Diversity in Silicon Valley, Series 2/5: How To Build Diverse Teams in Tech?

Jon McLachlan
3 min readMay 8, 2022

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We revisit traditional recruiting tools and optimize the experience and processes for more diverse team composition.

Inbound Recruiting Top-of-Funnel

Messaging to Target Underrepresented Groups
We should already be using inclusive language to connect with the widest audiences, but let’s take it further. With messaging that speaks directly to our target market, we can optimize top-of-funnel activity for specific underrepresented potential candidates. When we use language that speaks directly to LGBTQ+, gender-diverse, racially diverse, and religiously diverse people, they become more inclined to engage.

Showcase Diversity Initiatives
To distinguish ourselves, we must explain why diversity matters to our success. If your company has any specific ways to celebrate diversity in engineering, it’s also a good time to mention it.

Community Participation
Consistent community participation can be a top-of-funnel in-bound lead generator that often pays off. For example, QueerCon connects the LGBTQ+ community to the infosec community, which is a venue that may enable internal professional growth opportunities and new inbound candidates.

Resume Review

Breaking the Model
Frequently, URGs are not afforded the same opportunities as mainstream majorities. They often take alternative paths through their education and early careers to overcome obstacles. Given this, it’s important not to prematurely discard inbound candidates because of a less traditional career path. Doing so may limit your access to URGs, and filter your candidates through the same prejudiced processes and institutions that produce the mainstream candidates.

Looking for Community Engagements
Often, URGs may include soft signals of community engagement in their resumes. For example, leading corporate diversity initiatives or community-specific conferences demonstrates strong value alignment between your company’s diversity initiatives and the candidate. We may use community engagements to sort the candidates that appear to be otherwise equal in competency and experience.

Phone Screens and On-Site Interviews

Build Trust and Rapport by Offering Autonomy over the Problem
Trust and rapport are critical to URGs because they face more adversity than the mainstream candidate. Use the phone screen to build trust and rapport through transparency. Tell the candidate what your expectations are. Tell them, “there are no trick questions, just a topic for us to have an engaging discussion together.” Be flexible and collaborative. For example, demonstrate receptivity if the candidate wants to change the problem or make assumptions. Do not set up a situation where you seek out a “correct answer” or keep asking questions until you hear the “one right answer.” If you’re looking for “at least five things,” please re-evaluate how you’re collecting signals. Play with the candidate’s understanding of the problem, and see how it overlaps with your knowledge. A substantial positive signal is that you learn something or see the world differently (through the candidate’s lens).

Reverse Interview
Let the candidate interview you, and be honest. Tell them intelligent people always have options, and it’s in everyone’s best interest that potential decisions to move forward are equal and mutual. In that spirit, you’d like to help them make the best choice for themselves by allowing an abundance of time to ask you questions, too. Be honest and forthcoming with your responses to build trust and rapport.

Tell The Candidate You’re Building a Diverse Team
Simply being forthcoming with your intentions will attract folks with similar values, but it will also repel folks that do not align.

Hiring Decisions and Committees

Decision Maker’s Composition
It’s natural to associate with and look for folks similar to us. There’s little hope for building a diverse team if diversity is not a hiring decision value. Whoever creates a diverse group should have the final hire/no-hire decisions.

Complementary Strength-Based Hiring Philosophies
No one wants to be a “diversity hire,” nor should they be. However, there are ways to hire candidates based on their strengths so that a team’s individuals are more complementary than not. In this sense, it’s crucial to identify and focus on strengths. Anyone who received “no signal” in a particular attribute should not detract from a candidate’s eligibility. Notice that even mainstream candidates bring diverse experiences that may best complement the existing team’s expertise and experiences.

If, instead, we focus on weakness avoidance (or go with the least risky candidates), we are not optimizing for success; we’re minimizing failure.

If we hire similar strengths candidates, we build homogenous echo chambers, which will add little overall value to the team’s creative capacity.

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Jon McLachlan

Founder of YSecurity. Ex-Apple, Ex-Robinhood, Ex-PureStorage. Lives in Oakland. Athlete.