I am only one leader, but dammit I will make a difference!
Written by: Peter Messana - CEO
Recently, I made a post on LinkedIn about hitting 50/50 gender diversity among my direct reports. This milestone follows a commitment to gender equality that started with the hosting of a “Women in Tech” event last November. Then, last night, I got into a discussion with a single parent of a three year old that broke into the tech field through a tech bootcamp. As if the deck isn’t stacked enough against you, add a three year old baby and a gender that in the tech field is very low – so low that the STEM numbers that look like they are increasing for women are masking the fact that the “T” in STEM is declining, not increasing. Add that Covid is having major impacts on women in the workforce, potentially setting back progress by a decade as perfectly reported by McKinsey (Women in the Workplace 2020), action must be taken and all leaders should commit to addressing and providing a fair workplace free of discrimination based on gender, race, or whatever visible or invisible differences exist.
Diversity and Inclusion is very important to me; both to drive a fair and balanced team but also because I recognize that, while I am only one leader in tech, I still have a voice. No matter how small of a voice I have, I am here to try my best to make a better world for my daughter when she enters the workforce. There is no reason that men and women (or people of different races) are treated differently in hiring or pay. The process to hire should be blind to gender or race. Achievement and ability to do the job should be the only way you are judged, and pay is about the role, not the person.
The problem in hiring is that the biasing starts with the first time you see a name on a resume. To combat this I try to not read the name and skip straight to the resume to review their credentials. I’m not that naive that I can literally skip past it but I make a conscious effort to ignore and skip to the resume and start reviewing regardless of the name at the top. Biasing is super strong and the unconscious bias is super tough to avoid. We all have ‘halo’ and ‘horn’ effects where ‘first impressions’ or ‘first mistakes’ drive unconscious biasing, coupled with stereotypes. Uttering the words, “The technology field is dominated by Men” only exacerbates the issue, and adds to the stereotype. Factually true, it is our job to flip the script, stop talking about the stereotype and be conscious that biasing exists. It is easier to judge a candidate on their merit if that is all you are looking at or care about, it levels the playing field.
At Searchspring, our hiring process is extreme, I wrote about it here. This process isn’t for the faint of heart but it is to find the best candidate and in the process we try to remove some basic bias though hiding evaluations from each other and doing a live vote on the candidate. We also look to have an interview panel that is very diverse, those interviewing should represent what you view as the ideal group of people.
What diversity isn’t, is a quota system or targets. While we share accountability stats to the company each quarter that shows our progress, we do not set specific quotas. Setting quotas or specifying that a role is to be gender specific or racially diverse is just as harmful as what you are trying to prevent. Reverse sexism doesn’t suddenly make things better. You hire the best candidate available, the trick is to find a way to attract a diverse candidate pool. This isn’t easy and requires both posting the job in places where a more diverse pool exists and also by encouraging employees to share it to their network. Or heck, writing blogs like this that highlight that we are seeking a truly diverse workforce.
When we have a truly diverse workforce, we have experiences that are broader and opinions that are more diverse. In our 2021 planning we derived two goals that align to this: 1. Improve our company diversity through the Searchspring interview process, and 2. Become a “most sought-after company to work for”. You don’t achieve diversity without the first and you certainly don’t achieve the second if you aren’t diverse. This certainly isn’t a sprint but acknowledging that both gender and racial diversity is important is a great first mile in a marathon.