Mekka Okereke

Mekka Okereke - tech ramblings and natural bodybuilding

Reducing Bias in Your Hiring Process

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Introduction

My name is Mekka, and I’m an Engineering Director on Google Play. I’ve built inclusive engineering teams at start-ups, and large tech companies like Google. My current team of engineers is around 30% women, 10% black, and 10% Latinx. Half of the engineering managers are women. Our team is also inclusive on dimensions that are not visible: sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, country of origin, etc. We’ve achieved these results not by one big thing, but by many small, easy things. I’d like to share some of what has worked for us that I think are applicable to any company. Thanks for reading!

We’ve achieved these results not by one big thing, but by many small, easy things. I’d like to share some of what has worked for us that I think are applicable to any company. Thanks for reading!

What We Did & How We Did It

Focus on Retention over Recruiting.

Although it’s tempting to jump right into recruiting, our team has focused on building an inclusive culture first. Without this, the most successful recruiting efforts will not outpace regretted attrition (good people leaving your company). We found that the best way to “hire” great senior engineers who know our organization, is to develop junior engineers who already know our organization. In other words, the best senior engineers for your company, might be more junior engineers already at your company! They just need your help to grow. So we focus on sustained and intentional professional development for all of our employees, including those from underrepresented backgrounds. For example, everyone has a development plan that they can use to guide their career growth. Seeing senior folks at your company who look like them, attracts even more great talent.

Make sure that you have inclusive job descriptions.

The job description is the beginning of a prospective candidate’s connection to your company or organization. We found that eliminating words that were off-putting to underrepresented groups was the first and most basic step. We removed words like “rockstar” and “ninja,” because they are associated with teams that don’t have an inclusive culture. Next, we focused on describing the inclusive culture of our team. Sharing the fact that inclusion is important to us, attracts candidates who want to be a part of a positive and inclusive team. Finally, reducing the number of bullet points on job descriptions improved the gender balance of applicants. This was a big surprise to us. But studies have shown that women are less likely to apply for jobs with too many requirements or even “nice to haves” listed, even if they are qualified for the role. Here’s a survey conducted by Tara Sophia Mohr from the Harvard Business Review.

Make sure you are looking everywhere great candidates are.

Talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not. In the United States, higher education is prohibitively expensive. For many top science and math students, the dream of going to a brand name university or college is not realistic, even though they have the drive and grades to do so. Some students who are accepted to Ivy League schools make a conscious choice to go to more affordable schools that may not have the same brand name. Others don’t even apply. This phenomenon is known as Undermatching. Professor Caroline Hoxby at Stanford has done great work in this area (TED Talk).

We’ve found that the very top talent from anywhere, almost always outperforms the average talent from even the top tier universities. Your goal as a team builder should be to broaden your search to find this top talent, and see if it’s a good fit for your company. As a benefit, “Top talent from everywhere,” is by definition a more diverse group than “CS students at top universities.”

In addition to undermatching, many top students go to top schools that may not be on your tech recruiting radar. For example, to make sure you are finding top black engineering students, add Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and engineering schools in Atlanta Georgia, to the list of places that your recruiting team prioritizes. To expand top students’ access to Google and other companies in Silicon valley, Bonita Stewart sponsored the Howard West program.

Make sure that all candidates have equal access to preparation materials.

Some candidates don’t have access to the criteria and interview process that you use to determine who is a good fit for your team. This means that your interviews may be unintentionally testing candidates for access rather than ability. You can level the playing field by making sure that all candidates get equal access to your interview prep materials. Candidates should understand the interview format, the types of questions asked, and what you are looking for in a new team member.

The obvious benefit of sharing the preparation materials, is that you avoid rejecting great candidates who don’t know the format. The less obvious benefit, is that you avoid hiring people who might not be a great fit for your team, but wow your interviewers because they are more familiar with your format than other candidates. My employer has put together this site of materials for candidates (Grow Your Technical Skills With Google). It focuses on developing deep and broad technical skills, going right down to foundational knowledge, and includes a section with previous technical questions.

Candidate experience is key!

Many people apply for jobs at top companies, for very few positions. Because the process is so competitive, most of the people who apply will not be offered a position. How you treat people who are not offered a position first time around, will determine whether they choose to apply again later or refer a friend, or decide never to apply again, and discourage their network from applying.

A talented candidate who does not have the knowledge or experience to join your team today, may make a great team member next year. Treat them well and stay in touch.

The Results

Our team is 10% Black, 10% Latinx, ~30% women, and ~50% of the managers are women. Each quarter, the percentage of engineers that are women drifts closer to 50%.

Lessons Learned

  • Focus on inclusion before focusing on recruiting.
  • Providing professional development for your existing employees helps you attract a diverse set of employees.
  • Reducing the number of bullet points used in Job Descriptions will increase your numbers of qualified non-male candidates.
  • Look where you aren’t looking to find what you aren’t finding.
  • Ensure interview prep materials are available to everyone, so your interview is testing for talent and ability, not access and privilege.
  • The way you treat candidates who aren’t a good fit for your company is even more important than how you treat those that make the team.

How Can I Get Started?

  • Prioritize a culture of inclusion. Make development plans for employees from all backgrounds.
  • Update your job descriptions.
  • Expand your search.
  • Share your interview prep materials with candidates.

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