Tech HR Part 2: 5 Actions to Build Workplace Diversity

by Yelizaveta Crofts

Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace panel discussion. From left to right: Inka Kretschmer, Katy Peichert, Diana-Alina Serbanescu, Nakeema Stefflbauer, Jen Bell, Lena Reinhard, Jamie Szymkowiak

Job ads, junior developers, responsibility, your office building, hiring for ‘cultural fit’, and the outlook of company management all impact your team diversity.

The choice was hard, but we’ve extracted 5 immediate points of action that HR can take:

  1. Job advertising: cut down your bullet points and mind your wording
  2. Create a code of conduct — even better, include it in the job contract
  3. Hire juniors
  4. Find an ally in the company hierarchy
  5. Standardise frameworks for career progression

Full takeaways from our discussion as follows (for context see Part 1: Diversity & Inclusion 101) — and a grand finale, a truly awesome piece of feedback we received!

Order of contents for a helpful “How To” on fostering workplace diversity:

Is it still worth framing the issue in stereotypes (race, gender, etc.)?

Essentially diversity is about experience.

Fewer than 1/3 of people in Germany’s tech sector are women. In Berlin, we’re still at a point where we need to talk using boxes like gender, race, and others to some degree.
Lena

It’s easy to talk about as a goal or objective. Essentially diversity is about experience. That is the breadth and value of diversity and it often gets lost in the discussion.
Nakeema

Key takeaway: Framing the issue of diversity in stereotypes can be constructive, but only as a jumping-off point to allow for deeper discussion and setting actionable goals.

What entry barriers can HR remove for diverse applicants?

Many communities are not just underrepresented but underrated.

Don’t put off potential candidates by advertising positions with a crazy number of bullet-points or exclusionary wording

During the application process, think about: 1) how you talk, and 2) how you are assessing their skills. Also think how you can be a good advisor to the people applying.
Katy

Provide the basic requirements that people have to enter your recruiting process. If the building’s not wheelchair accessible then some people can’t get in. Once you’re at the pipeline and the recruiting stage, you can only deal with candidates who have already made it that far.
Jamie

Companies are surprised when called out on diversity if they have a healthy gender balance and many nationalities — but often there’s no diversity in age, or no one from a corporate background. Tackle these biases too.
Inka

When using technologies to help with hiring, be aware that they project the perspectives of their creators onto systems which magnify them. Powerful tools can counteract, but also amplify, biases.
Diana

Key takeaway: Don’t prevent talent from reaching you by forming and broadcasting a narrow idea of what that talent should look like.

Should HR work with the idea of ‘cultural fit’?

Cultural fit is commonly talked about when hiring people. It’s worth considering that you don’t need to be friends to work well together.
Jen

‘Cultural fit’ has become a buzzword and an excuse for not hiring people who push you out of your comfort zone. If you really need to use a concept like this one, be very clear on what ‘cultural fit’ means for your company. Standardise how you evaluate it.
— Lena

I like to focus on cultural challenges. A better question: how does an individual challenge the team and organisation that they’re going to be joining?
Nakeema

Key takeaway: Instead of a ‘cultural fit’, look for the possible contribution each candidate can bring to your team.

Why should HR focus on inclusion?

Inclusion, not diversity, has to be the starting point; without an inclusive culture, diversity will not be possible. There’ll be no retention.
Lena

Diversity is everywhere and it’s a fact of life. Inclusion is the difficult aspect: that’s identifying and removing the obstacles people face; without inclusion, recruiting for a diverse workforce has a danger of tokenism. How easy is it to feel comfortable as the sole disabled, LGBT+, or black person?
Jamie

Being in a minority is often something that the candidate is hyper-aware of, and not the company. When you’ve hired someone who’s very good for your team, inclusion is about considering whether they are alone in some respect and what this spurs you to do as a recruiter.
Nakeema

Key takeaway: Retaining diverse talent depends on an inclusive culture. Being proactive in your approach will provide insights into whether your employees feel alone and how you can foster a more inclusive environment.

Whose responsibility is inclusion? How can you drive that culture?

Codes of conduct prevent people from feeling they’re making requests when they raise an issue

[The company] Slack is a great example: there’s no diversity ‘officer’ yet they excel in their targets for diversity. According to its employees, everyone in the company has responsibility for D&I strategy, not only HR.
Jamie

You can think of culture as the behaviours you reward and punish. I like codes of conduct and other processes that prevent people from feeling like they’re making requests when they raise an issue. Grassroots initiatives are great, but inclusion needs backing across the organisation, and companies need to put money towards it.
Lena

At Native Instruments a code of conduct is included in the job contract.
Katy

Start with a look at the policy for dealing with sexual harassment — if there is none this is an immediate red flag. Make sure that pay is the same, and not just in certain spheres but also up the hierarchy.
Jen

A good reputation attracts talent to a company. Company culture is set by the leadership. Since starting FrauenLoop, my students ask about companies’ culture more than their tech stack or their VC investment; they ask about how people are treated and what kind of environment they have.
Nakeema

Key takeaway: Standards and processes create an inclusive environment by clearly stating company culture, sharing responsibility for it and providing an automatic safety net.

What can HR do to develop a diverse leadership?

Standardise frameworks for career ladders. Create a solid feedback structure. Hire juniors. Develop the people you have. — Lena

Retention is a big problem. The resistance to hiring juniors is puzzling because they often have high commitment and a high retention rate. Creating an inclusive environment to attract and retain diverse junior developers allows them to grow into a diverse leadership.
One of the biggest benefits of being a senior developer, which I’ve often witnessed in FrauenLoop, is the great satisfaction of growing juniors. Companies should pitch the symbiotic relationship of junior and senior more.
Nakeema

Having executive teams and mentors to look up to who are diverse is good for attracting and retaining junior developers.
Katy

Key takeaway: Set out a standard path for all juniors to succeed to a senior level. Better yet, encourage this through mentorship and leadership training.

Do quotas help diversity?

Quotas that drive diversity at all levels can be useful. But not when they’re used as the solution: quotas as a box to tick (after which the work on diversity and inclusion ends) is what we’re trying to avoid. Rather, we need to put in place roadmaps and models for what successful and diverse organisations look like.
Nakeema

People can feel that they or their colleagues have been hired on the basis of a quota.
Jen

It is maybe unsafe for us to dismiss quotas when there’s direct evidence that people may otherwise be missed out. In Germany there are quotas for hiring disabled people and the statistics for people with disabilities in employment are good compared to other countries which don’t have this.
Jamie

Key takeaway: Quotas can be additional stimulants for diverse hiring but must not stop diversity efforts once they are ‘filled’, or substitute inclusive culture.

How can the topic of diversity be challenged internally with a non-diverse C-level and no budget for D&I?

When dealing with a homogenous group, one strategy is to find an ally of the cause in that hierarchy so that you are not alone. Lean heavily on statistics and business cases.
Katy

Diversity encourages innovation and brings more money. D&I encourages staff retention, and recruitment is expensive.

Use these arguments and find allies within the business.

Jamie

Presenting examples of failure is important. There are many products which haven’t worked or actually caused damage because the developing teams weren’t diverse.
Diana

Key takeaway: Powerful leverage comes from the business case and allies in management.

How do you deal with companies who are not inclusive and not interested in diversity?

Advocate for yourself and share with other people in your community. In reality often the recruitment process itself can be simply terrible, and not just your experience of it. Feedback is super-important to change this.
Nakeema

Given the power-imbalance you face when applying, it can be really hard to give feedback. Find mentors and support in your community, as well as in other companies.
Lena

There are a lot of blind spots; people often don’t mean to be exclusive — they simply need a change in perspective.
Inka

Key takeaway: Be vocal! Give feedback of your experience and consult others within your community for support.

How can we educate teams in office culture? What about implementing workshops?

A lot of intercultural trainings simply reaffirm stereotypes. Point out commonalities and allow your team to identify unconscious biases.
Inka

As a proud disabled person I think we shouldn’t focus on connecting only over commonalities. Some of the differences that we have need to be addressed in order to see barriers removed.
Jamie

Workshops can be very useful; they need to be very goal-orientated and on skills that you use daily.

Hold them at regular intervals and not just as part of an on-boarding process employees need to get through.
Lena

I think role play is a strong tool for empathy and interaction.
Diana

Role playing different positions in the organisation gives you the opportunity to understand perspectives you wouldn’t usually register.
Nakeema

Key takeaway: Education and reflection should be integrated into a long-term workflow and which directly impacts how teams communicate.

Finally, aside from everything we learned, this event proved to be a total success 💯 when we read this:

“I got a new perspective about that topic and learned a lot. Now we will definitely push diversity and inclusion in our company.”

Many thanks to everyone involved in organisation and attendance! Especially to our panellists Inka Kretschmer, Katy Peichert, Diana-Alina Serbanescu, Nakeema Stefflbauer, Jen Bell, Lena Reinhard, Jamie Szymkowiak, and ReDI School of Digital Integration, our partners in this event 🙌

💡 Want to know why D&I is such a challenge for the Tech HR community? Look no further than Part 1: Diversity and Inclusion 101

🎙️ The audio recording can be found on Youtube

P.S. Check out the event album on our Facebook! 📷

ReDI School of Digital Integration is a non-profit digital school for tech-interested newcomers in Germany.” Check out what ReDI School are doing on their website: https://www.redi-school.org/

talent.io welcomes tech professionals of all backgrounds 👉 sign up for free to connect with our live candidates!

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

Great Jobs for Great Developers

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store