Blog articles

Ways to promote equitable hiring and healthy workplace culture in tech

June 01, 2023

Breaking into the tech industry can be a big challenge, and companies using outdated, non-inclusive hiring methods make it even harder. Those practices limit your team’s access to innovative ideas and unique perspectives while building the type of work environment today’s workers aren’t seeking. When researching job offers and potential companies, over 75% of employees and job seekers consider a diverse workforce to be important.

Learn how some of today’s tech leaders are helping their organizations develop and implement more inclusive strategies for more equitable hiring and better workplace cultures.

You can watch a discussion on overcoming barriers in tech with Pariss Chandler of Black Tech Pipeline, Jessica Tai of Airbnb, Corey Weathers of Okta, and Aisha Blake of Pluralsight. 

Workplace culture and its impact

Over the past few decades, more organizations have started to consider how workplace culture impacts their employees on a psychological and emotional level. Do employees feel comfortable sharing ideas? Do they feel valued? And if not, what can be done to make it better?

The role of diversity, equity, and inclusion in shaping work environments

To encourage a more inclusive workplace, organizations must examine how diversity, equity, and inclusion are reflected in their values and current practices. An inclusive workplace is one in which employees not only know their worth, but also see how their unique traits and experiences contribute to the company’s success.

Pariss Chandler, Founder and CEO of Black Tech Pipeline, gives companies a chance to examine how they’re doing when they fill out their landing page information for her site’s job board.

“Every company has to answer these questions: What are you building? What problems are you solving? What are your company values? What are diversity, equity, and inclusion to you, and how do you practice each of them separately? What does safety look like? How does leadership participate in the day-to-day? How do they support their employees?”

Assessing company culture during the job search process

Job searches can feel as though they’re stacked in the company’s favor, and you need to convince them you’re the right choice. But it’s just as important for job seekers to feel they’ve found the right opportunity with the right company.

Corey Weathers, Developer Relations Manager at Auth0 of Okta, thinks about this in relation to the traditional 45-minute interview: “The question I would ask is, ‘Is that both the right amount of time to interview someone for the right opportunity, and for the candidate to interview you and see if this is the right fit for them?’”

Job seekers often aren’t prepared for the interview to evolve into a conversation about what the right fit for them looks like. Organizations can facilitate honest conversations by framing the interview process as a learning opportunity for both sides.

For example, Jessica Tai, Engineering Manager at Airbnb, goes a step further and explains, “I ask everyone to describe the company culture to see what it’s like at different levels. If they say, ‘We have a good culture,’ with no specifics or anything else, it’s kind of a red flag for me.”

Overcoming hiring bias and “culture fit”

Inherent hiring biases are all around us. 

“There’s unconscious bias and what people can acknowledge around that bias,” Corey explained. “There’s the historical bias of, ‘Every time we interview, we interview a certain way.’ Or the subjective bias of, ‘I think this person is fantastic!’ because they happen to either speak the same language or tell stories in similar ways that we do.’”

In every instance, hiring biases prevent companies from fostering truly diverse and inclusive hiring practices.

The prevalence and consequences of hiring bias

Because interviewing and hiring can take months, it’s often easier for companies to default to outdated practices simply to save time. But companies risk losing exceptional candidates when they cling to biased, non-inclusive processes. Pariss experienced this firsthand as a coding boot camper.

“Even after explaining I’m a boot camper—this is what I learned within my boot camp, this is an accelerated program and not a four-year school—they still tailored their interview process around someone who would have a computer science degree. It was difficult overcoming that.”

Hiring biases can also lead interviewers to overlook whether or not the applicant has the right skills for the position. Giving weight to credentials alone could result in hiring someone who is actually a bad fit for the company, leading to higher turnover and more wasted resources.

Revamping interview processes to mitigate workplace bias and promote equity

Leaders can push back on how they’ve always done things by implementing these strategies in their interview process.

  • Define the skills that matter. The list should include both tangible skills (Can this person code?) and intangible skills (How do they convey a message?). This shifts the interview’s focus from being subjective to data-driven.

  • Determine why you’re asking certain questions. Pluralsight’s Director of Developer Relations, Aisha Blake, suggests thinking about what you hope to get out of the question and what the response will actually tell you. “If the answer is that you’re trying to see how they react, that’s not an appropriate question,” she said.

  • Offer multiple evaluation methods. This could include different test projects for on-site vs. remote candidates and even options within those groups. As long as each method tests and measures the same skills, allowing candidates to choose what makes sense for them gives them agency during a potentially stressful time.

Culture add vs. culture fit: What’s the difference?

Fostering an inclusive work environment requires changing hiring perspectives from culture fit to culture add. With culture fit, hiring teams looked for candidates who more or less match the current makeup of the team. What originally started as, “Does this person share our company values?” evolved into, “Do they remind us of ourselves?”

Culture add is different because it “develops the culture of a company by vetting candidates based on how they’ll lift the company to a new level,” according to the team at Test Gorilla. In other words, consider how the candidate’s ideas and perspectives will enhance the team, not simply match it.

“There are specific cues that help me assess what the candidate isn’t saying and some of the questions I can lean into to understand their personality,” Corey said of his team’s process. “I don’t always get this right. This is where I love doing this in a scenario with my boss, the people team, and the folks on my team to help balance all of the perspectives.”

Finding belonging, inclusion, and confidence at work

Finding a supportive community matters in many areas of life, and your career is no different. Once Jessica switched her major to computer science, she found the encouragement she needed. “When you find the people who empower and inspire you, that’s what you need to get started in tech.”

Leaders can help to build a safe and inclusive work environment that offers similar support.

The role of leadership support in work environments

One of the easiest ways for leaders to support team members is by having honest conversations about their goals. Pariss finds that when someone can define their goal—whether it’s at the current company or for their career—it’s easier to create a pathway that will lead them there.

Instilling leadership skills in others is also important. Create opportunities where team members can build confidence by sharing their knowledge and skills.

At Airbnb, team members are assigned to be New Hire Buddies to new employees. Jessica said, “They realize, ‘Wow, I’ve actually learned a lot, and I can teach someone.’ I think that’s a great way to create synergy and build up the strength of the team.”

Aisha echoed the value of this type of team-building exercise. “Finding those groups where you can participate and contribute, even if you feel like you don’t have the kind of skills or knowledge that it takes—you do,” she said. “You have more than someone else in that community and there’s something you can provide to them, and it’s going to help you to progress faster.”

The importance of community at work and psychological safety

Team members are more empowered to contribute when they feel psychologically safe at work. This means they’re able to recognize the support they need and ask for it without feeling shame. There might be discomfort in acknowledging their feelings, but they should feel like they can safely ask for the help they need.

This support can show up in a lot of ways. Regular check-ins with a project team, a member of the leadership team, or a professional mentor offer different types of security and can help promote a sense of belonging.

A more inclusive work environment is possible

To help others in tech, the Diversity and Inclusion course offers in-depth lessons on the concept of diversity and how teams can incorporate more diversity into their workplace culture. Whether you’re thinking about inclusion and diversity for the first time or want to deepen your understanding, there’s plenty of practical information and guidance.

Check out the full panel discussion with Aisha, Pariss, Jessica, and Corey to learn even more about their experiences as well as additional tips for breaking barriers in tech hiring. And feel be sure to check out all of the other great resources on our YouTube channel.