A Better Web is a More Inclusive Web
As members of the web development community, one of the things we can do to make the web better is to help our teams become more inclusive and to encourage the hiring of a more diverse workforce. Building teams with members from a variety of backgrounds, will lead to better sites and applications that are more useful to a wider audience and the world as a whole.
We have an acknowledged diversity problem in the tech industry. Employees, especially those actually writing code, tend to look the same. They come from similar backgrounds — middle-class families in similar neighborhoods — and hang out with people like themselves. What happens is that you then end up with an echo chamber — an homogenous population making homogenous products without thought or empathy for their diverse pool of end users.
In order to make better and more innovative products we need to escape the echo chamber. A more diverse and inclusive workforce will help with that, but, in order to get there, we need to take a step back and think about how our hiring decisions are made.
Specifically, we need fewer exclusive hiring practices (“culture fit” I’m looking at you…) and more inclusive hiring practices focused on concrete evaluation criteria rather than personality. We should be more deliberate during our candidate interviews and resume evaluations, checking ourselves and the process for bias. As web developers developing for a world-wide audience, we should be building diverse teams, embracing different cultures, backgrounds, and abilities as strengths and assets to the team, rather than a “communication barrier” to overcome.
Focusing on skills and qualifications is an excellent place to start. When you are hiring someone, typically you are looking for someone who has the skills and the experience to do the job you need them to do. Deliberately laying out what those skills are and then evaluating candidates based solely on whether or not they possess those skills — at least at first — can go a long way towards reducing biases we may not even know we have.
Having a formal hiring process that stays focused on the technical strengths of a candidate can take you even further, reducing the chances that an otherwise qualified candidate could be dismissed for superficial reasons. Taking it one step more, making a goal of hiring a skilled and diverse staff can help build an organization that will develop more innovative products that will reach more people.
Incorporating inclusivity into your hiring process is not an easy task and there are a lot of pitfalls and issues to think about. Fortunately, there are also a lot of great examples and resources to pull from. Slack has done a wonderful job of detailing their efforts at increasing inclusivity throughout their organization, and not just as regards hiring. Buffer and Etsy have laid out clear policies and goals as well, along with many others.
Publications such as Model View Culture and CNET’s Solving for XX section provide rich sources for solutions as well as a deeper dive into inclusivity and diversity. Medium also has a few publications, such as Tech Diversity Files, that deal with these issues and many Medium writers have written about these issues as well.
Conferences are a great way to learn more and meet people who are working through similar efforts. Several conferences dedicated to inclusivity and diversity have also begun to pop up in the last few years. AlterConf, founded by Ashe Dryden, is hosting three conferences around the world this year — one in Washington, D.C., this weekend. Tech Inclusion is an organization that has several events scheduled throughout this year including a Tech Inclusion Day at SXSW on March 13th. Rainbow Push also held the Push Tech 2020 conference last year in San Francisco.
It’s difficult to cultivate empathy and build tools for people whose lives you aren’t familiar with or don’t understand. And the only way to understand people who are different from yourself is to step outside of your comfort zone and get to know them, talk with them, hang out with them. Hire them. Help the members of your team feel less like a “them” and more like an “us,” because we are all together working towards a better, more inclusive web that serves the needs and desires of everyone, not just a select few.