Diversity & Inclusion as an Entrepreneurial Project

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Diversity Hiring as an Entrepreneurial Project

Lots of companies are seeking to improve diversity.  But they seek to do so through blunt tactics of merely increasing the pool of candidates.  Providing companies with a deep pool of underrepresented talent at the start of the hiring process remains crucial.  But the next step is harder: ensuring that talented candidates make it through a company’s pipeline and are not lost along the way.

Paying insignificant attention to the pipeline means waste: wasted resources devoted to hiring and, most importantly, a wasted talent that is never hired and that could otherwise help a company thrive.

But how does a company improve the diversity hiring process?  My startup, Wallbreakers, helps companies take an entrepreneurial approach to diversity hiring. 

We treat diversity hiring the same way lean companies would focus on any business opportunity: run a series of experiments with new hiring programs, find what works, and then scale that process. 

Finding the right metric

Running any business experiment has to begin with identifying the right metric for judging success. But that has proven tricky for diversity hiring.  Aubrey Blanceh’s Tech Firms Striving for Diversity Fixate on the Wrong Metric, argues that companies have often chosen the wrong metric, setting themselves up for failure.  She argues, 

“It is not mathematically reasonable to expect a company with 50,000 people to jump more than a percentage point or two in a year for a given group (even a 1 percentage point improvement would represent an increase of 500 people).” 

A better instrument would measure workforce transformation year over year.

Wallbreakers agrees. Focusing on an unachievable absolute number as an annual goal only saps morale.  By contrast, focusing on long-term goals -- for example, targets for 2030 -- provides no roadmap or accountability for getting there year by year.    

So what do we measure year over year? 

Wallbreakers focuses companies on a crucial but often-ignored metric: pipeline conversion.   In other words, what percentage of a pool of diverse candidates yields new employees?

This is key to hiring more diversity. The pipeline is more fruitful than tech companies make it out to be, so there should be more hires.  “Among young computer science and engineering graduates with bachelor’s or advanced degrees, 57 percent are white, 26 percent are Asian, 8 percent are Hispanic and 6 percent are black, according to American Community Survey data.  At the top 25 undergraduate programs, nearly 9 percent of graduates are underrepresented minorities” (NY Times, 2016)

How do we measure pipeline conversion? It is important to break the measurement of hiring success and the steps to achieving success into segments.  When Wallbreakers works with companies to improve diversity hiring, we pay particular attention to the following segments:   

  • What percentage of diverse candidates pass initial online assessments?

  • What percentage of candidates pass the interview stage?

  • What percentage receive offers?

  • What percentage start work at the company?

Designing solutions and iterative experiments

Breaking the pipeline into segments allows Wallbreakers and the companies it works with to create discrete but integrated solutions to make sure that the company identifies talented candidates and that these talented candidates make it through the process.

We can then test solutions to see if they work.  If they do, we help companies scale them. We call them experiments of pilots.

Pilots typically contain the following elements:

  1. Source Talented Individuals: Wallbreakers located a pool of candidates that included recent graduates from over 100 top computer science programs from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), and many of the other top universities in the country. 

  2. Identify Critical Values and Leadership Principles: Wallbreakers understands that each company has its own values and leadership principles. In order for employees to be a successful match to the organization, they should embody and understand those values. We transform values and principles into our customized curriculum making the prequalification process more succinct and efficient. 

  3. Identify Critical Skills: Wallbreakers work with companies to identify the specific skill sets that candidates need. This represents a critical step; moving beyond general descriptions in job postings allows companies to target precise needs. This makes hiring more efficient and effective and reduces the risk of implicit bias creeping in.

  4. Provide Bespoke Training: Wallbreakers then use these identified skill sets to develop a customized online training program for its pool of candidates. Candidates entered the curriculum as a “cohort,” which created a community among students that fostered learning and accountability. Wallbreakers boasts top-notch instructors who have designed curricular modules that bridge the gap between undergraduate computer science programs and the specific and dynamic needs of tech companies. The curriculum focused not only on technical mastery but also on problem-solving and soft skills. Wallbreakers uses AI to improve the educational experience iteratively based on the strengths and weaknesses of individual candidates.

  5. Certify Mastery of Skills: Throughout the program and when it concluded, Wallbreakers tested candidates for mastery of the identified skill sets so that it could certify individuals to the company. This, in turn, increased the client’s confidence that individuals would be prepared to contribute to its company projects starting day one.

  6. Improve Interview to Offer Ratio: Research shows that the single most detrimental factor for underrepresented talent is not only that they don't apply but that they don't pass the interview or prescreening. We work with you to beat your current pipeline ratio and as result, get more URMS to apply (ripple effect).

  7. Share Your Data: This is key to get momentum going. The results of the experiment have to be shared for learning and next steps.

Some great articles on Diversity and Inclusion:

  1. Tech Firms Striving for Diversity Fixate on the Wrong Metric: This excellent piece of Aubrey Blanche for Wired Magazine. She argues that we need to change how we measure diversity.

    ".. it is not mathematically reasonable to expect a company with 50,000 people to jump more than a percentage point or two in a year for a given group (even a 1 percentage point improvement would represent an increase of 500 people). A better instrument would measure workforce transformation year over year, even if it's small."

  2. A New Barrier for Hiring in Tech: This great article from Summer Jackson produced the effect that every good academic article should, it left me wondering. Why have not we been able to tell a better story about diversity to make a change?

    Instead of focusing on the dangers of affirmative action and how can that be a risk to the company, why haven't we focused on the fierce fight for talent that will result in a 1.3 trillion dollar loss of revenues if companies do not innovate to solve this problem? In a country where 50% of Americans 18 and younger are minorities, you better figure this one out if you are the #ceo

    To call diversity a "repugnant" market is rough but so honest. The aversion to affirmative action by companies is real. But for me, that is just emphasizing the wrong risk. The real risk is to do nothing.

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