What are our recommendations

Use a broad range of recruiting sources

Employees with considerable potential can come from nontraditional sources including coding camps, bootcamps, community colleges, and nanodegree programs. Target these settings to attract talent who might not otherwise apply.

Take advantage of relationship building in the long term to build your company  —  go outside current practices (“pattern matching”) to foster valuable relationships with diverse organizations. Use word of mouth to develop a positive reputation as you build a company culture that attracts diverse talent.

Speak at events. Build relationships. Hire without changing standards. Once you have your first hire, it will be much easier to attract other candidates. Doing it early will make it easier. Waiting until you have a homogeneous team of six or eight will make it harder.

Write inclusive job descriptions

Minimize references to perks that may appeal only to young, male, white applicants in the jobs page, like company retreats in exotic locales or sports outings, and emphasize inclusivity. Did you know that including “salary negotiable” in a job description reduces the gender wage gap by 45 percent? 1

Consider what your jobs page looks like and what your job descriptions sound like to members of underrepresented groups. It should have inclusive, but accurate, imagery of life at the company. You may wish to highlight diversity initiatives within the company like ERGs and the role of the D&I officer, making it clear that your company takes inclusion seriously. Avoid the use of staged and fake inclusive photos and other recruiting material.

The Kapor Center for Social Impact, for example, says on its about page: “We believe that when the community of tech leaders reflects the diversity of the United States, tech will play an integral role in closing gaps and disparities that exist in this country.”

The organization’s job descriptions note: “In keeping with our beliefs and goals, no employee or applicant will face discrimination/harassment based on: race, color, ancestry, national origin, religion, age, gender, marital domestic partner status, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability status, or veteran status. Above and beyond discrimination/harassment based on “protected categories,” Kapor Capital also strives to prevent other, subtler forms of inappropriate behavior (e.g., stereotyping) from ever gaining a foothold in our office. Whether blatant or hidden, barriers to success have no place at Kapor Capital.”

Evaluate and communicate expectations for working conditions

All companies, and some teams, have a specific working climate, which is tied to culture and covers what it looks like to work there every day and every week. Some working climates promote inclusivity with flexible hours options, clear but reasonable deadline expectations, and accommodations for different working styles.

Others demand tight deadlines, lots of night and weekend work, and long hours, especially at startups. These can feel unwelcoming to members of underrepresented groups. Companies should consider how their existing expectations feed their company culture, and whether they should be reevaluated and adjusted.

These climates, and manager and company expectations, should be communicated clearly at every stage of the recruiting, hiring, and onboarding process. Employees may be afraid to ask about these potential limitations, and transparency facilitates better hiring practices.

CEOs and management must lead by example, promoting a healthy work-life balance through their actions and words, as Susan Wojcicki did at Google 2 in 2007 when the compan reduced the rate at which new moms left by 50 percent, simply by increasing paid maternity leave from 12 weeks to 18. “It’s much better for Google’s bottom line to avoid costly turnover,” she explained, “and to retain the valued expertise, skills and perspective of our employees who are mothers. Best of all, mothers come back to the workforce with new insights.”

Eliminate bias in resume evaluation

Rethinking resume reliance is an important aspect of diversity and inclusion. Pattern matching is a common problem found while reviewing resumes, from universities to previous companies worked. Think about employing a “distance traveled” metric: Where did a candidate begin their journey? Which achievements were accidents of birth and linked to privilege (e.g. an internship at a family or friend’s company) as opposed to earned in a meritocratic competition?

Consider using technology to remove identifiers from resumes and other job application materials. Studies have shown systemic unintended bias when reviewing resumes that are identical with the exception of names that signify a racial background or gender 3 or a resume entry that signifies LGBQTA status. 4

Recruiters and hiring managers should utilize a new wave of HR tech tools; startups are moving away from traditional resumes to alternative forms that include project-based blind auditions to assess fit, while others work with “optimized resumes” that move away from a timeline model that often promotes ageism and highlights gaps in employment.

While looking at resumes, hiring managers should consider the bottom line needs and criteria of a company, evaluating whether a candidate has the skills to meet those needs. Managers should also train their teams to move away from assessing a candidate purely on “cultural” compatibility.

Rethink traditional interview practices

Despite studies demonstrating that interviews don’t provide the results they are intended to 5 and top tier tech companies losing faith 6 in the interview process to indicate the success of a candidate, interviews are still pervasive and a rite of passage before joining a company. Current interview practices often amplify confirmation bias and play a role in the power structure of a company, weighting some voices more than others and tending to entrench existing company demographics.

For candidates who come from underrepresented groups, the interview process can be a minefield of untrained interviewers, poorly structured questions, and an experience that leaves them feeling excluded from opportunities. It can be hard to move from standard processes that have been used in tech companies for years, but they don’t work and fixing them is worth the investment.

Use an inclusive interview process

While the interview process may be flawed, there are ways to make it more effective, and to reduce biases that can disadvantage members of underrepresented groups. “Culture fit” or synonyms like “value alignment,” “lack of personal connection,” and the “Saturday” or “beer” tests (Would you want to be alone in the office with the interview subject on a Saturday? Would you get a beer with them?) are frequently cited as rationales for a positive or negative hiring decision. This is reflective of interview failure.

Everyone has a role to play in an interview; plan, train, and assign those roles ahead of time. Interviewers should always read resumes and other documentation to familiarize themselves with candidates so they can tailor questions to the knowledge and skills of the people they’re interviewing  —  and so they avoid asking easily-discoverable questions that are answered in resumes and cover letters.

Use structured interviews, asking the same standard questions, and making them applicable to the type of role you’re filling. Be prepared with flexible, open-ended questions that permit more than one answer, providing an opportunity to see how candidates think through problems and solutions. Experienced interviewers can delve into responses in more depth to learn more about the candidate as a person, not just someone who can answer a series of rote questions.

Avoid trivia, single-answer questions, those that rely on esoteric knowledge or photographic recall, or those that don’t reflect the work or culture of a company. Questions shouldn’t be “gotchas,” but rather opportunities for people to discuss the value they will add to the company.

Interview processes go both ways. Candidates are interviewing you, too, and they’re making decisions not just about whether they want to work with you, but whether they would recommend you to others. Thoughtful, trained interviewers should ask engaging questions, address their internal biases, and make candidates feel welcome. They should also be respectful: Don’t cancel an interview at the last minute, make sure any tech tools are working before the interview, and show up on time. Schedule interviews at appropriate intervals so they don’t run over. Thank interviewees for their time at the conclusion of an interview.

A candidate may turn down a job on the basis of an interview  —  or may be turned down  —  but could alert other people in the field to stay away from your company, ensuring that you miss out on excellent future candidates. Request that candidates consider offering feedback about the application and interview process. Use this data to create actionable metrics you can use to adjust your practices. While recruiters gather this information on an ad-hoc basis, it’s much more useful when the information is comprehensive and formal.

Use two-on-one interview panels

In an interview, the person who is tasked with making a determination about whether to recommend hiring a candidate is also representing your company. The people who make up the panel of interviewers matter immensely, especially when interviewing a candidate who is part of an underrepresented group. Though it’s tempting to have the one woman or person of color on your team interview every candidate who may be able to boost the company’s diversity stats, that shortcut that doesn’t necessarily get the desired results. Not only do interviewers develop fatigue, but if they lack interview skills, the candidate will have a bad experience. What matters most is that every interviewer is respectful, professional, and conscientious throughout the stressful interview process.

A one-on-one interview can be stressful for a candidate, while a two-on-one creates a more inclusive environment. Large panels can also be problematic: Being the only person from an underrepresented group in the room with all eyes on you can be intimidating.

Train employees who interview on how to interview

Give a class for interviewers instructing them on legal boundaries (e.g., women cannot be asked if they are pregnant or planning to have children) as well as questions that do not reflect your company values. Require them to shadow senior interviewers who regularly receive positive feedback and have extensive experience, as learning skills from those who are strong interviewers will help your company develop a consistent interview process. Show trainees what good written feedback looks like, and give them feedback on how theirs is good or could be better.

Not everyone communicates in the same conversational style. Train interviewers to be thoughtful about how they shape their questions to get the information they need. For example, people from some cultural backgrounds may have learned that it’s impolite to take personal credit for work done on a team, and will have difficulty saying “I did this project” instead of “the team did this project.” Dig in for more information by asking, “And how did you divide up the work? Which part did you tackle?” Consider that many members of underrepresented groups underrate themselves, and may not accurately represent their talents and skills.

Develop a consistent interview feedback process

All interviewers should write feedback within 24 hours and submit it independently to avoid weighting and bias. Early interviewers, especially if they’re more senior, can have a disproportionate impact on the direction of feedback, amplifying individual biases. Sharing feedback is important during the hiring process, but should be limited to after the team has interviewed, and should be closed off after the hiring decision. It streamlines the hiring process, but can be complicated once the candidate becomes an employee if that feedback is still available.

Standardize your decision-making process

Companies must have a clear, consistent framework for offer decision-making, including determining who makes a final decision and whether stakeholders are allowed votes or vetoes. New software tools can help reduce bias through structured weighting and scoring systems. In smaller startups, the whole company is often involved in hiring a candidate, and each employee has a veto. Vetoes are problematic, as each person’s biases can torpedo a candidate, and research shows that most people harbor biases that are inconsistent with how they perceive themselves.7

At some companies, decisions are made in a meeting where an interview panel convenes for 30 minutes and gives a +1/-1 on the candidate and their rationale. Theoretically, this structure is supposed to provide an open forum to air opinions and weigh in on a candidate. However, in practice, because most interviewers have biases, this can turn political and discriminatory.

At larger companies, full company consensus decisions become increasingly harder, and companies should start having smaller groups discuss hiring decisions once they have more than 15 employees, if not earlier. Smaller group decisions should be based on clear criteria, and discussions should focus on candidates’ capabilities with respect to the criteria and the role.

Participation in such groups should be fairly determined with diversity in mind. Team members from underrepresented groups should be included. However, they shouldn’t be expected to do all the heavy lifting, especially in the early stages when only one or two people in a group may represent diverse interests. Think about how voices in the group are weighted to reduce discrimination. Who leads the meeting and does that person have training to intercept biases when they come up? Are equal amounts of time allotted to each speaker?


We share this helpful reference as a starting point and encourage you to continue exploring.

  1. Leibbrandt, A. & List, J.A. (2015). “Do Women Avoid Salary Negotiations? Evidence from a Large-Scale Natural Field Experiment,Management Science 61(9): pp. 2016-2024. Retrieved December 2016 from: http://www.nber.org/papers/w18511 

  2. Wojcicki, S. (December 16 2014). “Paid Maternity Leave is Good for Business.” *The Wall Street Journal. *Retrieved April 2016 from: http://www.wsj.com/articles/susan-wojcicki-paid-maternity-leave-is-good-for-business-1418773756 

  3. Bertrand, M. and Mullainathan, S. (July 2003). “Are Emily and John More Employable Than Lakish and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination.” American Economic Review 94(4): pp. 991-1013. Retrieved April 2016 from: http://www.nber.org/papers/w9873 

  4. “Federal Contractors Show Anti-LGBQT Hiring Bias.” The Equal Rights Center. Retrieved from: http://www.equalrightscenter.org/site/DocServer/Freedom_to_Work_6.16.14.pdf?docID=2481 

  5. Dana, J., Dawes, R., and Peterson, N. (September 2014). “Belief in an unstructured interview: The persistence of an illusion.” Judgment and Decision Making 8(5): pp. 512-520. Retrieved April 2016 from: http://journal.sjdm.org/12/121130a/jdm121130a.pdf 

  6. O’Connor, R. (September 24 2015). “Netflix CEO Reed Hastings Says Companies Underestimate Importance of Reference Checks When Hiring.” *Independent. *Retrieved April 2016 from: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/netflix-ceo-reed-hastings-says-companies-underestimate-importance-of-reference-checks-when-hiring-10515326.html 

  7. Banaji, M., Bazerman, F. and Chugh, D. (December 2003). “How (Un)ethical Are You?” Harvard Business Review. Retrieved April 2016 from: https://hbr.org/2003/12/how-unethical-are-you/ar/1#