It’s Not My Job to Fix Your Pipeline Problem

I spend a lot of time, money and energy building my own network— including extra effort devoted to connecting with technical women and communities of color. It drives me nuts when folks ask for help recruiting diverse candidates for job openings.

By asking me for free recruiting favors, organizations undervalue my own work in building the community. (There are people who get paid a lot to recruit; maybe these organizations should go hire one of them?) It also transfers the responsibility for fixing the pipeline problem from the people with the power and money to solve it to those negatively impacted by the bias. When conferences ask me for speaker referrals, and I fail to come through, the companies still pat themselves on the back telling themselves, “We tried, but it was Anthea’s failure to surface appropriate candidates that prevented us from achieving a diverse candidate pool.” Then they post lineups like this.

However! If a company is taking steps — aside from JUST asking me for assistance — to address pipeline problems, I am very willing to devote my time and energy to helping. I love to support organizations that run paid internship programs, fund programs like Black Girls Code or in some other way demonstrate an interest in building diversity within the ecosystem.

If organizations aren’t committing resources of some kind (manpower or money) to addressing the problem, I don’t believe they are actually interested in structural changes. My recruiting assistance may help my community get entry level positions, but the fundamental power dynamic within the organization won’t change. When they’re asking me for free advice without any incurring any additional costs, they demonstrate an interest in mitigating the risk of a negative press cycle, not in solving a problem.

So many of these organizations think it’s enough to just ask representatives of the communities they are trying to reach for help. In some cases it’s almost framed like a favor — “Oh, so you want a diverse lineup? Sure, why don’t you send me a list of 25 people I might consider qualified?” (And no, we can’t get you Sheryl Sandberg, David Drummond or Marissa Mayer.) This usually works because so many of our community really do want to help. Including me! It’s just time to frame it with some real talk.

So: Under the following conditions, I will offer recruiting help to organizations interested in diversifying candidates:

  1. The person asking for the favor has materially helped me in my own work for free
  2. The request comes from a tech lady or hacker/maker of color
  3. I am paid to help with recruiting, or
  4. The organization can demonstrate that they are devoting resources— either money or staffing— to address the pipeline problem themselves.

I want to do everything I can to change the ratio and promote diversity — but if you ask for my help, you’d better be sure that you are, too.

Edit: Want to prove to me that you’re serious about fixing the pipeline problem? My good friend Katrin Verclas has written “10 Tips for Solving Your Pipeline Problem.”