Breaking the Glass Ceiling in Diversity Recruiting

In a recent article in the New York Times titled, “Why Tech Degrees Are Not Putting More Black and Hispanics Into Tech Jobs,” authors Bui and Miller state:

“The pipeline problem is not a myth. Black and Hispanic students are underrepresented in computer science and engineering programs, relative to their share of the population, while Asian students are overrepresented.

Yet the pipeline is more fruitful than tech companies make it out to be(emphasis added).

Bui and Miller go on to cite data speaking to computer science and engineering graduation statistics for Whites (57%), Asians (26%), Hispanics (8%) and Blacks (6%). While the percentages are not huge, they also are many percentage points above the average of today’s Silicon Valley Hispanic (3%) and Black (1%) technical talent. The article elaborates on possible reasons as to why Silicon Valley is then lacking in diversity, from lack of student interest to implicit hiring biases. While all of these reasons are valid, the challenge and the looming question still remains: Why can’t Silicon Valley make progress in diversity recruiting? 

Bui and Miller point to many valid reasons, which I touched on above, and allude to one of the biggest contributing factors: target universities. Every company, including companies outside tech, want the best and brightest and look to Harvard, Yale, Carnegie Mellon and other universities traditionally praised for churning out top notch talent. If every company is recruiting at these schools for the same type of talent, for which enrollment is indeed limited, but not nonexistent, it only then makes logical sense that there will not be enough diverse top talent for every tech company across Silicon Valley. Therefore, the lack of diverse technical talent is not simply a pipeline issue: it’s a strategy issue.

 Every year, companies re-evaluate their target universities. When working with clients to do so from a diversity lens, there are some important data points I always recommend considering, which include, but are not limited to:

  • Diverse student enrollment and graduation rates
  • Pell grants
  • Diversity hiring and retention data
  • Recruiting cost per school/per hire
  • Projected hiring needs

While there are many more data points that need to be taken into consideration, these are great conversation starters. These data points should also beget other questions, such as, “Is this particular university really diverse?” and “Are we recruiting here solely because we have done so for years, it’s easy to do so and our competitors are doing so as well?” If the answers to question one and two are “no” and “yes,” respectively, there is a problem. This second question is where I have seen companies get into trouble and where conversations have ended abruptly with a blanket strategy that looks exactly like the former years, with only one or two low-risk changes in terms of schools. These minor changes, however, will not get at the root of the issue, which is the need for companies to diversify their university strategies and truly recruit out of the “safe list.”

In order to break this glass ceiling, companies need strategies in place that take risks and go beyond the traditional recruitment model, both in terms of target universities and candidate attraction. The “one and done” model of years ago is no longer sufficient to attract top diverse talent, especially top technical diverse talent. And while it seems logical to place a lot of efforts in schools with large Black and Hispanic populations, such as the Historically Black Colleges and Universities and the over 270 member Hispanic-Serving Institutions, making headways in these communities requires targeted, focused and consistent efforts focused more on genuine relationship and brand building than anything else. And, without the people and financial resources to do so consistently throughout the year, candidates will fall through the pipeline and a company’s reputation and brand could be further worsened in the eyes of these tight knit communities. 

It is important to also note that the yearly conversation regarding target universities and diversity is one that requires collaboration across Staffing, Diversity and Inclusion and all of their perspective business partners or clients. Having a strategy passed down from Diversity and Inclusion to Staffing and then to the clients inhibits real conversation about the current sticking points that have lead to the current strategy, which most likely needs to be blown up to include what have been traditionally viewed as “lower tier” schools. However, what is not often known is that many of these lower tier schools have both stellar CS and Engineering programs AND a much larger pool of diverse talent. This type of change requires a mind-shift and open conversations about the talent bar, for this type of change in strategy does not mean that companies are lowering the bar.Instead, it translates to the fact that they are opening the bar to allow entry for top diverse talent that may not have otherwise been afforded the opportunity to attend an Ivy League school. What an awesome way to truly offer economic opportunity to all whom are qualified.

All in all, it is time to break this self-imposed glass ceiling in diversity recruiting. It is time to break the mold of the traditional target university strategy that takes into account important data points, but often neglects the diversity overlap that is needed to really cull out some of the big issues holding us back from making progress. In 2016, it is time to think big, to take calculated risks, to be strategic and to set hiring goals, not quotas. This is my challenge and my hope for every one of my clients.

And with that, let’s think bold, dream big and not only break, but shatter this glass ceiling altogether.