Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Increasing Diverse Engineers in the Workplace:
A Call for Studies and Stories

Today I met with a small group of folks from SF startups and coding academies to talk about an issue we all face: increasing diversity in the engineering workplace. We came together to focus on women, but personally, I like to think of it more in terms of the ways that women are often different: they may often have alternative educational background (like the coding academies) and they may often have less confidence in their skills (possibly related to their background). Many of our engineering practices in terms of hiring and retention don't cater well to candidates with those attributes, and there's probably a lot we can do to change that.

Our goal tonight was to brainstorm experiments that we could do in our workplaces to improve diversity (across the pipeline from attracting candidates to retaining employees), try out those experiments, and document the results publicly. Ideally, if the experiments are successful, other companies will be more likely to put in the effort to implement the changes and engineering workplace practices would gradually begin to change.

Here's what we broke the pipeline down into, and a few ideas in each area:


  • Making a more gender-neutral jobs/about page, with diverse team photos.
  • Re-wording job descriptions to not use words like "dominant" or "mastery" and instead focus on collaboration and ability to learn on the job. (*This would need to actually be true!)
  • Removing CS degrees as "required" and moving it to "Nice to have.".
  • Hosting meetups for diverse meetup groups.
  • Surveying candidates at various stages of the pipeline to ask "What attracted you to the job?" and seeing if there's something that stands out as *not* attracting diverse applicants. (Like if your women engineers never answer "the job page", then something may be wrong there)


  • Sending technical worksheets out to candidates with not-as-obviously-strong resumes, giving them a chance to prove their skills before rejecting them.
  • Focusing less on algorithms (which are hallmarks of traditional CS education, but often not as relevant in something like frontend engineering) and more on architecture questions (which is always a practical concern).
  • Adding a coding exercise to the interview process that isn't on the whiteboard but is more like what they'd actually do on the job: like a full-day working inside a similar codebase, or an afternoon of pairing with a few engineers.
  • Making sure the interviewers themselves are diverse.

Onboarding & Retaining

  • Pairing new employees with a mentor that goes out of their way to help them progress and answer questions.
  • Having weekly one-on-ones with engineers, focusing on career growth, and even asking them questions like "Why haven't you asked for a raise yet?"
  • Having a dedicated group and events for a minority group (like Google's Gayglers and Women Engineers), which go out of their way to make sure they're supported.

For each of those ideas, we'd try to think about how we'd do it as an experiment, and what we'd measure to be able to really prove the success metrics. It's tricky because you ideally want to see the effect of a change on the whole pipeline - e.g. would tweaking the job page increase the number of women applicants that then go on to make it through the interview process, get hired, and do well at the job? That's quite a long pipeline to measure - but I think there are useful metrics to measure along the way.

I imagine many companies have tried out experiments in these areas, and I'd love to hear about studies and stories from those, so that we don't try to reinvent any wheels. Please share links in the comments, and if you have an experiment that you've done but not written about, I encourage you to write a post on it and link to that. Thank you!

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