More than a buzzword: how to actually build a diverse teamFeatured
I’m at that turning point in my career where I’m spending more of my time building and managing teams than I am as an individual contributor. I’ve been lucky to learn from and observe a variety of different companies and their hiring practices. It’s no surprise that those who are doing it best have one thing in common: they prioritize diversity. I care deeply about this topic, so as a hiring manager, I wanted to pass along some practical tips to help other teams consider more thoughtfully how they grow.
Diversity in experienceMy career has been in User Experience (UX) Research, partnering with product and design teams to deeply understand people and their relationship to what we’re building. I like to describe it as the “why?” behind the data. When I first started out, I was told numerous times that if I ever wanted to be taken seriously as a researcher, I needed a PhD. That I’d never get hired at the Facebooks or Microsofts of the world without it. Thankfully, they were wrong on both counts, but it’s an idea that still permeates the industry. “You must fit into this mold in order to be successful.” Because of this, many companies won’t consider candidates unless they have an advanced degree, or a specific type of experience. Don’t get me wrong, skills and experience will always be important, but how a candidate acquired them is not. For example, two of the best product designers I’ve ever worked with came straight out of high school. In my current role, the colleagues who consistently challenge us to think differently don’t come from a financial services background. Don’t miss out on great candidates because they don’t fit into a cookie cutter job description. You might be thinking, this all sounds great, but how do I put this into practice?Rethink your baseline. If you’re hiring a product designer, the baseline might be a certain level of interaction or visual design skills, experience collaborating with a variety of disciplines, and ability to communicate design decisions to senior stakeholders. Do you need an advanced degree for any of this? Is it crucial to be an expert in Sketch? Is it a high priority for them to have a fancy design school certificate? No. So stop prioritizing it. Have a brainstorm with your team and cut down the role to its core function. Agree on what is non-negotiable in a new hire, and that includes soft skills such as openness to feedback and communication.Partner with the team that’s sourcing and recruiting. They’re usually just looking for a simple checklist to weed out candidates, but a true partnership changes that. Set up a meeting before sourcing begins and give examples of what your non-negotiables look like as well as some unique attributes of a great candidate. Invite them to observe your meetings and your process, and interview people on your team about their backgrounds and desires for their future colleague. Check in often to tweak as you go and give feedback on the resumes you’re seeing. That way, it’s no longer about the checklist and it gives the recruiter the freedom to get creative about sourcing candidates.
Diversify your networksI can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “there are no women in tech!” or, “we need to prioritize finding the right person for the job. We don’t have time to ensure diversity!” or, “someone of that age might not fit in with our culture.” All of those are excuses. If you’re a person with the power to give someone a job, you have a huge responsibility. There are numerous groups on Slack, Meetup, and social media for minority groups in various industries. Ask to be invited. Make connections. Reach out to friends who are women, people of color, LGBTQ+ and ask for their ideas and support. Explain your intentions and ask for specific feedback on your job description or interview questions, or for an introduction to one person they know who works in a field similar to yours. Reach out to like-minded people on Twitter or LinkedIn and share ideas.It’s going to take some effort to break out of the typical tech/finance/business/etc hiring mold, but it’s been proven that diverse teams are more successful (read: $$$) teams. Take the time to do it right. Your team will be better for it.
Don’t sleep on itBuilding a diverse team doesn’t happen the minute you get headcount approval or when the job description goes live. It’s an ongoing effort. Always consider how you’re building a network of diverse candidates, even when you aren’t immediately hiring. Use some of the tips I mentioned above to get out there and connect, even if it’s just setting a goal of one coffee meeting per month. Some other ideas: - Host industry related events at your office, such as panels or workshops. It’s great for building your team’s brand and a wonderful opportunity to connect with others in the industry. - Create opportunities for networking while doing things you already have planned, like meeting friends for drinks or dinner. - Ask them to each bring along a friend that you haven’t met who works in your industry as a way to more effortlessly grow your network.Then, when it does come time to hire, you already have a list of candidates to consider from your personal network, rather than rushing to build a pipeline just to get a job filled. And there you have it! Those are some of my top tips to consider when hiring, but I’d love to hear some of yours! If you want to continue the conversation, my inbox is always open.--Becca has almost a decade of experience leading strategic research at some of the world’s top companies like Microsoft, Facebook, and Morgan Stanley, as well as startups like Sunrise and Foursquare. Her expertise lies in building research teams at scale and partnering with design and product teams to solve real human problems. Now, she is the first researcher at The Wing in NYC.