Everyone Who Looks Like Us is Welcome to Apply

I am currently looking for a new job in the exciting world of tech. I have 18 years of experience, highly sought-after credentials and extensive product and industry knowledge coupled with strong people management skills along with excellent references. So why am I concerned? The pictures of the teams in action do not look like me. These pictures set the stage that everyone who looks like them is welcome to apply. Many of us are left by the wayside.

To make this point, let’s look at some major tech companies.

For Facebook in San Francisco, you can dance with your colleagues, hang out among colorful balloons and walk briskly past signage. You are also prompted to “move fast,” “be bold,” “be yourself.” What is unstated is that yourself had best appear young and fit. 

Workday fares a little better in that they include a person or two that may be in their 30s or even (gasp!) 40s and someone that does not look like a fit model for athleisure wear. http://www.workday.com/company/careers.php

However, we then see the next ways in which companies imply exclusion — the wellness programs. Fitness programs, bike to work, fun runs! These all sound great unless you are disabled. If you can’t bike to work (or anywhere else), can’t go for a run, cannot participate in the offered fitness programs, there is a feeling you are not wanted. You are not welcomed to a young, fit workforce. Be ready to feel excluded or to constantly have to remind people why you are not joining them on the volleyball court.

Even when specifically addressing issues around inclusion, the optics often fail. Google offers the following images:

We have visible people of color. It’s a good start. What don’t you see? Is diversity just making sure we see women and skin darker than Swiss Coffee house paint? We are again missing people with visible disabilities, older workers, or anyone that doesn’t look young and (presumed) fit. So, come on down. Work for Google. You can climb stairs, can’t you?

Among their diversity programs, we do see one photo with an older appearing worker. Of course, it’s for the Greyglers, that is, Google’s employee resource group for older workers.

Salesforce has similar optics, although they do deserve credit for showing actual employees at salesforce events. The photo of employees from the Chicago office even shows men of differing ages. I don’t want to scare anyone, but someone with grey hair is a member of the team. 

In their diversity section they do share a common issue with many companies of having small groups divided off. At the same time, they do show more mixing within the groups than most. While Facebook may show only young, white queer people as central to their photo, Salesforce shows a greater mix. In their Outforce photos, we see older people, women and some people of color. Similarly, their women’s groups do not appear to be all young, white women.

In reviewing several small, local tech companies, a similar problem is seen. When showing their workers, there is a strong push toward showing attractive, young, white-appearing and presumed fit persons. To older workers, people with visible disabilities, people of color, and non-gender conforming people, all of this screams, “Do not apply. We don’t want you.”

In many instances, on the same page with exclusionary visuals and employee programs that are designed only for able-bodied persons, we have the AA/EEO statement. After showing images that exclude many different types of people, we are then assured that, by law, the company does not discriminate. It is hard to believe that there is a meaningful focus on non-discrimination when the pictures tell a different story.

There is a push for more diversity in tech. Major employers have started posting their diversity statistics, focused on gender and race/ethnicity. In doing so, the lack of diversity becomes readily apparent. To address this problem, they need to look at their optics. If they show a workforce in which everyone shares common characteristics, they are unwittingly telling others they are not wanted.

The visuals alone will not solve the problem. It is only one issue in a process that is easily slanted toward discriminatory hiring, but it is an easy one to fix. Then they can work on name-blind resume reviews, ensuring accessibility to job fairs and interviews, date blind reviews of schooling and creating a culture of true inclusion. Chipping away a piece at a time can change the face of tech and allow for a truly diverse workforce.