Six Intersectional Approaches to Improving Your Hiring Process
By Rachel Bloch Mellon and Nicole Hardson-Hurley
Through hundreds of market research interviews over the past few years, we know that most technology companies want to build diverse, inclusive teams where everyone can thrive. With the move to remote work, that desire hasn't changed — and while other factors seem to demand major shifts in hiring processes, the reality is that the same best practices pre-pandemic are still the best practices a team can adopt while hiring remotely.
Our research shows that there are a few vital actions that teams can take to move the needle towards better hiring outcomes:
- Audit job listings for realistic minimum qualifications (MQs) and inclusive language
- Use structured rubrics for all interviews
- Track pass-through rates and candidate experience
- Reduce potential for bias with anonymization
- Interrogate sourcing practices
- Understand why Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) and intersectionality matter
Audit job listings for realistic minimum qualifications (MQs) and inclusive language
Studies show that women are significantly less likely than men to apply to a job where they do not meet all the listed "minimum qualifications," or MQs. Similarly, using exclusionary language in job descriptions can significantly impact the number of women and people of color applying to a given job.
- Limit your MQs to the true minimum for the role. You might really want to hire someone proficient in 3+ programming languages, with 5+ years of experience, and ML experience. But would you hire someone with a deep ML background but only 1 programming language? If you would hire someone without that qualification in the right circumstances, remove it from the MQs.
- Remove gendered words. Common culprits in engineering listings are "hacker," "rockstar," or "crush code." It's equally important to remove gendered adjectives or descriptors (such as "assertive" or "nurturing") in favor of unbiased alternatives (eg. "dedicated" or "conscientious"). There are several online tools that can help you identify gendered language in your job listings.
Use structured rubrics for all interviews
A quote from a recent meta-study noted, "In the 80-year history of published research on employment interviewing... few conclusions have been more widely supported than the idea that structuring the interview enhances reliability and validity."1
Why is structure important? By defining upfront what skills matter for a role (those MQs!) and sticking to questions that evaluate for those skills against objective criteria, you are reducing the likelihood of interviewers falling back on gut decisions. Using structured evaluation criteria will also help you to debunk the false narratives that can accompany hiring efforts with emphasis on increasing diversity, such as the fear of "lowering the bar." Structured rubrics and detailed training on how to evaluate against them ensure that your hiring criteria will be consistently and fairly applied across applicants.
Building structured rubrics takes time and effort. One way to start is by outlining the goals of each interview in your loop and identifying several questions you want the interviewer to be able to answer about the candidate by the end.
Once you know what you are looking for in a candidate, you can define discrete buckets they might fall into. For example, when describing the trade-offs between several options in an architecture interview, a candidate might be extremely systematic in addressing all the considerations or concerns, or perhaps they might address some considerations while omitting others, or they might fail to make a convincing case altogether. These buckets can become the underpinning of your rubrics.
After your rubrics are laid out, the last step is to define the true baseline needed for a given skill (MQs!). Maybe you are hiring for a role that must have extremely strong system design skills, in which case a weaker system design score — regardless of their coding skills — should result in a "no hire" decision. For other roles, system design might be teachable or "nice to have."
Track pass-through rates and candidate experience
It's impossible to know how your company is doing if you don't track hiring metrics. Start measuring pass-through rates (PTRs) at all parts of your funnel, and also collect feedback from candidates to determine if your process is improving over time. This will allow you to adapt your processes as needed. Although tracking PTRs across demographics can be an organizational challenge, it will result in much better hiring outcomes. These PTRs will empower you to identify parts of your process that need to change because they disproportionately impact candidate from historically underrepresented groups.
Reduce potential for bias with anonymization
Unconscious-bias training is crucial, but can only go so far. Find places in your hiring process where a candidate's personally identifying information (PII includes name, email, etc.) is shared when it doesn't have to be, and try to limit access. This ensures that interviewers, hiring managers, and other decision makers don't lean on conscious biases (like what school a candidate attended) or unconscious biases. Most Applicant Tracking Systems (ATSes) allow you to anonymize candidate information from various viewpoints.
Train participants and interviewers to discuss candidates using gender neutral language.
For example, screeners could review resumes with name, school and other PII removed. Take home interviews can be anonymized before review. Hiring managers can review interviewer feedback without associating it back to a candidate until after they've made a hire/no hire decision. If your company hires by committee, train participants and interviewers to discuss candidates using gender neutral language.
Interrogate sourcing practices
It's not uncommon for companies to blame homogeneous candidate pools on the "pipeline." The numbers might lead some to think this is true — among young computer science and engineering graduates with bachelor's or advanced degrees, 8% are Hispanic/Latinx and 6% are Black. But according to company diversity reporters, tech workers at Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter are on average only 3% Hispanic/Latinx, and 1% Black,2 which is a much lower percentage than what the pipeline has to offer. Blaming the pipeline ignores real, systemic issues in hiring and retention.3
It is just as important to source intentionally at the manager and executive levels as it is at entry level or early-career.
For example, companies tend to rely on referrals for 48% of their hiring needs,4 but because of the ways that personal and professional networks are built, referrals are notoriously likely to result in new hires that look and think like your current team.
Similarly, focusing active recruiting exclusively on "top computer science schools" can result in similar trends, since hires from this pool will in turn refer classmates from the same training backgrounds. Worse still, this leaves great candidates from institutions serving historically underrepresented groups in tech (community colleges, state schools, HSIs, HBCUs, women's colleges, and bootcamps) out of your pipeline.
But if referrals and top-school recruiting is out, how do you find candidates to join your team?
- Elevate your company as a great place to work. Connect authentically with communities by openly discussing how your team works on interesting and unique challenges, the ways that you strive towards an inclusive workplace, and how you retain your talent.
- Draw from diverse sources by recruiting at a broader range of institutions, leveraging virtual affinity conferences and events, and exploring alternative talent sources beyond referrals.
- Focus on diversity at every level. It is just as important to source intentionally at the manager and executive levels as it is at entry level or early-career. It’s much harder to convince talent to join your team if they don't see growth potential at your company.
Why Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) and intersectionality matter
Not all leaders recognize or understand the business and moral imperative to build diverse teams. But research shows that diverse teams make better decisions,5 drive higher profit,6 and build superior products.
Additionally, some leaders may choose to emphasize only one lens on diversity (such as gender or political ideology) in order to focus their efforts. However, focusing on a singular lens of diversity creates new problems by worsening the gap for non-prioritized groups. For example, a team focused only on hiring more women might end up hiring mostly white women, which may improve the gender gap while actually widening the racial gap.
For this reason, it is crucial that everyone at your company — from your Head of HR to your Head of Engineering, to every recruiter, interviewer and hiring manager — understands the importance of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion work (DE&I) and taking an intersectional approach that values all dimensions of identity (ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, culture, disability, nationality or geography, socio-economic status, and experience). This work cannot be undertaken by individual champions of diversity alone; when your entire company understands the clear business need for inclusive hiring, it will become clear that DE&I and long-term improvements to processes and outcomes must be prioritized.
Diverse teams make better decisions, drive higher profit, and build superior products.
We don't know how long companies will continue to work remotely. Perhaps some teams will return to the office in 2021, while for others this change might be a permanent one. Regardless, these tips are just as important for remote teams as they are for in-person ones.
Since the need to hire top talent won't ever be deprioritized, now is the perfect time to re-examine your hiring process and begin integrating these best practices at your company. The impact will be well worth the effort.
Byteboard is a technical interviewing solution that applies structured, fully anonymized evaluation, and can assist you with tracking PTRs for your talent pool. If you are interested in learning more, request a demo.