If you go to the “About Us” page on most websites of education technology companies, you will see many white faces, quite a few female ones and a good scattering of South Asian and East Asian staff. You’ll be lucky to see a black or Latinx face. Why is that?
The standard excuse usually goes something like this: “It’s a pipeline problem. People from diverse backgrounds don’t apply for our jobs.”
Yes, I accept that people from underrepresented communities were typically not given a chance to get into tech. It’s likely they were priced out of university, not encouraged to consider technology careers, or they encountered real or unconscious bias during the application stages. These are just a few of the many factors at play.
But this is not their problem. This is an education technology problem. We need to find a way to change our hiring strategies and help our industry represent the real world.
Why do we need to diversify our teams? What difference does it make to our products? It makes a huge difference. The demographic breakdown of the U.S. is changing. The United States Census Bureau predicts that the Latinx community will make up nearly 29 percent of the population by 2060. The percentage of white people, on the other hand, will dip to 44 percent.
So if you have a white-only team in 2060, you may be developing products for a minority of the population. And that’s before we even consider that our edtech products should be solving problems for those who really need it—those from underserved, underrepresented communities who are still behind their peers on many measures, including reading and college completion.
So, what’s to be done? Most edtech companies don’t have bank accounts flush with cash earmarked for targeted recruitment services. In my experience, it doesn’t have to be expensive and you don’t have to be a big company to do it.
About two years ago, we decided to change the diversity of our teams. Treehouse is small. We have around 80 employees, and we haven’t raised any investor money since 2015. We wanted people of color and women to apply for our jobs but we failed because we made the mistake of looking in the usual places. We used traditional routes—job boards, relying on word of mouth, hoping and praying. None of it worked.
So we changed our approach.
Firstly, we made it mandatory for our managers to create diverse teams. This focused their attention on trying different ways to achieve this.
I personally made contact with local groups and actively sought diverse candidates to interview for our roles. I met with our local Boys and Girls Clubs of America and found other local groups with connections to underrepresented communities.
We made our website more welcoming by adding a diversity and inclusion section, and posting more photos of our work environment. Internally we created a structure that required managers to make creating a balanced team a priority.
We also took a long hard look at our interview process. Here are some practical things you can do to reduce unconscious bias in the interview process.
- Take names and photos off applications and don’t allow candidates to upload resumes.
- Don’t require a degree for vacancies, instead, rely on examples of real work.
- Create a balanced hiring committee (ideally a 50-50 male and female composition, with as many minorities represented as possible). If you can’t do this using internal people then ask someone from outside the company to be part of the hiring committee.
Our mission was to make our company reflect the diversity of America. We’re not quite there yet, but we’re moving in the right direction. Here’s our diversity numbers and how they have changed from 2017 to 2019.
Was it slow? Yes. Was it worth it? Yes! The uptick in the office has been overwhelming. Everyone has a different style of working and a different point of view. This is something that is fast becoming our superpower.
Not only is our energy different, but we are finding it easier and easier to attract people from minority backgrounds to apply for our jobs. Word of mouth is now the most powerful way that we find new candidates for our roles. We take pride in employing people from the local community—and of course it’s easier than relocating someone.
I know you’re busy. You have a million and one things to do. But remember why you’re in edtech in the first place. You’re here to change lives. And the best way to start is by diversifying your teams so they can reach as many people as possible—and not just the few.