Ninjas. Rockstars. Those may be commonly-used metaphors to describe ideal workers at fast-growing tech companies. But in job descriptions, these labels can feel exclusionary and dissuade candidates from joining an organization.
At a SXSW EDU session about improving recruiting, hiring and cultural practices to support diverse edtech organizations, TeLisa Daughtry, founder of FlyTechnista, says that sort of word choice can feel uncomfortable for women and people of color who don’t associate with those terms.
“If you’re talking about beer pong and darts,” she adds, “you’re creating a bro culture that doesn’t foster, but exclude.”
Alex Rappaport, CEO and co-founder of Flocabulary, stresses the importance of auditing job posts for bias. “Early on, we were playing into the startup cliches about listing all the perks that sounded cool. But instead of talking about things like seltzer water on tap,” he says, it’s much better to be straightforward about tangible financial benefits that may resonate better with candidates from less privileged backgrounds.
Don’t pay lip service. Make a budget—or at least a plan.
One of the biggest pet peeves for Jessica Santana, co-founder of New York On Tech, a nonprofit that prepares underrepresented students for technology careers, is when companies assume that attracting and recruiting diverse candidates is a quick and inexpensive effort.
“You cannot talk about having a diversity and inclusion strategy if you don’t have a diversity and inclusion budget,” she says. “I’ve talked to some hiring managers and they say they have $20,000, which is not enough to move the needle.
Any companies that are well-funded enough to have internal human-resources divisions, she believes, should earmark no less than $100,000 to recruit diverse candidates.
That may come as a sticker shock for early-stage, bootstrapped entrepreneurs. But even companies that can’t splash out that kind of money can still make a difference. Tonika Cheek Clayton, a managing partner at NewSchools Venture Fund who moderated the discussion, urges companies to “simply get started.” She teased that Catalyst:ED will launch a “diversity and inclusion expert hub” where companies can connect with consultants who work in this space. “Even if you don’t have the money, start learning about it.”
At the very least, companies can start measuring and sharing their demographic data. Daughtry quipped that sharing diversity numbers “has become like sharing your weight. Companies generally don’t want to share because they feel ashamed. But it’s a great way to start. They see where they are, and [hopefully] where they want to be.”
For all talk about diversity, few edtech companies have offered to share this data. One company that has is Clever, which recently published its latest demographic makeup. The company started sharing this data in 2015.
A white male’s plea to colleagues.
The only white male on the panel offered a plea to his peers: “It’s important for the white men to join this conversation,” said Flocabulary’s Rappaport, who uses hip hop music as part of its digital curriculum.
“Most diversity leaders [in the tech industry] are black and Latino women,” he noted. Somehow, “the most vulnerable people in tech are leading this charge and they’re taking the biggest risks.”
Two years ago, he shared, about 70 percent of Flocabulary’s team of 25 were white, which alarmed him as the Brooklyn-based company serves largely nonwhite teachers and students. “It’s unreasonable that people building education products don’t reflect the students that use them,” he said.
Today, the company has grown to 70 employees, close to half of whom are non-white.
Among the steps he’s taken is to create a series of diversity and inclusion workshops, which take place during work hours. “Stop selling, stop coding, come to this,” he says. “Saying ‘It’s okay to make time for this’” goes a long way towards setting the right atmosphere, he says.
Still, one of his regrets is not doing this earlier. Like many startups, he admitted being caught up in the rush to grow at all cost.
“If I could have done it over again, I would have taken more time. Startups generally go too fast, and there’s this rush from investors that you have to grow, grow, grow,” he says. “The decisions you make early on set a culture that can take years to undo. Rushing is the enemy of diversity.”
To this, Daughtry added: “Most companies think of diversity when they get to employee No. 200, versus No. 2.”