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The Key to Attracting Top Talent

Jordon Dyrdahl-Roberts

As vaccination rates increase slowly in the US and the number of delta variant cases rise, many tech workers are hesitant to return to business as usual. It’s become an employees’ market with startups offering higher wages, benefits, and bonuses, hoping to fill labor shortages.

What can startups do to differentiate themselves from other companies in such a competitive market? Top-performing startups make hiring inclusive and diverse teams a priority.

In fact, Deb Wheatman, CPRW, CPCC, President of Careers Done Write, says, “We’ve known for a long time the benefits of a diverse workforce. It improves innovation.” Not only that, Wheatman explains, “It absolutely improves a company’s ability to attract and retain talent.” 

Set Goals and Make Them a Priority

Forming a diverse team is more than just adhering to the bare minimum of the EEOC guidelines. You need to keep the goal of diversifying in mind when hiring at all levels in your company. “If you want to make a difference in who you’re bringing into your pipeline, you need to be measuring who’s actually coming on board,” says Kate Holsapple, Senior Vice President of People Operations at Remind. “Set goals and hold your management team, your executive team accountable.”

Remind has set specific goals to diversify its workforce. Half of their future hires will be people of color, and at least a third of their technical roles will be women or nonbinary. Holsapple is quick to point out that this is a goal, not a quota. “We need to know what we’re shooting for — just like with all of our business metrics.”

It’s easiest to start from day one. If you’re a more established company, you can still diversify your team, but it takes more concerted effort. As long as you set a goal and prioritize it, the basic strategy remains the same.

Expanding Your Talent Pool

Michal Juhas, Lead Technical Recruiter and Trainer at Geek Recruiters, urges clients to broaden where they’re looking for potential employees. He says you need to “embrace remote work” or get left behind. Remote work is here to stay, and it isn’t just an attractive option, but an accessibility issue. Certain disabilities can make it difficult, if not impossible, to come into the office.

How you advertise or describe the job is the next important step. Wheatman recommends making the position and your company attractive to as wide an audience as possible. “The postings should remain free of biased language. You want to make sure everyone has access to these roles." Wheatman elaborates,

Saying something like young or energetic signals to somebody older that they might not be welcome.”

For example, common phrases like “Work hard, play hard” might be intended to advertise fun and camaraderie but can end up pushing away potential employees. Parents with children, people with social anxiety, and anyone who would be hesitant to join an after-work happy hour could worry they will be left behind.

When listing qualifications for a job, “Companies tend to list all these things they want to have in a unicorn candidate.” Wheatman says that’s like requiring someone to speak French and have a master’s degree for an entry-level position.

“If you’re considering best practices for recruiting, it should be realistic and attainable.” Holsapple says, “You need to be mindful of including things that are not necessary, like years of experience.” It may seem counterintuitive if you’re looking for the most talented employees, but years of experience don’t necessarily equal the skills required to perform a job.

Listing unnecessary job qualifications means you’re going to have fewer women in your applicant pool as well. Women are less likely to apply for a position if they don’t meet 100% of the listed job qualifications, while men will apply when they have only 60%.

Selecting the Best Candidate

“You need structure to remove bias. You need to be intentional and thoughtful,” Holsapple advises. It’s essential because even the most well-meaning people still have to combat implicit bias.

When going over resumes, remaining objective means removing identifying information before they reach the person selecting them. Something as simple as an applicant’s name can introduce implicit bias into the process. Wheatman encourages you to “have things that are objective, consistent, and obviously non-discriminatory. That results in having the best person selected for the job.” For example, skills assessments or mini-projects that reflect job duties can help you narrow down your list. “Interviewing is a flawed practice,” Holsapple says.

Using behavioral interview questions is the best way to understand someone’s prior experience and how they can apply it to future work.”

Behavioral interview questions ask someone to describe how they responded to situations they’re likely to encounter in their new position.

Even how you ask interview questions should be focused on removing bias. She encourages you to, “Make sure the interview is very structured, so the same person is asking the same questions of every candidate. Make sure the interviewers are ready to ask those questions so that they don’t get tripped up on the small talk. It can lead to bias in an interview process.” She says finding out they went to the same university as you, or even something simple such as liking the same types of food, relies on an affinity bias that’s “not helpful for really assessing against the functions of the job.”

The Business of Diversity

Without a diverse team, Holsapple warns, “You will miss things in the market. Some well-funded startups have a lot of capital and can bounce back from mistakes, but that’s not true for a lot of scrappy startups. You can’t afford to make those mistakes.”

There have been many stumbles at tech companies that can be attributed to having a lack of diverse teams. Most fitness trackers rely on light reflected off skin to gather data, and darker skin reflects less light. Voice recognition software has become more ubiquitous, but its accuracy drops when a woman or anyone with an accent speaks. It is unlikely that the developers of these technologies set out with a mission to ignore people of color, women, or people with different dialects. But without a diverse and inclusive team, it’s easy to miss these issues until after launch.

Even the most open-minded founder with the best intentions needs people who understand their broad audience on a personal level. If you want a stronger company and better products, you need top talent. If you want top talent, you need to diversify your team.


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