The Real Solution to Hiring More Diverse Tech Talent: Handshakes and Smiles

Every day, it seems I come across a new article on how the tech world is struggling to bring diversity to its homogeneous community. It’s an issue that has led companies like Google, Apple and Intel to committing a combined $400M towards creating more opportunities for women and minorities. From the outside looking in, this sounds great. However, the closer you get to the problem, the clearer it becomes that the solution requires much more than corporate earmarking.  

The fact is that there are simply not as many women and minority engineers as white male engineers. The makeup of tech companies today is not a symbol of prejudice as much as it is a reflection of the talent that is “readily” available. Yes, I know there are more minority computer science graduates than are employed. However, that is a broader illustration of just how difficult it is to land a job directly upon graduation these days, as well as the incredible competition that tech talent faces.

The fact is most tech companies employ the same strategies they use for sourcing traditional engineers as they do with reaching the smaller subset of women and minority engineers. The strategy dujour seems to be throwing money at the problem, forming  public initiatives and campaigns that merely project a desire to hire "under-represented groups". In reality though, the results are underwhelming.

I call this the “hands-off approach” to sourcing diverse Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) candidates. It aligns with the findings of a recent SHRM report, which found one-fifth of human resource executives working for Fortune 1000 companies have very informal and non-structured diversity efforts.

If any of these characteristics look familiar, the likelihood is your company is employing this hands-off approach:

  • Company spends money on marketing itself as an organization that cares about diversity and inclusion.
  • Company spends more money on donating to scholarships and any other cause that aligns your organization with diversity.
  • Company spends even more money to access to a boatload of resumes from diverse candidates.
  • Company hires a minority to be the face of your diversity and inclusion strategy.
  • Company sits back and crosses their fingers that somehow more women and minorities will find your company.

A company that is truly committed to attracting women and minorities isn’t spending a lot of time on announcements or marketing. They’re immersing themselves in the communities and campuses where young women and minority talent is being groomed. They’re actually going out and meeting with talent before they even think about those the two daunting words that every graduate loathes: “job search”.

Here are four ways leading-edge recruiters can build real engagements, connections and  relationships with young women and minorities to address the imbalance in technical talent supply.

More Handshakes and Smiles On Campus

The aforementioned SHRM report also found that the reason many recruiters don't have a formal diversity effort in place is due to a lack of time. More than 40 percent of respondents noted that they’re just “too busy”. My suggestion would be to make time and start taking on the role of politician. Afterall, we’re not just talking about the public perception of your business or organization -- diversity is a powerful weapon in the battle of groupthink and naturally brings  more innovation to the table.

This starts with feet on the street, or in this case, feet on campus. With one career service rep for every 2,672 students on the typical campus, diverse student bases aren’t getting a lot of personalized direction as they start their career journey. Meanwhile, companies are spending nearly $950M annually on college recruiting that often amounts to little more than a booth at a sparsely attended career fair.

Companies need to explore new opportunities to get ahead of the typical recruiting process and in front of diverse candidates. Meanwhile, recruiters need to expand their connections on campus beyond career services by forging relationships with professors student clubs, and other leaders, as well as organizations, that have influence with diverse students across universities.

Affiliating with Like-Minded Departments and Sponsoring Diverse Student Clubs

Employer affiliate programs are another option for engaging with diverse student bases at many colleges and universities. These affiliate programs, which are usually offered through career  services or academic departments, provide access to the students they serve. Fortunately, STEM departments often have some of the more well established affiliate program on campus. Programs come with an annual fee or an affiliate membership charge based on the type of engagement.

Like STEM departments, student clubs play host to many of the brightest, most diverse talent on campus. In fact, around 300,000 young women & minorities majoring in STEM are student club members on campuses across the country. Speaking to the club membership is one way to engage them, but there is also club sponsorship opportunities.

For instance, the Society of Women Engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology is currently offering sponsorship of hands-on learning with its fifty young women members. Recruiters can help add a new skill to these students’ toolboxes such as laser cutting, circuit building or 3D printing, while putting their company brand in front of them. Talk about recall for your employer brand, which you can’t put a price on.

Hosting Events on Corporate Campuses

When they’re not spending time on campus, recruiters need to find time to bring diverse talent to them. Companies who are serious about hiring diverse candidates are designing events that cater to diverse candidates and enable recruiters to establish relationships. A great example is what Pandora is doing to encourage its employees to engage with the racially-diverse Oakland community that it calls home. It hosts events for organizations like Women Who Code, and encourages their female employees to attend events like the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference. Therefore, it should be no surprise that 49% of its employees are female. Comparatively, Twitter has 35% female employees and Facebook has 30% female employees on staff.

Video Recruiting

Technology is also making it easier to engage with technical talent spread across the country, and beyond, without ever leaving the office. Recruiting in technical hubs like San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Austin and Boston used to require planes, trains and automobiles . The lone alternative was phone screens that established little more than a hankering for better cell reception. Today, however, video recruiting is bringing speed and efficiency to meeting with an array of diverse candidates. 

Rather than sifting through piles of resumes or hoping a resume robot identifies a qualified prospect, video conferencing provides a fast way to meet vetted candidates face-to-face and all in one place. It’s possible to have one-on-one conversations with as many as six women and minority candidates, or even a group video call with a club of 50 women engineers, in as little as an hour.

Looking Forward

Now, and in the future, the companies that succeed at increasing the diversity in their organizations will be the ones that care enough to get out and make real connections. At the end of the day, they won’t be looking to solve the problem by throwing more money at the it, or acquiring more resumes. Instead, they will focus on finding opportunities to get in front of these women and minority groups because long-lasting connections are made with handshakes and smiles.



The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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