25 Tips for Diverse Hiring

Addressing hiring holistically.

by The Editor on November 20th, 2014

Diverse hiring is becoming more and more a priority for startups and tech companies. As a tech community, we are increasingly recognizing that diversity is fundamental to building a just, inclusive and beneficial industry, and that diverse teams perform better, are more innovative, and can build better products for a diverse world. In order to be successful with diverse recruiting, tech companies must invest in analysis and improvement at every stage of the hiring process. In this post, we offer a 101-style guide to top areas of focus, with specific suggestions to improve your hiring process and build more diverse teams.

Putting Together Job Descriptions

• Be gender-neutral. Job description text should use gender-neutral language and make no assumptions or constructions about the gender identity or presentation of readers and potential applicants.

• Make sure copy tone is friendly and accessible. Job descriptions in tech often take an aggressive tone or use inaccessible lingo not related to the work, which can alienate diverse applicants by suggesting a hyper-competitive work environment or “in-group”-driven culture. Words like “rockstar,” “hero,” “10x,” and “ninja” — all too common in the tech industry — should be replaced with more creative, descriptive (and less problematic!) words.

• Actively call out interest in diverse applicants. Expressing your company’s explicit interest and commitment to hiring diverse applicants helps communicate that building diverse teams is a priority for your company.

• Specifically advertise company benefits that are supportive of diverse workers. Examples include flexible work hours, remote working, childcare assistance, family-inclusive company events, accessible facilities and workplace environments, mental health care coverage, vacation time, mentoring and training opportunities, trans-inclusive health care and parental leave. Often, the benefits that companies mention while promoting their workplaces don’t include the benefits that can be of most value to diverse communities and their needs. Of course, if you don’t yet offer these benefits, start there first.

Better Company Team Pages

• Express your company values. Company team pages are one of the main places that companies express their culture and priorities to potential applicants. How can you use your team page to express important company values you may have, such as collaboration, teamwork, internal training and mentorship, or other practices that make your company a great place to work?

• Evaluate representation on your team page. Is a potential hire likely to look at the faces on your team page and feel that their application would be welcomed? These pages often just reflect management, not the broader employee base. And, they might also erase diverse workers who are present in the workplace.

Sharing Open Job Positions in the Community

• Get the word out within diverse communities. There are a number of groups and organizations within tech that are focused on the achievement, promotion and retention of diverse communities in tech. How can your company help partner with these groups to create more awareness? For example, offering space, food or financial sponsorship to a local meetup group can be a great way to get more engaged with diverse communities and ultimately connect with them around career opportunities.

• Ask for help. Many individuals in the tech community are eager to help spread the word about good jobs at companies that care about supporting diversity. A simple request on social media, mailing lists, and in other online spaces can go a long way. But, remember to be considerate and thoughtful in your approach: don’t make demands, request free labor, or encroach on online spaces without understanding the formal and informal rules of those communities.

• Don’t just wait for people to come to you. Often, we take a passive role with hiring, waiting for people to apply for positions. However, it can really help with awareness and hiring to proactively reach out to workers whose code, projects, presentations, blogs or other community-accessible work has already impressed you or your employees.

Expanding Your Network

• Think beyond “hiring within your network.” Let go of your concerns about being too public about your job openings, and focus on reaching people you don’t know yet.

• Many tech companies have relationships with, and hire from Ivy League schools and other “top” schools — schools which tend to be extremely homogeneous due to structural inequalities in the education system. Qualified applicants without these “brand name” diplomas tend to get left behind. How can you build relationships with colleges, universities and educational programs with a more diverse student bases, and participate in career fairs, recruiting events and other placement activities? Related: tech companies will often hire “self-taught” cis white men but discriminate against self-taught programmers from under-represented and marginalized groups. How can you correct for that?

• There are a growing number of coding academies, training programs, fellowships and bootcamps which focus on diverse communities – think CODE2040, Hackbright Academy, the Flatiron School and others. Often, these programs offer sponsorships, mentorship programs, career fairs and other opportunities for meeting and hiring their new graduates. Reach out and get involved!

Effectively Working with Recruiters

• Express hiring priorities to your recruiters. If you are working with internal or external recruiters, make sure that they understand that hiring diverse applicants is a priority for your company and are focused on seeking and speaking to diverse applicants as part of their recruiting efforts.

• Ask for information on how recruiter outreach breaks down. Our unconscious biases can manifest in lots of ways, and one way that we can counter them is by measuring and correcting. Look at which groups get most often contacted through your recruiting efforts to identify areas of outreach that are lacking, and opportunities to expand outreach to new and different groups.

• Think about how you approach “poaching,” as it is commonly referred to: proactively recruiting workers who already have tech positions. This can be particularly critical to successfully hiring executives and other high-level employees. Do your current searches for high-level employees include diverse candidates? Also, do your efforts to recruit involve tailoring benefits and perks in ways that might appeal to diverse candidates? Often, companies don’t focus on recruiting high-level diverse candidates, instead simply pattern matching based on the existing makeup of a company’s executive staff. Change that.


• The interview process is a major place where bias in your hiring process can enter the picture. Do your interviewers have training in unconscious bias, and do you offer coaching for interviewers on how to conduct effective, sensitive and inclusive interviews? Are there checks and balances in place to make sure that diverse applicants are getting a fair interview?

Technical interviews often don’t test for real-world skills and tasks, and further, tend to filter for graduates from “top” CS programs, those who can perform well on a narrow problem set, and those with a similar technical background to the existing make-up of your team. Think about how your technical interviews operate on a systemic basis: is your company just replicating popular technical interview techniques, without tailoring them to your culture, team and the individual roles?

Tactics for Raising Internal Awareness

• Make building diverse teams an internal priority. Ultimately, diversity must be a company value, something that is important and valued in the company culture. Communicating with the entire company the importance and focus on diverse hiring is critical and can be accomplished a number of ways—everything from having company leaders discuss it on team or all-hands calls, to making sure internal announcements of job openings include a focus on diversity, to working with managers one-on-one to help them gain the skills and consciousness to build diverse teams.

• Measure and report on diversity metrics. Often at tech companies, we devote a lot of time to metrics, on everything from the performance of technical infrastructure to revenue over time to the social reach of community content. Yet, diversity metrics are almost never discussed, shared, researched or displayed. In order to make diversity a priority and track how your company is doing, consider safe and responsible ways that you can include diversity as something that you measure.

• Keep educational and consciousness-raising material in the office, or make it accessible to remote workers. Internal culture is influenced by the materials, text and knowledge that we have in common. Consider having books on diverse hiring in the office, passing around links to blog posts and other materials internally, or offering educational sessions addressing these topics from existing employees or outside help.

Improving your Internal Culture

• Broaden the way you look at diversity. Tech companies frequently look at diversity across a very narrow axis. Diversity in tech is about more than just hiring women—this approach often results in companies just hiring white women, not building truly diverse teams. Gender itself isn’t just about the monolithic, narrow binaries of “man” and “woman”, but includes a range of gender identities and gender presentations—and gender is only one part of the picture. Diversity across race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, disability, class, educational background, age, health and other axes are all important aspects of truly diverse companies and teams.

• If part of your program to build diversity includes hiring new developers (or other roles!) just starting out in the field, make sure that your company is willing and ready to provide the mentorship, guidance and career path that will convince applicants your team is a place they can learn and grown.

• Consider hiring a professional diversity advocate. There are many people in the community who work full-time on creating more inclusive cultures and ultimately building more diverse teams. Many of these individuals are available for consulting to help audit your hiring practices and help you improve them.

• Get internal training on diversity. Many consultants and advocates also are available to give internal presentations on the importance and value of diversity, and how to build it within companies. Ultimately, your existing workforce is the biggest factor in your company’s ability to recruit and retain diverse candidates. Making sure that employees are educated around diversity in tech can have a huge impact on hiring as they bring that perspective to bear in their communities and daily work.

• Hiring is just the first step. Just focusing on bringing diverse employees into your workplace isn’t enough— you need to build a culture where diverse candidates can be included, successful and well-treated.

Open notebook with a pen lying on the binding.

Photo CC-BY dtron., filtered.

This article was originally published in Model View Culture Quarterly #1 from the 2014 subscription, and is re-published here with new additions. While this post covers a lot of ground, it’s far from complete or exhaustive. For more in-depth discussion, make sure to read our full issue on Hiring, and tell us your top tips for diverse hiring on Twitter.