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6 ways to build a racially diverse engineering team (that you might not have tried yet)

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As the Founder and CEO of a nonprofit organization, ColorStack, I’ve gained a unique perspective on what the Black and Latinx Computer Science graduates we support at ColorStack are looking for in the companies they’re applying to. I’ve also seen how the tech companies we partner with are implementing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives and the challenges they’ve faced. 

Here’s what I’ve learned about what companies can do to not just hire, but also retain, exceptional Black and Latinx software engineers to build racially diverse engineering teams.

  1. Startups, start thinking about diversity early. It’s much easier to be the first Black hire at a 5-person startup compared to a 500-person company. What a company looks like in its early stages, in terms of employee demographics, often predicts what that company will look like in the future. That’s because networking and referrals play such a large role in a company’s growth early on, and social networks tend to be racially homogeneous. One study found that for White Americans surveyed, over 90 percent of people in their social networks were also White, on average. If your startup is made up primarily of White employees, chances are high that the candidates they refer will also be White. 
  1. Offer remote work options. Many US tech hubs are in locations with predominantly White populations, like San Francisco, and may not be attractive places to relocate to for Black and Latinx software engineers. Many ColorStack students I’ve talked to are interested in companies that offer remote work because this would allow them to work and live in the communities where they’ve grown up and feel more comfortable.
  1. But, provide in-person onboarding experiences. Connecting with colleagues over tools like Zoom and Slack can be intimidating for Black and Latinx early-career developers, who may have less familiarity with the culture of tech than their White counterparts. Providing new hires who work remotely with an in-person onboarding experience can reduce feelings of isolation and help developers of color network effectively. 
  1. Remember that diversity and inclusivity go hand-in-hand. As your company starts to hire more employees of color, keep in mind that most new hires don’t want to be the first or only person at your company who looks like them. Consider investing in internship or university recruiting programs that bring in a diverse cohort of new hires at the same time—while also, to the extent possible, supporting these new hires with a racially diverse group of mentors and employee resource groups (ERGs). This will help establish a culture of support and inclusion among new hires from backgrounds that are underrepresented in tech.
  1. Hire diverse talent at all levels. To hire and retain talented early-career Black and Latinx software engineers, it’s important for companies to hire diverse talent at all levels—not just junior-level. The students I work with through ColorStack value working with mentors who share their racial identity and can relate to their experience, and are looking to work at companies whose executive teams include Black and Latinx people. Otherwise, they may see their opportunities for growth at your company as limited. And in fact, I’ve seen this prevent students from even applying to certain roles.
  1. And, share that information publicly. Lastly, new grad Black and Latinx software engineers today want to know the racial and gender composition of the companies and teams they’re applying to—these numbers speak louder than stated commitments to DE&I. Unfortunately, less than half of Fortune 500 companies share race and ethnicity information publicly, with only 22 companies publishing full employee racial and ethnic demographic breakdowns. Sharing this information transparently is a great step toward addressing the problem and gaining the trust of Black and Latinx candidates.

These are just six ways I’ve observed that tech companies can start to improve the racial diversity of their engineering teams. The good news is—any one of these is a great place to start. And, an amazing strength of tech companies today is their ability to make decisions using data. When you apply this data superpower to measuring and tracking progress for your diversity initiatives, you’re well on your way to making meaningful change at your organization.

ColorStack is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with the mission to increase the number of Black and Latinx Computer Science graduates that go on to start rewarding technical careers. Launched in 2020 and led by Founder Jehron Petty, a 2020 Computer Science graduate from Cornell University, ColorStack has become the #1 place for Black and Latinx college Computer Science students to find community, academic support, and career development. No matter what school they attend.

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