concrete advice to hire POC and women engineers?
October 15, 2020 2:07 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking to hire an engineer at work, and I want us to do a better job hiring women and minorities. The engineering skill set I need is esoteric, and I don't know anything about hiring.

So, as a cog at a large company that has a separate HR department, what sorts of things can I do to help us get better at this?
posted by garlic to Work & Money (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
You might find this previous post helpful, although it's focused on the academic environment.
posted by Paper rabies at 2:21 PM on October 15, 2020

Veni Kunche started DiversifyTechCo for exactly your need! She’s on twitter and has a website. I’m on my phone so I can’t link but google will make it easy for you.

Your company can buy space in their job placement/newsletter IF your company aligns with their goals and values. This makes the space even more valuable because the listings are not bullshit.

Also - boot camps, community colleges and other early career hiring locations that are not Ivy League or otherwise exclusive. You’d be surprised how many “early career” folks are often seasoned engineers getting a credential in preparation for returning from “breaks” for caretaking or career switches of some length. And even genuinely early to the workforce folks are often interested in niche or esoteric tools.
posted by bilabial at 2:22 PM on October 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

Depends a bit on employment law in your jurisdiction as well as your company's HR policies, but one of the most effective ways to hire more women and minorities has historically been to (specifically and explicitly) hire women and minorities. You likely already know this given that you asked about how to hire women and minorities, but I have been in many meetings and discussions where people bemoan the difficulty of improving the diversity of their particular workforce and fail to make the connection that in order to hire more women and minorities, one has to actually hire women and minorities.

So if you are able to, an effective way to do this is to start with "we're going to hire women and minorities" and then look for folks in those categories who meet the job qualifications, as opposed to starting with the job qualifications and then dealing with getting enough women and minorities in your applicant pool, overcoming implicit (or explicit) biases of folks on the hiring committee, etc. The pool of qualified potential applicants who are women or minorities is the same regardless of which hiring approach is used, but the former approach guarantees that you will hire someone from this pool, while the latter approach often fails to do so.

You may well encounter resistance from other folks in your organization if you put forth this proposal, so it may be helpful to keep in mind the framing that if you believe (correctly) that the pool of qualified women and minorities is nonempty, then this is sort of like a statistical sampling problem: if A is the set of qualified women and minorities, then the probability that you hire from set A is 100% if you only sample (do a hiring search) from set A, and gets lower the more you extend the set you are sampling from beyond A.
posted by eviemath at 2:44 PM on October 15, 2020 [5 favorites]

Here is how I hired POC and marginalized hires in the past: I hired the least qualified person of the group. Before everyone freaks out, please take a deep breath.

The chances of you finding a unicorn at all, that fits your role is one in ten. The chance that unicorn also is a woman/POC is going to get closer to zero. I've spent time in hiring practices where people not only obsess over which company a hire is from but what division within that company and who they worked with. Then they play tealeaves of why that person only lasted 6 months under that one person that everyone knew was a jerk, maybe he couldn't stand the jerk? Maybe he the jerk couldn't stand him? If he can't take a difficult environment maybe he doesn't belong here even though we don't hire people like the jerk to supervise. And thus, this is why we have nothing but Stanford/Harvard/CalTech upper-middle class white men working in tech. Very rarely do people outright reject women/POC, but their idea of what "most qualified" happens to whittle it down. These are good actors, people wanting to increase diversity. So the way I get across the mental block is simply say, most qualified person is probably not going to be a diversity hire. Not your fault, this is the "systemic" part of systemic racism/etc. By the time it gets to you its been through 20 years+ of trying the best not to get to you.

This sucks because you'll get some shitty hires and people give a lot more leeway to shitty hires that are like them, that came from their background then someone off the street. There's a whole gunk of stuff that goes beyond diversity hires that I won't touch here, like if you got married and had kids at 24 you probably didn't have 3-4 years to explore different fields before your MBA. Again, even in the most anonymous of hires I can tell you based on their life story on their resume the likelihood of their background.

Oh and outside of a FAANG or large company, you'll face the weird incredibly specific requirements. I myself was rejected by a friend I worked with and hired once! the position of VP of Engineering because I was not a "Series B" and his CEO wanted a "leader with a history of success in running Series B post-revenue" and also someone with a strong network to organically grow a department: read I have a bunch fo engineers I can just call up to come over. They never found anyone and it eventually went to the CEO's buddy.

I'm getting off topic but especially in small-to-medium companies the stakes seem high and I think that's the fragility of the company not knowing what they want. So you'll likely have that going against you.

How do you get recruits in the first place? My business partner, a minority and a woman, held women in tech events. She aggressively recruited women and minorities above their current roles. Everyone was willing to take a chance. Word got out that ambitious women and minorities could break the country-club handshake. She'd not just encourage women but go up to them at these events. A lot of marginalized communities wouldn't even go and ask for a job at specific professional networking event so just putting these on was not enough. I get it. This company ended up failing but not because of that.

Good luck, it isn't easy and if you want to do this there's a lot of risk. Every company wants to minimize risk as much as possible and they'd like nothing more than to hire someone with 20 years of experience in exactly the role they're hiring for which is why I say the mantra of "hire someone who isn't qualified" is something that's needed. Think Moneyball where they're trying to build a team and Brad Pitt's character keeps repeating the mantra that they get on base.
posted by geoff. at 3:04 PM on October 15, 2020 [11 favorites]

Could you tell us more about the esoteric skill set?
posted by Kwine at 3:57 PM on October 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

Be actually honest about what you want people to already know versus what you are willing to train/offer professional development for. People with the right "soft skills" and other qualities you want who are willing to learn are so much higher value as employees than the entitled, spoiled jerks with all the training and/or credentials.
posted by Schielisque at 4:10 PM on October 15, 2020 [6 favorites]

My employer recently up-ended the system for hiring software engineers, getting rid of the "team match" process that many large tech companies use (where they decide you're acceptable according to some generic bar and then teams can pick you, as opposed to hiring for each specific position from the start) and requiring that a woman or member of an underrepresented ethnic group be interviewed for each position (I think it goes up to two for more senior positions). Basically, managers have to make an active choice of a candidate rather than taking the first acceptable-seeming person who comes through (which is what centralized hiring incentivizes), and the idea is that by slowing the process down and picking the person who is the best fit, you'll hire people you would have missed out on previously just because the first N people who walked through the door were carbon copies of each other.

This strategy will slow down hiring for very senior or specialized positions in particular, but those are positions where taking the first acceptable person is a bad strategy anyway. Realistically, unless you can name every qualified person for the job off the top of your head, it's likely that there's a woman and/or POC you ought to be interviewing if you're willing to go look for them.
posted by hoyland at 4:15 PM on October 15, 2020

Do you have any women and folks of color in your organization to mentor this person? To be part of the search committee? They might have questions about working in your organization that they don't want to ask HR/a man/a white person. Because it's also about making your company attractive to these candidates.

The cliche is that white men get hired for potential but women and folks of color get hired based on experience. You need to be okay with hiring someone where folks might not feel like they're a great "fit," because the best "fit" is often "people like me" (this is true even in liberal-leaning organizations where people think they don't want to do this). And these folks might not have the most experience or most perfect resumes. They might not know all the insider stuff.

It can be really hard to get past unconscious bias, especially if you have a rubric where you assign points. I agree that looking at folks with less experience can be good. Know what you need to have and what you can train.

In some organizations, they take off names and other identifying information.

Also, talk to your HR folks. They should be sympathetic and might be glad to hear from you.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:53 PM on October 15, 2020 [5 favorites]

Society of Women Engineers posts jobs. So does the National Society of Black Engineers.
posted by mareli at 5:43 PM on October 15, 2020 [8 favorites]

Esoteric how? If it's just a language that nobody uses, hire someone with a demonstrated ability to learn other languages and then teach them the one you need. When I was hiring junior programmers who were going to have to maintain some truly bad legacy code written in a language that had been out of style for more than a decade before I inherited it, I threw out the company's previous job notices and wrote a posting with specific instructions to the effect of "email this address with a resume, a cover letter answering a couple specific questions, and attach code samples in two different languages." The cover letter told me if they could follow instructions and the code samples demonstrated that they could learn. I was honestly shocked by how many people didn't follow the instructions, but we got some good candidates that way.

And then train them and treat them well once you have them to protect your investment.
posted by fedward at 7:35 PM on October 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

By esoteric I mean the minimum requirement is someone who has experience doing digital logic design on ASICs or preferably FPGAs in either Verilog or VHDL.

Writing that out, I realize that eliminates new grads (I've never heard of a digital logic design boot camp), but I also know my team isn't setup well to provide the mentorship a new grad would need.
posted by garlic at 10:08 PM on October 15, 2020

That's not impossible, your pool will expand a lot if you can do visa sponsorship. I honestly don't know what that'd entail or if you're doing work that requires a US national.
posted by geoff. at 11:33 PM on October 15, 2020

Speaking of the Society of Women Engineers, their annual conference is scheduled for next month. We do a lot of recruiting at events like this.
posted by blurker at 11:58 AM on October 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

There is a whole entire network of HBCUs with placement offices for their graduates and post-graduates designed to do exactly what you're asking.
posted by Miko at 8:18 PM on October 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

The best way to attract candidates is to act like they are already there. Start changing your workplace to reflect what you hope it will look like "once we have more people who are not straight white cis men." If you wait until someone complains about something being or feeling discriminatory or dangerous, it will be too late. Most good candidates will clock the problems and take a pass on your org. And if they do not notice the issues and they stay long enough to complain, they may leave rather than try to "be the change." Or they may have a lawyer already when they do bring it to your attention.

This means:
  • start using pronouns in your email sign off to set an example
  • stop talking about gender as just "men" and "women"
  • read work about racism in the workplace that does not center whiteness
  • do not allow folks to claim they are "neutral" or "apolitical" because that just translates to "extremely privileged and in denial about it"
  • scrub outdated, racist, sexist language from your documentation
  • look into how accessible your workspace is
    • can a person using any sort of mobility device get into the space?
    • can a person using any sort of mobility device use the bathroom in the space?
    • can a person using any sort of mobility device access all areas of the space?
    • if a person who is Deaf or has impaired hearing was attending a meeting in your space, would you have to scramble in order for them to participate?
    • would you call the results of that scrambling "accommodation?"
    • answer the two questions above for people who have low or no vision.
    • if you are providing menstrual supplies in the "women's bathroom" please put the same items in the "men's bathroom." I promise, you know (at least at the level of acquaintance/vendor/customer) men who menstruate or used to menstruate, most or all just haven't told you.
    • return to thinking about folks using mobility devices, would they be comfortable in your meeting rooms? like, sure, I'm going to assume they could get in...would they be able to use the table?
  • is anyone in the space known to make creepy or gross jokes?
  • does anyone use analogies that makes people cringe?
  • who is your aggressive jerk that everyone tiptoes around because that person is brilliant/related to a founder/is not replaceable?
  • does anyone on your team post racist or sexist things on twitter or facebook? your potential applicants are finding out, so you should too.
  • what is the company policy about leave?
    • paid?
    • parental>
    • unlimited vacation? (hint, unlimited vacation is bad bad bad for attracting many different candidates)
  • do your job listings all include relevant information about pay bands? I mean, numbers.
  • is there any transparency about pay?
For things that are helpful for finding applicants once your workplace is set up to be more safe for them:
  • are you following folks on twitter who work in your field and are not cis men?
  • do you have an active twitter search for terms relevant to the job?
  • do you know who is posting youtube video tutorials about skills relevant to your job?
  • get connected to the job posting boards of community colleges, state schools, etc.
  • get connected to the job posting organizations that Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) are part of. (Here is a list of the 107)
  • remember that not all people graduating this year are brand new to tech, many marginalized folks know that they need a credential to get the raises and promotions and positions they already have the skills for. Many privileged people are given the opportunity to advance based on potential and don't know how to distinguish.
  • are your job postings run by someone with experience and expertise in checking for bias?
  • remove the verbs and adjectives that signal that team members are expected to work more than 40 hours per week, that strong personalities are required, that the team is "like a family" and all of the other stuff that is well documented to drive candidates away from applying.
  • focus on the skill of digital design first, and worry about the tool(s) later. Google "digital logic design syllabus" to find instructors that are teaching this course, and get in touch with them.
  • be extra smart and combine that list of the 107 HBCUs and find the schools that have classes devoted to digital logic design. Those professors can connect you to their excellent students.

posted by bilabial at 8:41 PM on October 16, 2020 [4 favorites]

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