Hire for Cultural Fit: It’s Time to Add Other People, Pt 2

In Hire for Cultural Fit: It’s Time to Add Women, Pt 1, I wrote about the need to add women to your team, and what you could do. But just hiring women isn’t enough. You need race and age diversity, along with personality diversity to get the best products out of your teams.

Back when I was a hiring manager inside organizations in the ’80s and ’90s, I hired developers and testers. I took a hard look at my teams. I saw lots of younger white people. I thought that was strange. I socialized with people of all races and ages. Why did I only have younger white people in my teams? It was time to change that.

At the time, I used external recruiters. When I asked about diversity, I kept hearing, “We only have young white people to offer you.” I thought that was bogus. How could that be true, when I knew all these people who were not young or white? (Yes, some of them were technical, and some of them were a fit. And, yes, I had an okay employee referral program.)

But, how could I find more people? If I can’t get them to respond to my ads and get the resumes in the door, I can’t phone screen them. Surely, in the Boston area, there must be non-white, young and older people looking for jobs.

There were. In fact, there were, maybe not plenty, but enough that I could start to hire a diverse set of people. Here is what I did:

  • I told everyone I knew that I was looking to increase the diversity of my teams. I wanted people who were different in background. I needed to solve problems with different approaches than I already had.
  • I told my recruiters I wanted to hire black and Asian people. Could they please find me resumes? Yes, I was that blunt.
  • I told my interviewers that we wanted to hire people who looked different, who thought different, who fit in just enough so we could have conversations and not kill each other (I was even more brash in those days).
  • I started networking at meetings, looking for people who might fit with my teams.
  • I change our ads so they look a lot like the ads in Hiring Geeks That Fit.

Since I was a young manager, I was pretty sure many interesting candidates would be older than I was. I didn’t care.

Since I was white, I was pretty sure many interesting candidates would be different from me. I was looking for different.

Now, let me be clear. I was not discriminating against white men (or women, for that matter). I was trying to open the door to more people. I figured that if I got more resumes, I could see what my prejudices were, and see how to overcome them. (Why do you think there is a section about prejudices in Hiring Geeks That Fit?)

We all have prejudices. The question is, do we know what they are?

My hiring results? After several months of making sure I looked in different places, I did find “other” people. I was able to hire two black engineers at one place. I was able to hire many Asian, Indian, and a couple of Latino-sounding engineers at several other jobs. I was able to hire people who were a variety of ages. I now had many people with a variety of backgrounds and experiences.

My problem solving results were terrific. At one job, where the original testers told me, “This is not automatable,” we were able to automate about half the system tests in about three months. Of course, the other half took much longer. We kept at it. No, we did not automate at the GUI level.

As developers, I hired continuing engineering folks, release engineering, and regular developers. They each had their own approach, as I would have expected. I was thrilled with their problem solving abilities.

Later, as a consultant, I encountered more ageism.

One hiring manager, years ago, told me that no one over 40 could do agile. I just about died laughing. I asked him if he knew how old I was, since I was there to help him debug his agile approach and his hiring. “Uh, 36?”

At the time, I was 49. I told him I was flattered. And, I reminded him that agile was a mindset, not an age range.

One client of mine was so insular, they hadn’t developed a new product in 8 years. Everyone had come from the same small set of universities, and everyone had the same relative experience. When I suggested they needed more “new blood” in the form of different approaches and different backgrounds, they were appalled. But once they did hire some new people, their product development took off.

If you haven’t read How Diversity Makes Us Smarter, you should. You need “other” people, not people who are carbon copies of the people you have.

You need to recruit (source) in many places. You can’t look in the same old places and bemoan the fact that there are no “other” people out there, regardless of who those people are.

An insular company can work for a while. You will definitely have a particular corporate culture. But, does that culture lead you to better products? Does that culture scale?

I suspect that some of you will have problems with this post. Diversity and our prejudices make us uncomfortable. But, we can’t address them unless we talk about them.

Let’s start talking about hiring people in technology who don’t look like us. Let’s hire people who are older. Let’s hire people who are not young white men.

We don’t need the stereotype of the “brogrammer” anymore. We just don’t.

What we do need is to hire people we can work with. Not people who look like us.

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