Diversity is hard, but valuable

by Rami Chowdhury & Matthew Rocklin

In the spirit of openness we’re sharing our perspective on what we know is a complex, multi-faceted issue. Please let us know what we could be doing better with this post

Diversity is hard, but valuable.

Why build a diverse team?

Aside from being the right thing from an ethical and moral perspective, diversity makes us more successful as a company.

There are any number of metrics along which diversity can be beneficial to a business (please check out the brilliant Project Include for many more), but when the evidence is so strong, and lines up with our goals of being good people and doing good in the world, it’s hard to argue against.

We should clarify that when we say “diversity” we refer to multiple dimensions of diversity, including not just common axes such as gender, ethnicity, age, and socio-economic background but also previous occupations, education and path to tech careers, cultures, languages, and more.

Diversity is hard, though

Especially for young startups.

As a new company (three months old and around five employees), we tend to hire people that we know. This helps us to reduce risk of personality and culture conflicts (which can kill a company at this stage) but unfortunately it also means that we hire mostly from our network, which reinforces existing biases. Going outside of our comfort zones is frightening, but critical to our success.

Like many young technology companies we’re also mostly made up of software engineers, and looking for more early on. That means we’re drawing from a highly skewed pool of people to begin with (for example barely 12% of startup engineers are women), and without taking care we’ll simply end up reflecting the existing biases of our environment.

It’s important to us to solve this early on, before it gets too hard to change. Being visibly different in a team of five is hard, but it’s much harder to be visibly different in a team of fifty. Think of the courage it takes to be the first woman on a previously all-male soccer team, or the first white person to join a hip-hop dance squad. We don’t want to limit our talent pool even further by requiring that level of courage to join our team.

Also ironically, for a data-driven engineering team like ours – a team that values what we think of as the scientific method – is that we know we have blind spots but we don’t know where they are. What are we inadvertently doing, or saying, or broadcasting, that’s hindering our efforts?

What we’re trying

First, we’re not doing as well as we’d like. Our team is homogeneous in the ways you’d expect from a stereotypical tech company. We’re composed primarily of straight, cisgender men, with graduate degrees in STEM.

We’re working to address this in a few ways. We’re sharing them here both to help influence other companies, and to solicit feedback from the community.

  • We’re running our job postings through Project Include’s guidelines, and asking community members from a variety of backgrounds to help vet them to make sure that they use welcoming language
  • We’re posting jobs in our local communities and on social media but we’re also reaching out to specific groups like Women Who Code, Diversify Tech, and PyLadies (we’re a Python shop).
  • When considering candidates we remind each other to check in with personal biases and keep an open mind, and we and implement diversity guidelines in our hiring steps (which, if we’re honest, are pretty informal right now).

We’re also reaching out through our network and community, both for advice on how to improve, and for candidates. That’s you! – Please let us know what we could be doing better. And please send folks our way!

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