How to Be Anti-racist in Your Tech Hiring

BY Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza | March 12, 2021

A company’s credibility when it comes to anti-racism is really only as strong as its results. In the second half of 2020, myriad companies in the U.S. made public pledges against racism, among them the most recognizable names in tech: Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Google, and YouTube. But for companies to make good on these promises within their organizations, the commitments need to be backed by concrete and measurable changes.

Tech companies have long failed to increase Black and Latinx representation in their workforces. In 2020, economics scholar Bhaskar Chakravorti wrote in Harvard Business Review, “Tech companies have made similar promises before, but have had little success in following through.” He points out that between 2014 and 2018, Google hardly moved the needle on increasing representation of non-white employees in its workforce. And while both Apple and Amazon increased representation of Black and Latinx employees, the new hires tended to be in low-paying retail and warehouse jobs, not in tech roles.

What can be done to bring better outcomes? In a From Day One webinar, “How to Be Anti-racist in Your Tech Hiring,” five leaders in tech-talent acquisition discussed how they’re battling racism in their hiring practices, from recruitment to interviewing to employee retention.

Anti-racist hiring practices begin with keeping your recruitment pipeline rich with what Ivori Johnson, senior manager of diversity-recruiting programs at online mortgage lender, called “underestimated talent.”

This means breaking the habit of sourcing candidates only from existing networks, brand-name schools, and tech hubs like San Francisco and New York City–a pattern that contributes to the racial homogeneity of workplaces and whole industries.

Panel moderator and Fast Company contributing editor Lydia Dishman put it bluntly: “The pipeline problem is a myth,” and pointed specifically to the fact that a prospective employee’s location isn’t the barrier it used to be, especially in tech. “[Last year] there was a reevaluation of where talent can be because we all started working remotely, so you don’t need to find somebody in your backyard.”

Mikaela Smith, global director of executive search and leadership recruiting at Slack, added this: “Talent doesn’t discriminate. Talent doesn’t necessarily go to Ivy League schools, talent doesn't have a color or a gender.”

Talent also doesn’t necessarily have an age or experience level. Johnson cautioned against focusing efforts to hire people of color only in entry-level roles and ignoring higher levels of leadership and the C-suite. Equitable recruiting must occur at all levels.

The panel of speakers, top row from left: Ivori Johnson of and Portia Kibble Smith of Karat. Middle row, from left: Cat Miller of Flatiron Health, moderator Lydia Dishman of Fast Company, and Stephanie Alofoje of Twilio. Bottow row: Mikaela Smith of Slack (Image by From Day One)

In the hiring process, before the job interview comes the resume review. Portia Kibble Smith, who heads diversity, equity and inclusion at Karat, a company that conducts technical interviews on behalf of companies hiring software engineers, said traditional resumes can be another barrier for people of color. “What we don’t worry about is a resume,” she said. “We don’t even look at the resumes. We just want to know: Are they able to code? It doesn’t matter what school they go to, how many years of experience they’ve had. The bottom line is, Can you code? That way it doesn’t matter whether they went to a Stanford or a Spelman. We want to cut out all of that bias.”

To mitigate racial bias in interviewing, panelists recommended training hiring managers to evaluate candidates on job competency, not a nebulous notion of “culture fit.” Instead, candidates should be measured against an objective job-competency rubric. “Competency-based interviewing, I think, is key,” Slack’s Smith said. “Really getting clear about what you’re looking for from a competencies perspective, as opposed to people going with their gut, their feelings, someone they relate to.”

The litmus test of “would I want to have a beer with this person?” fails because that approach is not about finding the candidate most capable of doing the job, it's about finding the candidate most likely to be your buddy. This is why cloud-communications platform Twilio takes an altogether different approach.

“At Twilio we have the Bar Raiser program,” said Stephanie Alofoje, the company’s director of global employer brand and recruitment marketing. “It’s a way to mitigate bias in the hiring process by having a neutral interviewer. We banned the term ‘culture fit.’ I don’t care if you want to drink beer after work. So we have a neutral interviewer on the panel. That person is not on your team. The role of that person is to pulse you on your company values.”

Cat Miller, VP of engineering at Flatiron Health, said failing to train managers to conduct unbiased interviews is how you get inconsistency across your organization. Everyone must commit to equity in hiring, she said. Miller creates comprehensive interview kits that detail exactly what competencies the role requires, what questions hiring managers can ask to test those competencies, and exactly what a good answer looks like.

Just as you can train your hiring managers to conduct equitable and anti-racist interviews, you can train your talent pipeline to succeed in your interview process.

Karat has been forceful in its efforts to foster racial equity in tech hiring. The company pledged $1 million to help Black software engineers with the technical interview process, and this month launched Brilliant Black Minds, a program to improve access, fairness and inclusion across the technology industry. The program is “centered around closing the access gap for technical hiring,” Karat’s Smith said. “We find that many of our underrepresented minority students don’t have the skills they need in order to even pass the first interview. So if they’re not going to pass the first interview, they’re not going to get the second interview, nor will they get the job.”

Smith has seen the difference this practice can make. Program participants who’ve struggled to clear the first round of interviews have attended the Karat bootcamp and then went on to land their dream jobs in tech.

Alofoje characterized this as the difference between strategy and reality. You can expand your pipeline to underestimated talent pools by recruiting candidates outside the Ivy League schools and outside tech cities, but if those candidates aren’t getting all the way through your interview process, what’s the point? Your anti-racist hiring practices have a gap that needs to be filled.

Even though the discussion centered on the hiring process, participants talked about other anti-racist policies and programs in their current organizations. After all, what good are anti-racist hiring practices if your company culture isn’t anti-racist too?

“Clean your house before you invite people in for a party,” Slack’s Smith said. “You can recruit people all day long, but if you don’t have an inclusive work environment, you’re literally just training them to go somewhere else.” Panelists emphasized the importance of committing to anti-racism at all levels of an organization, especially at the leadership level. And companies have to persevere, because results don’t necessarily happen overnight.

Said Miller: “I've been the engineer responsible for software-engineer hiring for about the past four years, including during a major, hyper-growth phase, which is when we started working with Karat to help us succeed at that. For the past two years, we've been quite focused on diverse recruiting efforts, both women and underrepresented minorities. And we're just really honestly starting to see the results of that in the past six to nine months.”

Indeed, don’t lose sight of the long game. Pay attention to patterns. Observe and measure how your anti-racist hiring policies affect the makeup of your workforce, the speakers said. And if those policies aren’t making a difference, do something.

Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza is a writer, editor, and content strategist based in Richmond, Va.


Total Rewards: How the Definition Is Changing

It was a bounty that wasn’t destined to last. During the Great Resignation and its war for talent, employers offered workers abundant new benefits and other rewards. But now, with employee-retention numbers at high levels and corporate austerity taking hold, finance departments are looking to tighten reward budgets. That has caused some tension with HR leaders charged with attracting and retaining talent.  “We’re in this constant battle with finance,” said Ken Wechsler, VP of total rewards at Akamai Technologies. “We’re fighting for it, and I would guess my colleagues on this call will also fight it. We might not get as much moving forward, but we will fight.” Weschler and three other leaders in the benefits and compensation sector of HR spoke last month in a From Day One webinar about the constantly evolving dynamic of total rewards packages.  Todd Cowgill, VP of global rewards at the data-center company Equinix, says it’s essential to “speak their language” when negotiating with finance and business departments about rewards programs. “If you cannot tell what the return on investment of your program is, you will lose that program,” he said. “You have to understand what the company as a business gets because of the program, what it costs and what it gets back.” David Kirby, senior VP of total rewards and operations at the customer-experience company Epsilon, says once programs are lost due to cost-cutting, it becomes very challenging to revive them in a reasonable amount of time. “I’m very concerned about our secondary benefits,” he said. “We have a company where there’s a snack allowance. That’s the last thing I want to see removed or cut.” Working From Home a Must, But Trips to the Office Help Finding a cutting-edge company in 2023 that isn’t offering some form of work-from-home option is a challenging task, but many HR leaders believe a few trips to the office –even irregular ones–can be highly beneficial. “We give employees the choice of where they want to work, and 90% of them have said they want to work from home,” Wechsler said. “Everything is in play now–things I had never even thought of when it comes to total rewards.” Arvind Kumar, director of total rewards and HR operations in the Asia Pacific for the ad giant McCann Worldgroup, said his workplace policies are as varied as the countries of operation he oversees.The panel on total rewards, top row from left: Arvind Kumar of McCann Worldgroup and David Kirby of Epsilon. Bottom row: Lydia Dishman of Fast Company, Ken Wechsler of Akamai, and Todd cowgill of Equinix. (Image by From Day One; featured illustration by Lemono/iStock by Getty Images)“Asia has a completely different culture,” he said. “I think since Covid we aren’t planning on changing it back to how it used to be. We accepted that hybrid work is here to stay and that’s where we changed our way of working.” Kumar says some countries McCann operates in are more predisposed to working in an office environment, while workers from other Asian countries may enjoy working from home. Though quickly becoming a minority of workers, some will avoid working for a company if its work-from-home policies are too permissive. “They’ll self-select,” Weschler said. “We make the effort to do things in the office a lot–but now a lot means quarterly. We know that most will not want to come, and some folks will want to attend an event because they get to go to the office. Our recruiters ask if you’re looking to be in the office a lot because our package doesn’t include that.” All four total-ewards executives agreed that having opportunities to make intermittent trips to the office is beneficial and allows employees to expand their network by meeting new faces. Kumar says communication with prospective employees is vital for both sides to manage expectations. Fringe Benefits Are a Big Slice of the Pie HR leaders typically seek to gauge what their employees want from their organization. McGill says one of the most tried-and-true methods remains the pulse survey–a short set of questions sent to employees regularly. “That’s the short and efficient way to get into things,” he said. “But then you have to find specific ways to target whatever the issue is.” Ideas from those surveys often get implemented as policies that benefit the worker. “We have five wellness days per year. We completely shut our doors and there’s an unwritten rule that you don’t send emails on those days or on weekends,” Weschler said. “On Fridays, we don’t have any meetings–that has come from leadership.” The speakers reported that requests for childcare assistance have become less common, perhaps due to the increase in remote work that allows childcare to coincide with working. “I think people have gotten better on Zoom with the kid coming in and saying hello,” McGill said. “That blend between home and work has happened in a much more open way and, I think, healthy way than what we’ve seen in the past.” Even so, childcare policy experts warn of a looming “child-care cliff” starting at the end of this month, when many of the child-care programs supported by the American Rescue Plan Act’s stabilization funds expire. Kirby said Epsilon does not track time off for exempt employees and the organization operates on a culture of trust. “We expect folks to work and get their job done,” he said. “Sometimes that means 2 p.m. and other times that means until 9 p.m. We want people to have that flexibility.” Good News on the Health Insurance Front Despite many companies facing double-digit increases in health-insurance costs in 2023, those on the webinar reported that their companies have been absorbing the cost hikes amid the post-Covid inflationary market. “Our trend is nothing near what the market is,” Weschler said. “I’m not sure why, but we are absorbing most of it and trying to keep that minimal increase and maintain the balance of how employees and employers split health care.” Kirby says that Epsilon has also “eaten” the increase in costs at the corporate level. McGill said he attributes some of his company’s ability to absorb the increases in health care costs to an effective wellness program offered to employees. “It varies from country to country, but how do you engage with employees on health care?” he asked. “In some countries, it’s a state-run enterprise and not something we can get into.” Weschler said Akamai provides $500 in wellness reimbursement for employees to allow for fitness equipment purchases or other wellness-related items. “The working life is integrated, so we try to focus on encouraging our employees to participate in healthy activities,” he said.Tim Zyla is the managing editor of a community newspaper in Pennsylvania and has a strong interest in business and finance.  

Tim Zyla | September 06, 2023

Equitable Rewards: Do You Have Pride in Your Benefits?

Pride month is about celebrating and supporting diversity. One way to do that is to ensure your benefits plans are inclusive of different employees’ needs.A good benefits package consistently ranks among the top three most important factors for job satisfaction, according to a survey from the Society for Human Resource Management. But for many people, the usual components of a benefits plan—401(k) match, paid time off, and/or professional development stipends—aren’t keeping up with what employees really want and need.As a result, some companies are innovating their compensation offerings and winning over top talent along the way. Moreover, your existing employees may be shopping around for packages that better suit their needs, said Corrinne Hobbs, vice president of business development at Ovia Health, a family health benefits platform.“Recently, Ovia did a survey of its members, and we learned that 91% of our members would consider a lateral move to a place with better family benefits and a family friendly culture,” Hobbs said. “That's really significant.” For BIPOC and LGBTQ+ employees, inclusive benefits packages can encourage well-being, better team retention, and a more diverse overall workforce.Leading DE&I professionals weighed in at From Day One’s recent webinar titled, “Equitable Rewards: Do You Have Pride In Your Benefits?” How to Tap Into What Employees WantEmployee Resource Groups (ERGs) are a great way for employees to connect with one another. But they can also be an accurate and authentic way to determine relevant next steps for your benefits development efforts, said Hannah Wilkowski, director of global benefits at BuzzFeed.“ERGs are such a source of information. There's no better way to get to know your employees than to reach out to your ERGs and say, ‘How are we doing? Let's get a temperature check,’” Wilkowski said. She notes that leveraging existing connections within the organization can help you shape a relevant strategy. “It’s actually helped shift our trajectory for the next few years, just based on those conversations,” she added.The full panel of speakers from top left, Hannah Wilkowski of Buzzfeed, moderator Nick Wolny of CNET, Corrinne Hobbs of Ovia Health, Jodi Davidson of Sodexo, Chad Nico Hiu of YMCA of San Francisco, and Pablo Slough of Google (photo by From Day One)The needs and wants of most workforces have shifted in the wake of hybrid and fully remote setups. As such, stakeholders may need to revisit current policies and weigh what works best to meet employees’ needs, said Chad Nico Hiu, senior vice president of strategy, equity and impact at the YMCA of San Francisco, who also serves on the board of the Tyler Clementi Foundation.“When we say hybrid, we mean like seven different things. And the nonprofit sector, part of what we are struggling with is [that] only some of us at leadership levels, myself included, even have even the option of being hybrid,” Hiu said. “Those who are at the top of the hierarchy are making decisions for those who are not, oftentimes without understanding or empathy. If we're asking questions of our employees, are we really ready to listen?”The power dynamic brings up an important point: If employees don’t feel psychologically safe to begin with, they’ll be less likely to voice their needs and concerns, crippling an important feedback loop. Research from Google entitled Project Aristotle found that psychological safety is the most important factor for effective teamwork. C-suite decision makers and team leaders should proactively cultivate this across the organization, said Jodi Davidson, vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion for Sodexo.“Psychological safety ensures teams are effective. It’s about expanding the definition [of psychological safety], not only being able to bring your whole self to work, but also the ability to take risks without fear that in some way you're going to be punished for doing so,” Davidson said.Meet Employees Where They Are, Both Physically and PersonallyAnother reason to advocate for remote work is that it can often result in more diverse workforces, noted Pablo Slough, head of diversity, equity and inclusion for executive recruiting at Google.“It’s also just about where offices are located, right? What happens a lot in the tech space is that everyone is in the Bay Area, so you want to hire in the Bay Area,” said Slough. “If you're always looking in the Bay Area, you end up with lower representation of certain groups. Being open to hiring and [having] offices in cities like Atlanta, DC, or Chicago, these are all places where representation is greater. It’s an important piece that's kind of adapted more recently.”To instill confidence in your rewards plan, experts agree that prioritizing flexibility and innovation in your benefits is a smart move. Ensure your compensation package is inclusive to different employees’ financial and family planning needs and you’ll find yourself attracting and retaining quality talent for years to come.Nick Wolny is an editor, journalist, and consultant. Currently a senior editor at CNET, he has previously written for Fast Company, Fortune, Business Insider, and OUT Magazine, and is a frequent television commentator on technology and work life. He is based in Los Angeles.

Nick Wolny | June 20, 2023

The Other Caregiving Crisis: How Employers Can Help Workers With Their Hidden Responsibilities

While the pandemic revealed a crisis in childcare, it also exposed a parallel crisis in family caregiving for adults. One in five workers has responsibility for the care of one or more adults who are aging, ill, or have special needs, according to research by AARP. Yet many carry the burden in silence–more than half of these caregivers don’t tell their supervisors about it.Fortunately, that situation is changing. In a recent survey of 200 leaders in HR conducted by From Day One with support from AARP, 56% of the respondents said that workers are increasingly open with colleagues and managers about their caregiving responsibilities, while 60% said that their companies associate support for family caregivers with improving morale and strengthening a culture of belonging.“Before the pandemic, convincing employers to prioritize their support of working caregivers was an uphill battle,” said Tricia Sandiego, a senior advisor at AARP, in a From Day One webinar on the issue. But from the survey results, “we learned that there is an increase in awareness of this issue. Workers are talking about caregiving, and company leaders do realize and acknowledge that it’s important.” That said, there is still room for improvement: fewer than 15% of respondents said supporting family caregivers was a major priority at their companies.For Sandiego, this issue is personal. She is part of the so-called sandwich generation–she calls it the “panini generation”– which is caught caregiving for both a younger and an older generation.And she is far from alone. Sandiego noted that family caregivers are not just older workers. Rather, 50% of the 48 million caregivers in the U.S. are under the age of 50. About 25% of them are in the millennial generation, and already 6% of them are in Generation Z.Age is just one aspect of the diversity of caregivers. Despite the stereotype about caregivers being female, four in 10 caregivers are men. Lower-income workers tend to have heavier caregiving responsibilities, while shift workers and gig workers have less corporate support than full-time workers. Sandiego underscored that this diversity leads to a wide range of divides among the caregiver population and the need for different types of support.What Changes Can Companies Make?The good news is that there are many ways for companies to support their caregivers. These solutions are often affordable as well. Cheryl Kern, VP of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) for the office-furniture maker MillerKnoll, underscored the importance of creating an open and transparent culture. “We want employees to feel confident that they can step forward and make it known to their leadership and management that they need support and resources.”Kern noted some of the resources MillerKnoll provides, such as advice on eldercare. Her team also helps remind caregivers of some of the policies the company already has in place around childcare and nanny support–both of which caregivers could find helpful. “We aim to help caregivers feel better equipped, better prepared, and more confident in order to do their caregiving role,” said Kern. MillerKnoll additionally leverages business resource groups to support their working caregivers.The full panel of leaders: top row fromleft, Cheryl Kern of MillerKnoll and Krista Brookman of Northwestern Mutual. Bottom row: Tricia Sandiego of AARP, Nyasia Sarfo of Microsoft, and moderator Ericka Sóuter (Image by From Day One)Nyasia Sarfo, a global culture and people experiences lead at Microsoft, echoed these sentiments, highlighting her company’s goal of creating a culture of inclusion and belonging. “We believe that your well-being isn’t extra, it’s essential.” The company aims to make this mission come to life by putting people first and reminding employees to prioritize their well-being by, for example, taking time off when they need it. Sarfo added that Microsoft supports employees by reminding them to use their vacation days and prioritize spending time with their family. “These practices did not just begin—they are really in the fabric of our culture as a whole,” Sarfo said.What makes supporting caregivers tricky, noted Krista Brookman, a senior director of DEI at Northwestern Mutual, is that becoming a caregiver is often unplanned. “It puts your life on another trajectory,” she asserted. That is why she believes it is critical to develop a workplace culture where employers help employees through stressful times with robust policies and practices.“Being a caregiver is unplanned and puts your life on another trajectory,” Brookman said. That is why Northwestern Mutual has developed policies and practices to support caregivers. “We made sure our caregiving responsibilities were broadly defined,” she said. That way, different types of caregivers with different roles are all equally supported. “Having that broader definition helps ensure that these policies fit within our diversity and inclusion efforts.”What Risks Do Companies Run by Ignoring These Needs?Sandiego believes that companies that avoid prioritizing the needs of employee caregivers might have issues finding and retaining top talent. “Companies that can acknowledge the needs of–and help support–working family caregivers will be ahead of the curve when it comes to their talent management strategy and being able to hold on to really good talent in your organization,” she said.Kern agreed with Sandiego, further emphasizing that ignoring the needs of caregivers could threaten the company’s inclusivity goals. In Kern’s opinion, the best way to go about ensuring that caregiver needs are met is by focusing on building the business case for supporting them. “The ROI for supporting caregivers is very clear, but there is much more work that remains,” said Kern.Top of this to-do list is ensuring buy-in at top management levels. Sarfo said she’s able to secure senior support by leveraging the power of storytelling. “We have a speaker series where employees can share the stories of what they are going through,” she said. “It’s about getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.”Kern notes that much of this power lies in the hands of employees themselves. “Influencing change is now bottom-up. Associates can voice the power they have as employees. That’s a wonderful way of getting leadership on board. And most leaders do want to listen,” she said.Editor’s note: AARP, who sponsored this webinar, is offering an Employee Caregiver Program Series. This series is an easy way to make your workplace more caregiver-inclusive via live, virtual programs that help employees balance their work and caregiving responsibilities. AARP has agreed to offer the caregiving program to members of the From Day One community free of charge. This is a unique opportunity. Learn more and apply by visiting Kaminer is a Miami-based journalist, researcher, and content strategist. As a freelance tech writer and researcher, he has profiled more than 400 of the world’s top entrepreneurs and investors. His work has been featured in publications including Forbes, the Times (UK), the Economist, and LatAm Investor.(Featured photo by Fred Froese/iStock by Getty Images)

Riley Kaminer | June 14, 2023