How to Hire a Diverse Software Development Team

People from other cultures, ethnicities and non-binary communities have a place in IT, and we have a lot to gain by creating a safe environment where they can freely express themselves and, in turn, help us create a culture of creativity in our workplace.
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Diversity and inclusion (D&I) are two concepts that have become prominent in all facets of western culture. From education to businesses, we are seeing a slow but steady transformation, a constant effort to open our doors and bring opportunities to people who have been historically marginalized.

Having an open diversity policy isn’t just about building a better world. Recent studies have shown that corporations who adopt a diversity-oriented culture show higher levels of creativity and productivity. It’s also related to an increase in marketing opportunities and the overall improvement of the business image.

What is diversity?

To define diversity, we have to dispel a few misconceptions about the word first. Diversity has nothing to do with filling a quota. We can’t think in terms of “Oh, 25% of my employees are minorities, we are officially diverse”.

Diversity is about fostering a culture of plurality and mutual respect, finding common ground even in our differences, finding value in the fact that we come from different walks of life, and embracing the flexibility and creativity that comes with contrasting points of view.

Of course, fostering diversity isn’t something achieved just by hiring people from different backgrounds. It’s a long-term project that requires rethinking our hiring practices and promoting changes in our community. 

Creating a D&I statement

Companies are first and foremost a society and, as such, they are defined by the interactions of their members. Therefore, a push for diversity and inclusivity is something that can’t be imposed at a moment’s notice.

There has to be a joint effort from all members to adopt a different kind of culture and a diversity and inclusion statement is perfect to get everyone on the same page. Your D&I statement stands alongside the company’s vision, mission, and values as a point of reference for co-workers and outsiders alike.

A D&I should be short and focused. Use small sentences and keep it as simple as possible, focus on what diversity is, why it aligns with the values and mission of your company, the positive changes it will bring to the workplace, and finish with the effects it will have both in your company and in the world.

If you want a guide, check out Amazon’s diversity statement, which can be a fantastic point of reference. 

Remember that the D&I statement serves as a business card of sorts, as it’s one of the first things you want your candidates to see as they check your company. This is an opportunity to show everyone, regardless of background, that they can expect a welcoming and safe environment.

Diversity Training 

You can’t talk about diversity training without talking about the elephant in the room. Yes, diversity training doesn’t work. Changing someone’s long-held beliefs, and reshaping the culture of an already established society is hard, so a 2-hour seminar plus a couple of sensitivity quizzes won’t be the solution to such a structural problem.

Instead, constant contact with people who are different from us has proven to be one of the best strategies to minimize personal bias and to create a better work environment. In other words, the more time we spend with others, the more we dispel our false beliefs about them and the more we change our worldviews.

And that’s where diversity training kicks in: not as an all-around solution to diversify our workplace, but as a process to foster an environment of respect where people can work together and start building those connections that will help them become more conscious of others. 

Going to a seminar that teaches us that certain terms might be offensive to others might not change the way we look at life, but it will help us be more conscious when we approach folks from other backgrounds and be more thoughtful as we engage with other members of a multicultural team.

Think of it this way: if a multicultural team is a car, then diversity training is the oil that lubricates the engine. It’s not there to make the car work, but it will certainly help to keep the engine running.

Minimizing Bias

Recruitment bias is real, and as a growing concern, we’ve seen all manners of strategies to try to minimize it, from blind resume review to AI-assisted efforts. To be fair, we’ve come a long way, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

Perhaps the biggest issues with our biases are that:

  • We are conscious of our biases and tend to justify them.
  • Even when we are not conscious, they guide our decision-making process.

And while challenging our biases is something that should be part of our day-to-day routine, it’s not a simple process. It takes time, effort, and a lot of mindfulness. Fortunately, we don’t have to send our recruiters to sensitivity training or therapy and wait for the results.

The obvious solution is to have a diverse recruitment team, people with different perspectives who can help each other keep their biases in check, and who make decisions as a group.

Of course, that might work well enough for middle and large-scale businesses, but what about small businesses and startups? In those cases, consider the assistance of hiring consultants or the services of AI-powered services to guide your decision-making process.

Additionally, blind reviews are still a great way to avoid biased choices. Don’t ask your candidate for their name, age, place of birth, college, or any other information which may unconsciously disclose their cultural origin or their social upbringing. Or if you ask for it, filter it out and have a recruiter do a blind review.

As a side note, remember that biases rear their head when we least expect them, so it’s very important to go over your whole hiring process to root them out. You can:

  • Check the language you are using when creating job descriptions.
  • Standardize your interview questions so that every candidate gets the same set of questions.
  • Create work sample tests and favor the outcome over degrees and training.
  • Make diversity goals part of your KPI for recruiting.

Using inclusive language

Last, but certainly not least, it’s very important to promote inclusive language in your workforce, and twice as important for your recruiters. Remember that a recruitment process is a 2-way street. You are figuring out if a candidate is a good fit for our company while the candidate is evaluating if your company is the place they want to invest their time in.

Microaggressions and other forms of veiled violence might go unnoticed for us, but they can send the wrong signal to our candidates, and the last thing you want to do is scare away a potential software developer by making them think that your company has a brogrammer culture.

Be inclusive

The world is a huge place, and we are seeing more and more people seeking to become software developers as the industry grows and becomes global. People from other cultures, ethnicities and non-binary communities have a place in IT, and we have a lot to gain by creating a safe environment where they can freely express themselves and, in turn, help us create a culture of creativity in our workplace.

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