Opinion: Why scaling tech firms with diversity matters
In any tech startup or scaleup, scaling the product is always the number one priority, and in ramping up teams to achieve continuous development and speed to market, many founders have relied on hiring past colleagues they trust to join them on a new venture.
While it’s tempting to replicate a recipe for success, today’s founders are faced with increasing demands to recruit responsibly and keep diversity, equity and inclusion forefront of mind.
This has become more important than ever, particularly given the results of many recent studies that have revealed the material impact of diversity on companies’ financial performances and shareholder values.
The Harvard Business Review noted that diverse company management teams are better performing. Its ‘Why Diverse Teams are Smarter’ study showed that large companies with at least one woman on their board generated a higher return on equity and net income growth compared to those companies that had no gender diversity.
In its report ‘Delivering through Diversity’ Mckinsey suggested that greater diversity across genders and ethnicity was strongly correlated to higher profitability and value creation. In this sense, a diverse company can help attract and maintain top talent, improve customer propositions, and develop better decision-making methodology.
With a growing roster of evidence backing diversity, most tech founders don’t need convincing that it needs to be a key part of growth, development and operational resilience. What they need is guidance on how to weave diversity into talent acquisition, and foresight into how diversity may just be the accelerator needed in acquiring the best talent for those top 20 strategic roles that can supercharge startups and scaleups ahead of their competition.
Consider your DEI plans at all times
If tech teams want to scale responsibly, diversity, equity and inclusion can’t just be a side project for someone in HR. Your DEI mission should unify your organizational direction, from marketing and customer strategies through to talent acquisition, learning and development, CSR and rewards.
Above all, diversity programs should evolve continually. DEI now goes far beyond culture to encompass gender, neurodiversity, ability and age. As a strategy, DEI cannot stand still. If tech companies truly want to hire a more diverse workforce, it is also worth considering how to make themselves appealing to that diverse group of people. For example, women are still markedly absent in technology: according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology, women hold just 25% of technical and computing based roles in the USA.
If we want to see more women represented in technology, we need to ensure that they are aware of the importance of equality within an organization. Communicating policy on equal pay and representation is a great start, and it must be an active and obvious part of your employer brand.
Audit your job descriptions from a critical eye
As with all critical business functions, in recruitment, it’s important to really understand what you need, and what you want. Often, they are two different things, and from a gender perspective, female candidates for tech roles often won’t apply unless they feel they meet the vast majority of the criteria in a job description.
Studies have shown that male candidates may not be not so concerned with meeting all the criteria, and may apply for highly technical roles regardless. If companies make job descriptions so daunting that only the few overly qualified male candidates apply, they may miss out on some great talent.
It’s time to shake up this way of thinking, and possibly even to do away with the mandatory four-year university or college degree for all roles. With this way of thinking, companies may be missing out on candidates with more experience, or veteran candidates that may be perfect, but were not able to attend college due to financial obstacles.
As leaders, it’s our job to find the best and most hardworking person to strategically join the business to help it to scale. In keeping with the performance benefits identified by Mckinsey, the best team is likely to be a diverse one, so make sure job descriptions aren’t pigeon holing candidates.
Also, just because you are expanding your definition of the perfect team doesn’t mean you are sacrificing excellence or experience. You will likely need a bit of patience and support as you look for the perfect candidate who will fit your culture. Scaling a company takes time, expertise, dedication and often resources that may not easily be found in-house. If you have been considering outsourcing, now may be the time to establish that partnership to achieve more success in your diversity based hiring challenges.
Understand unconscious bias in your organization
Understanding unconscious bias is rooted in recognizing it in the first place, and accepting that unless it’s addressed, it will be difficult to attract, hire and scale your company with a diverse workforce.
In technology companies, the implications of unconscious bias are twofold. Firstly, if it’s left to fester, unconscious bias can make an organization unattractive to candidates and existing employees. People who feel they aren’t presented with the same opportunities as others, or feel they have to prove themselves continually within the workplace may eventually leave rather than confronting the problem directly.
The other direct impact tech companies see is a lack of innovation in their products and services, and even a lack of connection with customers. This is particularly dangerous in the case of AI tech companies that are building algorithms that may ultimately impact people’s lives.
In looking to eliminate unconscious bias, we need to look at our engagement with candidates right from the very beginning. We need to examine our recruitment sources to ensure we’re getting a diverse selection of candidates - this is particularly important if you are outsourcing to gain that added edge in experienced recruitment and employer branding.
We also need to look at our interviewing techniques to ensure that unconscious bias is not resulting in a less diverse team. People interview differently, and it’s important to profile roles and the characteristics required to support them. Rapid fire, confident verbal answers may be a good indication that someone will make a great CTO. However, well thought out answers to a written test may show someone to be a perfect Quality Assurance Analyst.
With all the evidence pointing to diversity as a game changer for fast moving tech companies, creating a culture of inclusion and equity is more important now than ever before. If the pandemic has done us any favors, it’s that it’s knocked down geographical barriers to the talent pool, opening up a more diverse base of candidates for companies to choose from as they scale.
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