (For instance, you can ask a candidate about hobbies and interests. You cannot ask them about family life).

  • Note that even with the protections above, this does not eliminate the possibility of accusations of discrimination. If you follow those general rules above, act in good faith and have well defined hiring policies in place then you should have a good defense in case of a frivolous law suite but unfair civil litigation happens all of the time. Expect that eventually someone will accuse you and make sure your hiring practices are something you would be proud to publicize.

Cynically speaking, diversity in hiring can at times feel like a "wink, wink, nod" scenario where the hiring manager is expected to play a game pushing real company change while not overtly communicating the reasons for their actions so as not to open the company to a lawsuit. There are plenty of articles online railing against the Tech industry for male dominated ratios. There are plenty of examples of publicity nightmares and litigation around hiring practices. I sense frustration in your question and I can certainly commiserate. That said, this kind of thinking is a pitfall and the wrong way to approach the problem. The best way to handle diversity issues is to recognize that we all have biases and challenge yourself to offset your biases as much as possible.

So for the meat of my answer, I believe it is incredibly important to note (and this may perhaps not be overly popular on a tech-heavy StackExchange site) that technical skill is not the only (and I might even argue often not the most important) factor in the hiring process. There is a reason why we perform interviews rather than simply hand candidates a technical test and pick the one with the highest score. Personality, professionalism, experience, communication, learning ability, teamwork skills, desire to grow... all of these things are absolutely invaluable factors that need to be evaluated. My manager has a great saying when it comes to hiring:

"I can teach tech but I can't teach someone how to think"

You say that you have very good reasons for wanting to make your team more diverse but I would challenge you to flesh out those ideas a bit more. In addition to technical evaluation, you should know exactly the qualities and attributes you are looking for in a candidate and look to incorporate identifying those values into your hiring process.

The musician Tom Waits has a great saying that I think fits here:

"If two people are doing the exact same thing, one of them is redundant."

To me, this best sums up where diversity in IT is invaluable. At our core, we (IT professionals) are problem solvers. You put ten guys in a room all with similar backgrounds and give them a problem, more often than not you are going to get back answers that are very much one-sided. But take a wide variety of individuals with different experiences, problem solving techniques and skillsets and you are more likely to identify solutions which are truly "outside of the box". This is the essence of the "high-functioning team"... you want individuals with different personalities and styles so they can compliment each others strengths, offset each others weaknesses, challenge each other to look at the problem from unique perspectives and work as a team to become something more than thesum of their parts. You do not just want another clone of what you already have; you are looking for individual uniqueness which will grow the team as a whole. That means onboarding people with different experience, styles and ways of attacking problems. Identifying these team enhancing attributes during a short interview window is very much an art form.

If you get to a point where you have 10 individuals and you cannot clearly tell who is the best candidate then you have a problem with your interview process. Technical aptitude is important but if that is where your questions end then you need to expand. I like to ask open ended questions which allows the individual to tell me about themselves, their approach to conflict resolution, to problem solving and self learning:

  • Tell me about a workplace conflict you encountered and how you moved past it?
  • Tell me about a time when you encountered a problem that you couldn't figure out? How did you eventually find a solution?
  • What does your ideal job look like? If you could design the perfect position for your skillset, what would that look like?
  • How do you learn new skills? How do you acclimate yourself to a new environment or project?
  • What do your long term goals look like? Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Here's the crazy thing... if you start opening the door to non-technical but business relevant questions and let people talk, you will start to see what makes them special. Sometimes you will learn things about someone that you don't like but sometimes you will identify some unique trait that sets them as a clear front-runner. Sometimes, even, the best candidate is not always the most technically adept one.

At the end of the day you have to make your own decision as to who will be the best addition to the team. But I am a true believer that a more diverse team is a stronger team and the only way to truly evaluate diversity is to get past the surface level stuff and dig into what truly makes us diverse: experience, personality and style. Adjust your interview process to ensure you are capturing those qualities and you will absolutely begin making a dent in your diversity gap.

Good luck to you!

TL;DR I would encourage you to really look into the specifics of where diversity can help your solution building and troubleshooting of your current product. Then tailor your interview process to not only identify technical aptitude but to also look at those non-technical attributes such as experience, problem approaching and learning styles which will help identify the truly best addition to your team.

9

Other answers have covered my top two suggestions, recruit more diverse applicants, and modifying your hiring criteria. But there's an important additional step that hasn't been covered: Reduce existing biases in the hiring process. In a statistically significant number of cases, your minority candidates might actually BE the best candidates, yet not be perceived that way.

In a well-known result, orchestras significantly increased the number of female musicians they hired simply by instituting "blind" auditions, where the jurors listened to the musicians without seeing them. It's further been shown that the less well-defined the hiring criteria, the more likely subconscious biases will impact them, and also that minority candidates underperform in situations where they know they are negatively stereotyped, or feel unwelcome.

So, having a better defined hiring rubric --even one not focused directly on diversity --, considering resumes with racial identifiers removed, adding more minorities to the hiring committees, and presenting yourself as a workplace that welcomes diversity are all things that can increase your minority hires --without you having to put your thumb on the scales.

8

You have to distinguish between equality of opportunity and equality of outcome.

Equality of opportunity means that everybody, no matter what gender or color, has the same opportunity to get the job, but you still select by fit (i.e., skill, experience etc.). This means that (provided your process to select fitting candidates works) you get the best possible team in terms of skill.

Equality of outcome means that, you end up with a team as diverse as you want; but with less skilled or experienced people than you could otherwise have had.

In SQL terms, the first is order by skill, diversity, the second is order by diversity, skill.

So, with that in mind, the way you optimize diversity is:

  • For a pool of candidates, rank them by skill/experience/... first (i.e., everything but the "diversity" dimensions). At this stage, hide the diversity dimensions (i.e., hide the gender, color, etc. of the applicants) to avoid subliminally influencing the evaluation.
  • Take a good hard look at the overal scores in that ranking. If you have one top candidate who is leaps and bounds beyond #2, then you take that one, no matter if it's good for your diversity or not.
  • Alternatively, if #1 and #2 are somewhat close in skill/experience/..., then you modify your choice by diversity criteria - if #2 is much better for your team's diversity, then pick them instead of #1.

Note that the distinction between opportunity and outcome is a very contentious battlefield in the political landscape these days. If you or your stakeholders insist on equality of outcome, then ignore this answer.

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    I have mixed opinions about this answer. When it gets to the point where you have two equal candidates and you have to decide "who is more diverse", surely the act of deciding "this person is more diverse" results in discrimination (by race, sex etc). For example, if you say "our company is 80% latino, so we'll hire the white person over the latino because it's better for diversity" then you've just chosen to hire someone because of their race, essentially falling into the same trap you were trying to avoid in the first place. – Pharap Feb 10 at 0:06
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    Absolutely, @Pharao. I personally would stop the selection process right after Step 1 and, from experience, end up with a not so diverse team. But OP specifically wants "...to hire more people of color, more women, etc." for whatever reason he doesn't actually explain (outside pressure, his own beliefs, who knows.). So the answer is meant to give him a way which is not counter-productive at least, and which does not fall into the eq-of-outcome trap. – AnoE Feb 10 at 10:23
7

If you are inside the interview loop to provide technical review of the candidate, provide technical review of the candidate. That's your only job. You don't fabricate technical review by your non-technical agenda.

If you want to improve diversity inside your team, talk to your boss/HR separately about diversity. After all, they are the ones who take consideration into all aspects and make decision, you need to provide accurate technical info on technical aspect, and accurate team building info on team building aspect, DON'T MIX THEM, that's your responsibility.

So I may phrase your conversation to your boss as:

We get lucky and all these candidates are all well beyond our standard in technical spec. I find this lady a good option since she can provide some positivity in the team and also help us build a more diverse team, which should be good for us in long run.

  • Ah, now in longer form, I see the point from your comment now. I agree here (I hope it was clear I'm not supporting "make stuff up" as legitimate option in my question, I agree that it's totally counterproductive.) – Elliot Nelson Feb 5 at 16:42
4

Actually, it's really easy.

I've concluded that what's best for my team and my company is to increase the amount of diversity in my software engineering team.

I have my personal opinions about that but I won't challenge it. You're confident in your research, and I'm confident in you*.

Important: I will also assume what you're trying to do is legal, because I've no idea how discrimination laws work in your locale, and if you can even consider what the US calls protected status as a factor. If it's not legal in your locale (such as the US), stop what you're doing and go back to your normal hiring guidelines. This answer ends here.

Assuming that's legal:

8 of them are white men, 1 is a white woman, and 1 is a black woman. Let's assume they were all reasonably good in the interview.

At this point you're confident all candidates would perform reasonably well in the role they interviewed for.

Extend an offer to both women.

Don't even act like you need to justify your decision. You've been trusted to make the hiring decision and they're your top choices.

If, for any reason, you're challenged on that, you can say that they did well in their interview. Which they did.

If you're asked why you preferentially extended an offer to the female candidates, that's an easy answer as well:

My research suggests hiring for diversity would be to the benefit of our team.

And then you explain your research.


That's all for your immediate situation. Addressing the TL;DR:

How to increase diversity of an [...] team, if you aren't allowed to take the diversity of candidates into account

HelloWorld has already made a great suggestion: Market the position in a friendly way to the demographics you want to see more of.


*Because it's no skin off my nose.

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    Basing a hiring decision upon a Protected Status aspect (which race/gender both are) is technically illegal. If you're going to advise 'Just hire the women', you definitely don't want to also advise '... and admit the reason you hired them was because they're women.' – Kevin Feb 5 at 18:21
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    @Kevin That's why I put the legal caveat at the top. The question is not locale-tagged and only later I saw OP is based in the US. So, you're right. I've made a little edit to draw attention to this. – rath Feb 5 at 18:25
  • @Kevin Unless OP says "We're hiring those two because they're women" in public, it's going to be awful hard to prove discrimination on the basis of race and/or sex. (In the US, I may not be legally discriminated against for employment on the basis of being white and male.) It should be possible to come up with an innocuous-sounding reason, and nobody will be able to prove anything if you don't do it a lot. Whether anybody want to go in this direction, I don't know. – David Thornley Feb 5 at 19:59
  • Perhaps change "My research suggests hiring for diversity would be to the benefit of our team." to "My research suggests hiring for diversity would benefit our team more than hiring only for maximum performance of each hire." – Vaelus Feb 5 at 20:07
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    Remember that if one of the guys you passed over decides to take you to court, the discovery process will require you to fork over all of this research on which you are basing the claim that diversity benefits your company. So don't claim that your research says such-and-such if you can't back that up in court. – EvilSnack Feb 6 at 3:47
3

You can't hire based on non-professional parameters, but you can increase pool size of applicants.

One way to do it is outreach: target communities that can bring you more diverse candidates. For example, try to hire from college for junior positions, advertising to groups of "under-represented" students.

Another way is changing the business process: hire remote developers (you tag is software-industry). It has been done before, it works OK, it will attract people who don't like living in Midwest.

At the end, maybe you shouldn't try to solve this problem yourself, but should hire an expert in diversity hiring process.

PS: number of answers talk about technical skills. Make sure you are not hiring jerks with excellent resume and technical skills, there is a "culture fit" parameters in hiring process. But it might require changing culture

3

A few points not specifically mentioned already:

1) You can only optimize an activity (in your case, the hiring process) for one thing. So, first of all, decide what do you want to optimize it for. Do you want to be ethical? OR do you want diversity? OR do you want something else? I'm not telling you which option to choose. I'm telling you that each option will at least partially go against other options, so you can only have ONE option as the top priority. In other words, you cannot eat your cake and have it too. Pick one. The rest of the discussion will depend on which one you pick.

2) Two kinds of Equality - Equality of Opportunity vs Equality of Outcome.

You can have one or the other, not both. Equality of opportunity is good, equality of outcome is bad.

Equality of opportunity means, you give each candidate equal chances. The candidate can be male, female, black, white, yellow, a green Martian with antennae and polka dots, it doesn't matter. You talk to each of them, you let each of them do the tech tests etc. You evaluate them based on their qualities - knowledge, skills, character, attitude, whatever. You end up with whatever outcome - that is, whatever distribution of male, female, black, white, other - you happen to get.

The other is that you want each of them to have the same outcome - to end up with the same number of hired whites, blacks, yellows, reds, mixes, men, women, something else. Everyone gets the same. If that's the case, you have to accept that some won't be the best at what they do.

This generally leads into bad performance - if someone knows he/she will be employed no matter what, then he has no pressure to improve. But if that's what you want, that's what you want - but then you cannot claim that all of them have had an equal opportunity. (that would be like eating your cake and having it too, again)

You cannot have both of these equalities at the same time. Either one or the other. Pick one.

3. Software Engineering - practical tests are a good tool against bias.

Give each of them a computer, give them a test - some task to make in whatever programming language your company uses the most, at least for the position for which you're hiring. Of course, tests can be bad - I have seen my share of bad and almost meaningless ones - but no one said the job is easy. Your existing devs can help you with that. The code that the candidates make will either work or not work - there's no personal bias there. If it doesn't, they're out; if it does, then you evaluate it for performance, optimization, clean code, modular structure, documentation, all the best practices in the industry.

In fact you can give their code, with fake names, to your current developers, so they don't know which candidate made which answer... and they can evaluate it. This will remove the bias, and you can always say that the people doing the evaluation did not have the info about identity of each author of the test code.

2

I haven't seen internships mentioned here yet, so I'll throw that out there.

At my previous job we got many temps and interns who recently graduated from programming bootcamps that served women and minorities, and even felons. Having them in the office for a time gave us a real view of the culture fit, and it was a smooth path for them into the next level of their career after bootcamp.

The idea is that instead of finding who you need, you can participate in growing someone into what you need.

  • That's asking quite a bit from a company, and quite frankly, to those qualified people not getting the positions. – Richard U Feb 6 at 16:00
  • Given that only rich people can afford to take unpaid internships, that usually ends up reducing diversity. You now hire only people with rich parents. (Maybe not in the internships you're talking about, but certainly in most.) – TRiG Feb 7 at 3:30
1

Some major concrete measures you can take:

  1. Stop using recruitment channels that disproportionally represent only certain highly-advantaged groups. This means:

    • Not hiring people introduced through family, fraternal organizations, social groups, etc.
    • Not using Stack Overflow Careers.
    • Not demanding candidates have a Github portfolio (or equivalent hobbyist presence in other domains).
    • Not recruiting through college career fairs at colleges that are not diverse.
    • etc.
  2. Find and fix problems with racism, sexism, etc. inside your workplace. If you don't, few people who are the targets of these -isms are going to be excited about working for you, and you're not going to get a diverse set of applicants.

  3. Beyond that, make it known that your workplace is not only non-hostile but friendly to people beyond the most traditionally-advantaged groups. Advertise in your job postings that your health insurance is comprehensive with respect to reproductive health care, gender-affirming care, etc. Advertise 6+ month parental leave.

1

You can actually create positions for POC and still welcome everyone to apply. German job listings do something similar to this. I'd imagine you'd need something like,

Ninja Superstar Mega-ultimate position for (for female, but all are welcome to apply) $$$$

This would help you get out of your 8 white dudes per 10 applicants situation. Perhaps with something like this you could get an only 6 white dudes per 10 applicants. Maybe more.

Another one of these listings I've seen is,

Full Stack Web Developer: Women and People of Color are encouraged to apply

Beyond that you would need to invest in making that one black woman the best candidate without giving her an unfair advantage. I think this means mentoring and potentially tutoring her or people wherever you're likely to find such a candidate, and providing clear detailed feedback to all who apply for your positions.

The final thing I've seen done in this situation is always hiring a man and a women when you have the option so you can say you have a fair unbiased hiring practices if anyone were to try to bring it up; you'd frame hiring a man and a woman as a way to avoid a lawsuit.

Of course, this behavior is probably more problematic legally than just hiring the best candidates - if the example you provided where 2/10 applicants are women is typical, this practice would lead to women having a 50% chance of getting hired purely due to gender -, but it's very likely that no one is going to call you on it.

  • 10
    If the OP is in the US (it kind of seems that way), this idea is more likely to create discrimination lawsuits, since sex is a protected class. "[X group] encouraged to apply" is a phrase with implications, many of them simply not legal here X group is a protected class. – Clay07g Feb 5 at 17:47
  • 7
    @Steve On the other hand, if I (a white man) apply and am not hired while a woman is, I have a pretty fair stab at an illegal discrimination lawsuit. Since this would be a civil suit, I only need the preponderance of the evidence, and those ads would be pretty good evidence. – David Thornley Feb 5 at 20:01
  • 3
    @Steve just reverse the positions... do you really think an employer with 'Developer: White males encouraged to apply.' would stand a chance in court if they didn't hire a black female? – NPSF3000 Feb 6 at 1:39
  • 1
    @Steve If you're in court, you've already lost. Winning in court is not a win. It's a loss that just happens to not be as bad as losing in court. Are you aware that lawyers receive paychecks? – Clay07g Feb 6 at 4:23
  • 1
    @Steve "Protected class" refers to the attribute, not a specific denomination of that attribute. So the protected class itself is your gender, so going "We specifically encourage men to apply, although everyone can" would be a strong basis for a discrimination claim against the company by a woman who hasn't been hired. In germany specifically, they usually go as far as even specifying the female and male descriptor of the job role to avoid this. In fact the "SoftwareingenieurIn" is shorthand for "(Male/Female) Software Engineer" where the / is redacted for Brevity and capitalised instead. – Magisch Feb 6 at 13:11
0

You might try to assess some soft or non-traditional criteria -- e.g. maybe not only how much experience or education someone has, but how motivated they are -- or how much they've accomplished compared to how little opportunity they've had -- or just whether they can and want to do the job, perhaps with training.

As an example of non-traditional selection criteria, a while ago I had a boss who (I heard) preferred to hire self-taught programmers -- I think that, rightly or wrongly, he figured they were more diligent or something than people who had been spoon-fed the knowledge in school.

Maybe something like that is part of the thinking behind "reverse discrimination", i.e. that some people appear to be weaker candidates because they've been disadvantaged and had fewer opportunities, but could do better given the opportunity.

0

I get your idea of increasing diversity but as otherwise specified, equal opportunities is not the same as equal outcomes...

Hire who you need, the person you need. The suggestion of a blind interview is great but hard to put in practice, start with a phone interview and write your impressions about the candidates.

Look at your hiring pool.

Be realistic.

Would it be realistic for me to try and hire a black person in Salt Lake City? Obviously not, statistically if the population of white man that are qualified in your field is 80% then you are unlikely to find someone who is qualified who is not a white man. This is not discrimination at all!

Consider whether there is another city nearby where the hiring pool is more diverse, maybe offering a relocation package would solve your problem.

Affirmative action is just going to make it worse in my opinion. Hire who is best, no matter who they are. If you end up having 100 female candidates and 1 male and he is the best qualified then hire him! If it is the opposite, then do the opposite!

More importantly than checking a box on diversity is having qualified people, or people that want to progress (you can go on a limb and give someone who has less experience but an eagerness to thrive as well) working with you.

0

One point which was not mentioned yet as far as I can tell: Make your interviewers reflect more on how they assess candidates. An illustrative example: One of us managers at my current workplace did a lot of side projects as a student and has a passion for home automation today. When interviewing together, I have noticed that his gut feeling of "a good fit" is very tightly coupled to seeing the same traits in an applicant: if somebody mentions no side projects, he is somewhat disappointed and has a worse forecast afterwards, and if somebody mentions liking home automation, the talk becomes almost as if they are old buddies, and afterwards my colleague's assessment of the applicant is quite high.

I agree that, all things being equal, an applicant with side projects in programming is more likely to be a good hire than one without, so on the surface it seems like a good criterion. But the subtle downside is that these kind of "soft" criteria frequently reduce your diversity, because some kinds of personal interests and personality features tend to cluster in the prototypical programmer, and as long as prototypical programmers are using their gut feelings to assess applicants, other prototypical programmers have an unnoticed advantage. This is not about any conscious bias or racism on the part of the interviewer, it is just that we tend to have a more favorable opinion of people whom we "get", even when we think of them as individuals and not as members of a race or gender. And frequently, the person thinking like that is not even aware of the effect, or thinks that it is an objective criterion - "this guy tinkers with Raspberry Pi, so he is a better candidate than this girl whose hobby is volleyball".

At the same time, the information gained from these criteria is limited, and uni-directional. OK, so whoever coded for fun once can probably code well. But there are also tons of people out there who can code well without ever having coded for fun. And if somebody has the potential to be a good coder, but grows up in a social group where coding is not a popular pastime, will likely have a different array of hobbies than the average white male nerd. When such people learn to code, they don't give up their original interests. So, "codes for fun" implies "good coder", but "does not code for fun" does not imply "bad coder"! Additionally, people who code personal projects may be more likely to be better in the "writing working code" skill, but they are also frequently lower on other important job skills like "documenting what I did so a team member will understand", which is a part that rarely gets considered. So, in the end, the case for using this type of information is not as strong as it seems at a first glance, and because of the side effect of reducing diversity, you may want to actively counteract it instead.

I wrote about the special case of coding for fun when hiring a programmer, but this can be extended to many other hiring situations. For example, employers could have a better gut feeling when hiring a woman with children as a kindergarten teacher, preferring her over a man without children. The point is that we unconsciously compare people to both ourselves and to the stereotype we have for the position (frequently these two overlap) and at the end, we honestly believe that they are going to be better at their job if they fit our expectations better. One always likes to give an employment chance to a younger version of oneself rather than to somebody different. And we cannot stop this kind of subtle effect influencing our attitudes to the person. What we should do instead is to be very mindful of when it might have occured, and ask ourselves as interviewers very hard if candidate B would still be better than A if this effect didn't exist.

This won't, of course, increase your chance of hiring diversely over the 20% you get from having 8 white male programmers and 2 programming minority people in the pool. But since an intuitive hiring process will make that chance less than 20%, following this strategy is still important.

-1

This question is very easy.

In all job applications, people are not created equal. I don't mean based on race/ethnicity/gender/sexual orientation/etc. I mean, just in general, people are not created equal. It's simply false (not universally, I guess, but with extremely high probability) to take 2 people and say "these two people have exactly the same skill level in every task". In general, it's good for business (important thing to keep in mind: you are a company; your goal is to build stuff and make money, not to mollycoddle to politically correct trends) to hire people who are the best, whether they be white, black, brown, purple, green, or Apache Helicopter. Failure to do that is, imo, actively sabotaging the business and dereliction of duty. The reason being, if you hire people who aren't as good at their jobs as other people, then your product will not be as good; you will have more bugs, more delays, less maintainable code, and so on, because you chose not to hire the best people.

If you want my opinion: When you do a round of interviews, determine who the best people are and extend them a job offer. If they happen to be women, or black, or trans, or gay, or what have you, then great. If not, then that's great too. Either way, your business will be better off, because you are simply hiring the best.

If you don't want my opinion: Discuss with your boss(es) what they would prefer to do: Hire for diversity, or hire for skill. Since you seem to be having trouble finding applicants who are both minorities and also have the skill to compete with white men (hence your question; if this wasn't a problem then you wouldn't be here asking this question), this would seem to be a strict dichotomy. See what your boss(es) say. Perhaps they value diversity more than technical aptitude. In which case, my advice to you would be the get the heck out of that company unless it is already a MNC, because companies that compromise product quality are companies which are doomed to fail.


After reading some other answers, I have another possible answer. Look at the demographics of your locale, weighted by the demographics of your profession. If you are hiring a software engineer, a profession famous for being dominated by white men, and your locale is 80% white, and your locale is 50% men, then having 70-80% of your applicants be white men is not particularly unreasonable. If, however, your locale is 80% black and 60% female and 80% of your applicants are white men, then maybe you have a perception problem, and you should look into ways to promote your company to black women; it's possible that your company is just not well-known to black women, and hence they are not applying. One possible way you could do this might be through a third-party recruiter who can target the appropriate groups for you, or by attending job fairs that are specifically targeted at black women, or so on.

  • The premise of the question seems to be that diversity in engineering teams allows for optimization that isn't reflected in the skills of the individuals. For instance, if you have some measure of skill, that rates two similar people and one dissimilar person all with the same skill, a team of one similar person and the dissimilar person would perform better than a team of the two similar people. – Vaelus Feb 5 at 19:56
  • @Vaelus I agree that that seems to be the premise of the question. However, I'll respond with "citation needed". – Ertai87 Feb 5 at 19:58
  • 3
    i don't think you've ever had to hire someone. there's generally no "best" candidate, there are just too many factors to consider and everyone is going to bring a mix of strengths and weaknesses. the endless search for a perfect candidate is mollycoddling and dereliction of duty imo. – mendota Feb 5 at 20:22
-2

IANAL, I recommend reviewing hiring practices with HR.

That said, a lot of times when doing consulting work in the public sector, a municipality may assign an attainable point score for different categories that you are evaluating a candidate upon.

So technical proficiency might be one category and it has a maximum score of 8 (or whatever works for you). Bear in mind, for certain jobs, you're not looking for the best of the best of the best, you're looking for someone that can do the specific job you need.

Another category could be soft skills and it has a maximum score that might be 2.

Another category could be personality and an evaluation on how you think they'll fit into your team. This could end up being really important, so maybe you give it a score of 4.

Another category could be salary costs and that has a score of 4.

Lastly, you might apply a diversity score, which has a maximum of 1. Essentially, a tiebreaker. Municipal governments might strive to give work to minority-owned businesses, women owned businesses, businesses within the community, etc. It's more or less a form of legal bias, in favor of disenfranchised populations, that permits you to favorably give the benefit of a tie to someone in favor of specific criteria like diversity that you're trying to meet.

The thing to note with this is that technical proficiency is still the biggest chunk of the grade, but it's not the only aspect. You probably would want the candidate to get some sort of minimum score for that aspect (i.e. less than 5 is a disqualifying factor). However, this sort of breakdown provides a basis for which you can more practically compare candidates in an impartial manner.

  • It's more or less a form of legal bias, in favor of disenfranchised populations, that permits you to favorably give the benefit of a tie to someone in favor of specific criteria like diversity that you're trying to meet. Unless you have your general counsel approve of that as a company, I'd be careful with such an approach. I know for instance that it'll be illegal in all of america and most of europe to do hiring in such a way. – Magisch Feb 7 at 14:51
  • @Magisch I cannot speak to what's legally permissible for private companies, hence the disclaimer at the top. I'm simply informing the querent regarding what is legal and done by public entities in the work I do. Municipal governments have an interest in keeping their business within their municipality (if it is fiscally feasible to do so), so they often have weighting metrics for that; they also have metrics requesting the use of DBE businesses. transportation.gov/civil-rights/… – Pyrotechnical Feb 7 at 15:11
-7

Work with HR to change the job description so that it includes job responsibilities that explicitly allow you to grade "diverse" candidates higher.

Claim that you're not hiring a "Software Engineer", but instead hiring a "Software Engineer / User Experience Engineer" or whatever other formulation lets you accomplish what you want to accomplish. This gives you the latitude to truthfully claim "Candidate X had life experiences we thought would benefit our development of solutions that will appeal to the target customers of this product".

To protect yourself legally, this updated job description has to reflect a genuine business need that can survive a disparate impact analysis.

  • 5
    This is a recommendation to skirt the law by using legally gray tactics. This could get the company in trouble. – Richard U Feb 5 at 22:14
  • I don't see how that works. There aren't any "women's" or "black's" or otherwise "belonging to the 'diverse' group" jobs. Claiming so would implicitly mean there are segregated jobs. And even leaving this aside - how does it even work? There isn't anywhere that makes, say, Filipinos better at QA or Native Americans better at UX. So, you can't just go "This applicant is better suited for the job of X because they are a member of Y minority". – VLAZ Feb 6 at 8:33
  • 1
    That is playing a dangerous game with discrimination lawsuits. Imagine exactly what would happen if you did the same thing with the goal to reduce diversity: You'd get sued into the ground. There is no reason to believe the other way around works any differently. – Magisch Feb 6 at 13:15
  • As I indicated, you have to identify a genuine business need that would survive a disparate impact analysis. If you can't do that, you shouldn't pursue this and even asking the question is proof of an intent to discriminate. – tbrookside Feb 6 at 20:13
  • VLAZ - if you had a business in an urban area (say, a hospital or university) and wanted to hire a "Community Relations Specialist", if you deliberately set out to hire someone from that community and representing that community's dominant demographic, that hire would survive a disparate impact analysis. – tbrookside Feb 6 at 20:15

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