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Utah Business

To be competitive and successful, tech companies need to invest in diverse talent.

It’s In Your Company’s Best Interest To Hire Diverse Coders

It may come as no surprise that Silicon Valley continues to be the most sought-after job market―they are still a hotbed for innovation and genius. But with this power comes the continuous struggle to create a diverse and inclusive workplace. A culture war over a lack of diversity in hiring and unconscious bias is happening and if left ignored, the need for diverse talent may just be Silicon Valley’s Achilles’ heel.

Whether unconscious or not, hiring bias continues to impact tech organizations’ salaries and hiring processes, hurting various ethnicities coming into the workforce. Hired.com, a tech startup out of California dedicated to matching top talent with the world’s most innovative tech companies, recently put together a study they call “2017 State of Global Tech Salaries.”

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Their data analyzed more than 280,000 interview requests and job offers that went through Hired’s online service in 2016. They also drew from 5,000 participating companies and 45,000 job seekers across the world. According to their research, the average black software engineer is 49 percent more likely to get the job than a white software engineer. However, that same black candidate reported making around $10,000 less in salary than their white colleagues.

The study goes on to say that it’s “unclear if Black American candidates are receiving more offers because they are more qualified, their preferred salaries are lower, because of diversity initiatives, or a combination of those and other factors.” Black Americans are frequent users of technology and have helped build many of the technology users interact with on a daily basis, helping turn startups into the giants they are today. But they aren’t reaping the same economic benefits of the tech industry that white Americans are.

Another example from that same study highlighted the fact that Latino and Asian candidates are more likely to receive salaries that are more equivalent to their white counterparts, but they are also less likely to get hired. “When we look at our two largest markets on Hired’s platform, San Francisco and New York,” the study says, “Latino candidates are 26 percent less likely to get hired than white people while Asians are a whopping 45 percent less likely. They do, however, receive salaries that are on par with other white software engineers.”

Hired’s 2017 report confirms that when it comes to hiring software engineers and coders, the tech industry has quite a few biases based on ethnicity, whether they consciously realize it or not. Dr. Karl Reid of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) believes that part of the blame may be placed on simply being human.

“Most of our biases are unconscious,” says Dr. Reid. “So it really doesn’t surprise me that there is racial or any other bias in the hiring process. As human beings, if left unexamined, we’re naturally drawn to people who are like us.” He believes the start of challenging these biases as humans, means having meaningful interactions with those who are different, changing our behavior and decisions. And if we don’t create these interactions, nothing will change. “You have to be intentional about breaking the natural tendency to be drawn to people who are like us. And I would suspect that many of these companies don’t see a need to make any changes in their approach to hiring because of their success.”

How To Overcome Hiring Bias

All of this isn’t to say that there is no hope for the future of the industry. There are plenty of companies looking to shake things up, create positive efforts for change, hire diverse talent, and embrace social good. Companies like Domo, in American Fork, Utah, are trying to do their part to eliminate what they call “inappropriate hiring bias” as best they can, while continuing to create a diverse workplace culture.

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Shane Koller, vice president of human resources at Domo says that not all bias is the same when it comes to hiring. That there are both good and bad. And they’re trying to eliminate the bad. “Our interview process enables us to remove as much human bias as possible and as much inappropriate bias as we can.” He continues, “In the example of a coder, how they solve problems does create bias. But I’d categorize that as a positive bias. It helps us determine if they can do the job. Inappropriate bias (based on race, gender, etc.) is altogether different, and definitely needs to be kept out of the process.” Because no company, whether you are in Silicon Valley or Silicon Slopes, can afford to lose out on a diverse and inclusive workplace.

Another feature of Hired’s 2017 study was when highlighting areas across the United States and the world that are starting to challenge the Bay Area’s reign of excellence. If this lack of diversity persists, is it time for coders of all ethnicities to begin looking elsewhere, it asks? As it turns out, they may be on to something.

Dr. Reid says it may be time to look to the untapped diverse talent in the communities that lie outside of Silicon Valley. “[Coders] should be looking at Salt Lake City, they should be looking at Brooklyn, and Washington DC, and Detroit. I think that the advantage of having a diverse workforce opens up opportunities for new businesses and new markets that have not been tapped.” From African American and Hispanic communities to the less mainstream areas of the world, there is so much untapped potential for getting diverse groups and communities involved in the industry.

“Every industry deals with it,” says Mr. Koller, “but high tech has certainly lent itself to some of the excesses that create that disconnect. A big challenge for startups is keeping in touch with reality and the reality of those around them.” Mr. Koller says that startups often do the best they can, but it isn’t always enough if they don’t have a lot of diversity to begin with, or if they don’t have a diverse leadership team. In Utah especially, it can be difficult as companies tend to mirror the state and communities they are in. “But if a startup begins with diversity as a key differentiator,” he says, “they will do really well to embed that diversity as part of their company’s DNA.”

The Impact Of A Diverse Workplace

Resources from McKinsey & Company to Lean In, led by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, as well as countless others makes it increasingly clear that companies with more diverse talent perform better financially. In fact, companies that rank among the top leaders for racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above the national industry. And companies proven to be near the bottom with these qualities are statistically less likely to achieve above-average returns. Not to mention, diverse talent is one of the most competitive advantages when it comes to hiring. It’s almost necessary to win the war on talent in Silicon Valley as 47 percent of millennials want to work at diverse companies. No organization today can afford to lose out to a diverse and inclusive workplace.

“Diversity of background and diversity of perspective brings better decision-making because our customer base and the world itself is diverse.” Mr. Koller says. “I think the more diverse our culture is and the more representative it is of our customer base, the better chance we have of serving the needs of our customers.”

There continues to be strong scientific and social data that backs up the fundamental knowledge around the subject of diversity in the workforce. Today, there’s absolutely no case to be made for not having a diverse workforce, but where should it start? Many like Dr. Reid and Mr. Koller believe that the best place to start these discussions is earlier in the pipeline. Providing access to networks and programs such as Women in Tech, National Association of Black Accountants, Mogul, and NSBE to name a few, will help steer those aspiring to be a part of the innovative tech industry. At Domo, they are starting from the beginning. Consciously approaching how they build their culture.

“Part of getting these [diverse groups involved] is being more deliberate about how we look for talent and looking beyond traditional resources that might be out there.” Mr. Koller adds: “the other way is to make the effort to create a more diverse workforce and then continue to leverage the networks of our workforce to increase our diversity.”

“Diversity is necessary for inclusion,” says Dr. Reid, “but diversity without inclusion is just about representation.” He says that “in order to get to an inclusive workplace, you need diversity, but you also need meaningful interactions between different groups, that spawn the kind of innovative thought that comes from interaction with people who are different.”

To start treating this problem of hiring bias, companies must start hiring, not only with insight but with full transparency. Left untreated, this may topple the tech industry’s reign as an entrepreneurial center of excellence. Because creating a diverse and inclusive workplace culture is a statement that drives who you are as an organization and who you want to be a part of it.

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