Tech HR Part 1: Diversity and Inclusion 101

‘Diversity’ is a huge buzzword in European Tech. It should be more than that.

by Yelizaveta Crofts

We pulled together an evening panel of 6 diversity & inclusion (D&I) experts to discuss the challenges Berlin Tech HR faces in fostering intracompany diversity.
Part 1: a quick D&I–HR guide for the context of …
Part 2: the HR How-To
The status quo, relevance of HR, and the business case for D&I explained.

Many people are eager to discuss diversity in tech:

  • Its meaning
  • Its shortcomings
  • Where it might be going
  • Where it should be going
  • …and the list goes on

European tech is expanding at a time of vocal and active push-back against monoculture in business across many sectors. Its relative youth and resource decentralisation should make tech uniquely egalitarian; where there’s access to a developed infrastructure, people should be equally enabled to enter work in tech. But despite a flow of discussion, the status quo falls short of reflecting the diversity which exists around tech hubs—Berlin not least.

The immediate challenge lies in pinning down precisely what we do about it — and then doing it.

Where’s the roadblock for recruitment?

Diversity and inclusion in the tech ecosystem does not start and end in the hiring process. HR kicks in at a comparatively late stage, creating an environment for employees who are already hired, interviewing applicants who have already applied, composing job ads for individuals who already have skills, experience or interest in a professional field.

HR talent pipelines are hit by social influences in play from birth.

A 2013 TED talk by Debbie Stirling about the effects of conditioning on young girls and gender-ratios in engineering is equally applicable to other facets of diversity and sectors. Pigeonholing — forcing people to conform to a category, typically a restrictive one — is pervasive and has to be nipped in the bud if the full spectrum of the population is ever to appear in Berlin Tech.

On the other end, what the debate quickly surfaced is that it’s impossible to attract and retain a diverse workforce without inclusive culture. Tackling unconscious biases in HR and other obstacles to hiring diversely becomes meaningless if applicants are repelled by a company culture’s reputation or have a high exit rate after experiencing it.

Whose responsibility is it to drive inclusive company culture?

Ultimately if efforts come from HR alone they become superficial and set to fail. HR is empowered to educate, set the tone, create codes and processes — but active inclusion has to come from all departments and levels.

With that in mind:

Enter HR

At the gateway to employment and with employee welfare as its priority, HR is hugely empowered to demolish the obstacles individuals have to equal access and inclusion in tech companies.

More on this in the writeup, but for a taste of what we’re talking about:

  1. Practical:
     — What tools need to be provided for each employee to interact with the work environment as easily as their colleagues?
     — What internal processes exist to safeguard employees and reinforce inclusive company culture?
  2. Psychological:
     — 
    How are your unconscious biases impacting your hiring decisions?
     — How does the wording of job listings impact your applicant pipeline?

Why is D&I a good thing?

‘Diversity’ itself is an abstract concept and, as our panellist Jamie Szymkowiak pointed out, a fact of life. Diversity by definition comes in all different shapes and sizes: gender identity, race, nationality, sexual orientation, age, family status, religion, education, health and so on and so on. What does diversity and inclusion mean for tech companies?

Where a workforce doesn’t broadly reflect the diversity of its home society, the implication is that at some stage elements of society are discouraged or excluded from entering it. Explicit or not, neither are positive experiences.

Unfortunately ‘exclusion and unequal opportunity is not nice’ fails to hold the attention of many businesses.

From the perspective of self-interest, what’s the business benefit? 
A glancing overview of the business case for actively fostering a diverse and inclusive workforce:

  • Exposure to non-homogenous perspectives from differing experiences and thought patterns stimulates a team creatively and in daily work life
  • Product and service usability suffers when the development teams don’t reflect the diversity of the user base
    (Some notable examples of product failure: Youtube video upload, AI, and car safety mechanisms, Big Data biases)
  • Building a team is long and costly — employee retention due to an inclusive culture saves a huge resource drain

How can we foster diversity in the workforce? The Panel

We aimed to extract specific and tangible points of action to tackle diversity and inclusion with a free-flowing panel discussion (and disseminate disseminate disseminate). The takeaway we want for our HR audience is to leave knowing: ‘This ___ is what I need to think about, and long and short term these ___ are the steps which I can take.’

What are the cutting edge initiatives being taken in the sphere of encouraging diversity in tech, and what steps can be taken by Berlin’s HR and Recruiting managers?

Here are the people who gave us their expertise on how to go from the ground up to help promote, design and maintain inclusive culture:

From left to right: Inka Kretschmer, Katy Peichert, Diana-Alina Serbanescu, Nakeema Stefflbauer, Jen Bell, Lena Reinhard, Jamie Szymkowiak

Inka Kretschmer (Moderator)

Leadership coach, trainer and consultant working across the globe with large corporations and fast-growing new tech companies, enabling them to move to a strengths-based, diverse and truly inclusive culture.

Katy Peichert

Senior Recruiting Specialist at Native Instruments — talent, diversity & inclusion advisor in music/creative tech industry.

Diana-Alina Serbanescu

Team Lead and Interdisciplinary Researcher, The Weizenbaum Institute for the Networked Society, TU Berlin. Research Group: “Criticality of Artificial Intelligence”. The main research directions: AI in education, racial/gender biases in AI, customization and inclusiveness in AI.

Nakeema Stefflbauer

Founder of FrauenLoop gUG, a Berlin initiative that trains resident, refugee and immigrant women for careers in the technology field.

Jen Bell

Writer and self-appointed diversity and inclusion officer at Clue, the period-tracking app and website.

Lena Reinhard

Director of Engineering at CircleCI, public speaker, has been responsible for hiring as well as diversity and inclusion efforts in engineering departments for the last few years.

Jamie Szymkowiak

LGBT+ & disability rights activist, public speaker and children’s author. Co-founder of disability rights organisation One in Five, which campaigns to improve the representation of disabled people in public life.

Happy to partner in this event with ReDI School of Digital Integration. Proceeds go to Travis Foundation, Kiron and Global Goals Curriculum.

As it stands, diversity and inclusion won’t become the norm in tech without widespread positive action. Awareness and discussion go a long way but sadly aren’t enough to break the default one-size-fits-all culture, hiring practices and work environment inherited from more traditional industries.

💡On that note, stay tuned for Part 2: the HR How-To

🎙️ The full event audio recording is out on Youtube


Learn more about how you can build a diverse and inclusive tech team through talent.io — sign up now and gain access to hundreds of handpicked candidates for free


We held HR4diversity, fostering diversity in the workforce on Thursday 5th July 2018 at Oberhafenkantine, Berlin.