How Do I Build a Diverse Developer Team?
It's not a secret that tech industry needs diversity. But to attract diverse talent, the industry needs to do more than just encourage people to jump to tech. Instead, the industry needs to change from within for underrepresented people to stay and feel the sense of belonging. Inklusiiv Community Member Pauliina Solanne introduces you to 8 actionable steps you can take to make underrepresented people feel like home in your organization.
Pauliina Solanne, Software Engineer at HoxHunt & Inklusiiv Community Member
Maybe let’s discuss first why it is a bad thing to have a very homogenous development team. No matter where one works, everything happens in teams and the results are dependent on the quality of cooperation. On an employee level, creativity is a result of expertise, motivation, and thinking skills. On a team level, it leverages from the synergy between team members which allows the group to produce something greater than an individual ever could alone. This is where the importance of diversity steps in.
The concept of groupthink was created in 1972 to examine teamwork. Groupthink happens when a bunch of similar-minded decision-makers become excessively close-knit and develop a very strong sense of “one-of-us-ness”. Why this is less ideal is that it closes alternative strategies out and causes high group-cohesion which results in poor decisions, inadequate performance and lack of creative conflict. It also leads to collective rationalisations and stereotyping of outgroups.
The issue of groupthink has been stated to be behind the accident where NASA’s Challenger space shuttle exploded just a few seconds after its launch.
According to research, more heterogeneous groups eliminate the existence of groupthink. Therefore, we can only imagine how much further current innovations would go if a more diverse set of collaborators would take part in all the stages of planning – and how much more inclusive those products would be for everyone.
Why are we in the developer community still failing at this despite all the effort to get minorities and marginalized people interested in coding?
Let’s put it this way: it is not enough for us to encourage underrepresented folks to jump to tech. We need to really put the effort in for them to feel welcome and stay onboard as well. I once read a great metaphor on diversity by Verna Myers, the VP of Inclusion Strategy at Netflix: “Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance”.
In every company, we form cultures, traditions, inside jokes, and habits. And those who have always felt like outsiders, will be waiting for that invite as it has never really felt natural to take their space in that unfamiliar territory. At the moment, our loss is biggest in, for example, tech where women are leaving their jobs and pursuing other occupations at an increasing pace due to discrimination, sexual harassment, or simply for feeling like they don't belong. And, quoting the recent research by Accenture & Girls Who Code, the barriers for women of color and lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women face are “even steeper”.
8 steps to take to make underrepresented people feel like home in your organization
If you are part of a tech team, there are a tremendous amount of things you can do to stop this from happening. Another great piece of news is that it is not hard. Here are some actionable steps you can take to make underrepresented people feel like home in your organization:
1. Change the language as we are building our reality through it. Be extra careful with pronouns. Don’t refer to the tech team as “code dudes” or “wizard ninjas”. Learn to use “they” instead “she” and “he” and remember the non-binary people who struggle with being pushed into the margins every day of their lives. Also, check your terminology in your job ads. There are tools for this too! Have you checked Develop Diverse?
2. When brainstorming for features, listen to the minorities and marginalized groups. They often have first-hand information on how differently someone could use a product or what features they would need. And by making your product accessible for more people, you are increasing sales and have more happy customers who feel included – and this may even open new markets. For example, the International Labour Organization has estimated that by addressing the disability exclusion OECD countries’ GDP could rise by a whopping 7 percent.
3. Watercooler chats are great for team building but do pay attention to others and show interest in what they are passionate about. Not everyone in tech cares about video games, craft beer, or sauna so open your mind for new team building activities that are not necessarily in your comfort zone. Don't get stuck with topics that alienate others, be curious, ask questions and let differences flourish instead (but be mindful of microaggressions. More about that here).
4. And what about sauna nights? Of course, saunas are a huge part of Finnish culture and should be welcomed into the workplace here. But if your team bonding activities are strongly tied to the sauna, you are potentially excluding a lot of people in your team. Think carefully how you execute this in an inclusive way and communicate about the protocol transparently.
5. Never interrupt minorities (or anyone really) in meetings. Minorities face higher barriers and can have less courage to talk as they are often concerned if their voice is going to be heard or taken seriously. Give them public credit as much as you can to build that confidence.
6. If someone approaches you to talk about an issue that is causing them to feel excluded, listen very carefully. Never ever think that it means they just don’t get the great company culture and have no sense of humor (there is a term for this behaviour - gaslighting. It is a form of psychological manipulation where a person sows seeds of doubt making someone question their own memory, perception or judgement), but truly try to empathize how they have felt in that situation and offer support. Be the ally.
7. Let people be themselves freely and embrace the differences. There is a dangerous myth of a “cool tech girl” among many other roles minorities adopt when trying to adapt to match the majority questioning their identities and wellbeing every day (excellent blog post about this here and a great quote from it: “If you don’t feel safe to be yourself, you’ll find someone safe to be.”). No one should ever feel a need to change themselves to feel more safe or included.
8. Don’t fall into the trap of “there just aren't any applicants from diverse backgrounds”. Have you tried to expand your usual recruitment pool? If you are always looking through the same channels, chances of seeing diverse applicants are quite slim. Expand your territory and reach out to people who may be able to help you to do that.
Even though most diversity initiatives trickle down from the C-suite – and this is the most influential channel to address these issues company-wide – the responsibility lies on everyone. Anyone can make a person feel just a bit more welcome on a daily basis, and end up adding the odds of building an extremely successful product dramatically higher.
Pauliina Solanne Pauliina is a Software Engineer at HoxHunt, a co-host at Koodikahvit podcast and a Inklusiiv Community Member. She is on a mission to bring diversity and inclusion in tech.