Main image of article How Tech Companies are Tackling Discrimination in Hiring

Bias in hiring is not new, and tech’s heavy skew towards a white male workforce has been under the microscope for the past few years. Tech firms large and small are reckoning with whether their workforce demographics are at least in part a result of unconscious bias within the ranks.

For the first time, companies are making a concerted effort to eliminate bias in hiring. Change is incremental. Which hiring programs are actually having real impact?

We spoke with several hiring managers to discover which diversity programs or practices they’ve implemented, especially when it comes to hiring remotely. Job van der Voort, CEO of RemoteJane Ormerod, Vice President of Talent Acquisition at SAIC; Sachin Gupta, CEO and co-founder of HackerEarth; and Jane Lee (Operations Manager), Nicole Phoenix (Community Engagement Coordinator), and Jessica McManus (Talen Acquisition Specialist) of Promptworks all spoke with Dice about the approaches they’re taking.

Tech has a serious bias issue—how has your company addressed those biases?

Phoenix: The tricky thing about biases is that we all carry them. We’ve started the hard work of addressing how personal or institutional biases impact our team and potential hires by having open conversations about the subject. We have leaned on the expertise of individuals from organizations like Exude to provide a safe environment for everyone to learn about how bias plays out in the workplace.

Gupta: At HackerEarth, we've developed a system that allows all candidates to automatically go through a pre-screening process for the chance to complete an at-home coding challenge that is meant to replicate something that they might encounter on the job. Recruiters and hiring managers are then fed only those candidates who have the skills to perform the job in question.

Van der Voort: We have established a goal to increase representation of minorities in all levels of leadership from 18 percent to 30 percent over the next five years. External data shows that minorities make up less than 20 percent of leaders in our industry. Therefore, achieving our goal will not only make a significant difference for SAIC, it will also have a positive impact on the industry and in the communities in which we live.

In addition, the 30 percent goal mirrors the current percentage of minorities in non-leadership roles at SAIC. We will continue our efforts to have at least 30 percent of leadership roles held by women.

Do you think remote work helps or hurts with bias in hiring?

Van der Voort: Although remote work does not solve the complex issue of recruiting bias, it does remove regional limitations for companies looking to fill open roles. This is especially helpful as companies often fail to fill positions with a diverse set of candidates because of their isolated location. Remote work allows companies to break geographical barriers and find the best candidate for a role while drawing the benefits of multifaceted ideas and perspectives offered by a diverse workplace.

Gupta: Unfortunately, unconscious bias is something that is deep-rooted and it cannot be fixed easily. There have to be systematic solutions or the problem will stay entrenched. Thankfully, the pandemic has forced tech hiring to fundamentally reassess how it assessed talent, putting skills at the center. Online skill-based assessments, which have become essential during the pandemic, minimize educational and other biases from creeping into the process, as resumes [and] educational pedigrees play a smaller role in finding the right talent.

What programs has your company initiated that have helped encourage more diversity in your hiring for tech roles?

Ormerod: SAIC invests in tools and technology to help us actively locate new talent with diverse backgrounds and experience and match them to jobs, including A.I. tools that help the recruiters identify passive candidates and invite them to apply. 

SAIC launched mandatory inclusion and diversity training for all managers—and began providing managers with bi-weekly micro-learnings designed to increase awareness around the value of diversity and inclusion. Leaders share these learnings with their teams so that all employees can benefit from them and engage in important conversations that help us continue to grow and learn.

We also launched two new programs specifically for Black leaders: Black Executive Leadership Program, a three-month course for directors and above, and Management Accelerator, a six-month course for program managers.

We are assessing our recruiting practices to ensure a more inclusive approach for filling positions at all levels of the company. This includes evaluating our recruiting tools and processes to ensure they don’t contain unintentional biases, and that our advertising and marketing efforts reach a diverse pool of candidates. Our recruiting team has recently been trained on making our job descriptions more inclusive and are making the necessary revisions to open positions.

SAIC is investing in supporting organizations whose missions align with our inclusion and diversity and racial equality goals, including Black Girls Code, which provides girls of color ages 7-17 with opportunities to learn in-demand skills in technology. SAIC is partnering with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which provides scholarships to students at public HBCUs, to create an SAIC scholarship program that will be available in fall 2021. This fund will support the education of Black STEM students and help SAIC build a pipeline of diverse candidates launching their careers.

SAIC is enhancing its recruiting practices to ensure a more diverse candidate pool, including recruiting from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and developing partnerships with minority-focused professional organizations. We are looking at additional processes, practices and external relationships to increase minority representation across the organization. These include requirements for interviewing minority candidates for leadership roles and minority leadership development and mentorship programs.

Gupta: The pandemic has completely changed the way organizations approach the screening process. At HackerEarth, we have developed a tool that allows candidates to mask their personally identifiable information (PII) such as name, birth date, gender, and racial and ethnic identity.

When a recruiter sees a candidate profile, they will only see information pertinent to the job at hand such as skills, expertise, and experience. This can even be carried forward into interviews, with cameras turned off and names replaced with anonymous pseudonyms as candidates collaborate with a member of the hiring team on a coding challenge.

With this in place, candidates can be certain that their identity won't play a role in the hiring decision. We believe that only skills matter.

McManus: We’ve taken a holistic approach to hiring. Diversity, Equity & inclusion is so much more than a pipeline. It starts with bridging the skills gap and winds itself all the way up to what executive leadership looks like. We invest in nonprofits addressing access to STEM education by donating time as well as sponsorship dollars. We have an apprenticeship program to offer training to new engineers. Meetups are at the heart of organization, offering the opportunity to educate and collaborate within our local community. Promptworks has hosted many and sponsored many more.

Lee: Tactically, we have steps to help reduce bias such as running our job descriptions through gender decoders. We also have a voluntary DEI committee that works with the Operations team for hiring improvements and suggestions.

Van der Voort: We have a strong social media outreach program where our leadership team makes direct calls for diverse candidates and we actively promote women, POC, and other underrepresented employees at the forefront of our company. In response, each of the female engineers we hired has come as a direct result of this proactive initiative. There is also strong commitment from our executive leaders such as our CEO’s active search for female investors and this spirit trickles down the company internally to hiring managers as well as employees.

Slow But Steady Progress

There is no silver-bullet solution to tech’s diversity problem. We can even argue that some of the programs that companies are implementing have been done many times before; though some are taking unique approaches, the act of occluding personal info or assessing skills are not new to tech hiring. 

But these efforts are working, even if incrementally, and each company noted how they were addressing issues at every level of the company. The flipside of hiring is retention, and an environment that isn’t welcoming to all ultimately marginalizes some and drives them away.