July 16, 2015

Strategic Approaches to Building a Diverse Team

We hear it time and time again; a diverse workforce makes for a better company. It’s a theme that can seem daunting and complex, but if approached in the right way-it can become a strategic advantage, regardless of the industry one is in. Last night’s Talent Hackers open discussion tackled diversity and laid out a few methods to enabling a diverse team.

Last night’s panelists represented some of the leading tech organizations and talent acquisition. The panelists included:

  • Anik Das, Talent Acquisition, Raizlabs
  • Vinay Gidwaney, Cofounder, Maxwell Health
  • Carlie Smith, Talent Manager, OpenView Venture
  • Jibran Malek, Marketing Manager, MassChallenge
  • Kate Morgan, CEO, Boston Human Capital Partners 

Diversity is more than just one’s race, gender and ethnicity--it can be their age, skill set, their potential, their grit and most of all, their life experiences. It’s complex subject, but like anything, if you can develop a strategy and begin taking a few steps toward it, it’ll become easier.

The discussion focused on two key elements of diversity:

  • Tactically, how do you create diversity?
  • How do I balance and enhance the Diversity-Culture relationship?

Think of this as a playbook for implementing your diversity strategy!


Acquiring & Fostering Diverse Talent:

How do I begin cultivating and building a diverse team?

  • Leverage not only diverse organizations and meetups, but also universities that are historically diverse is a great first step--Girls Who CodeWomen Who CodeLGBT Software DevelopersCode 2040
  • Encourage your diverse team members to be public facing
  • You can find more diverse talent by hiring on potential. Raw skill sets you can learn--General Assembly and Startup Institute
  • Your company values need to appeal to a diverse group of people. Your values can attract diversity.
  • Focus on inclusion, making people feel safe and heard. Build relationships with your team and diversity will come naturally.

How to hire more diverse senior level talent?

  • Age is the strongest bias in the workforce and one to counteract this is to leverage hiring managers + make sure they're always looking talking to talent.

How do I tackle unconscious biases?

  • Test out blind interviews in which you don't know the candidate's race, ethnicity, nor gender--strictly looking at their skillset
  • Look into Textio which analyzes your job descriptions and predict the success of your job listing as you write, and then tell you exactly how to fix it

What are some tools for tracking applicants?

How do I remain competitive?

  • Counteract time by always recruiting, even if there aren’t any open positions. Even if you know a position isn’t going to open up in 2 months, go ahead and hire that person. You’re trying to build a company that lasts a decade.

Diversity as a Function of Culture:

  • As all the panelists mentioned at some point during the discussion, diversity begets diversity and culture is the holy grail. The diversity-culture relationship, if leveraged properly, can be very powerful. However, at no point in time should the company culture be sacrificed because a potential new hire is more “diverse”. At the end of the day, your company culture is going to be the most important determinant of success. Vinay Gidwaney of Maxwell Health offered this fantastic thought framework on culture:


If you can allow this thought process and the panelists' advice guide you through the peaks and valleys of building a company, there's no telling how successful your company will be.



Anik Das, at Raizlabs

I have a few major things to consider for anyone wanting to tackle the challenge of adding and retaining diversity to your teams. First, how and where do you start? Start by gathering how much diversity (or lack there of) you have on your team. Leverage what you already have and ask your diverse team members to be spokespeople in their respective communities. If you lack diversity, then recognize that there is a huge opportunity in front of you, and educate your team accordingly. Second, gauge how unconscious and conscious biases are affecting your hiring yields, especially in context of diverse candidates. At Raizlabs we are trying blind interviews for some of our hiring teams, where we have gotten rid of resumes and social profiles, and instead are focusing on a competency and skills based process that highlights our core values. My ultimate takeaway is that the only way to push anything forward is to try something new and break out of the box. When experimenting, it is extremely important to do some A/B testing and keep excellent records from it, so you can ascertain whether or not what you're doing is actually working. At the end of the day, if you try something new and are able to show that it works by having great data and proof, you can start a revolution. Even if it is unorthodox or a little scary at first, don't be afraid to try new tools, methods, and processes to conquer important talent challenges, especially diversity.

Anik Das, Talent Acquisition @ Raizlabs


Vinay Gidwaney

I really believe that diversity begets diversity. The key thing is to get started. In hiring entry-level talent especially, we look for candidates that have a lot of potential rather than a lot of experience, which gives us a much bigger and diverse job pool. We also promote from within often which gives us opportunity to bring in fresh new talent on a regular basis. At Maxwell, our culture is sacred, and we look for people that are motivated by our mission and will add value to our team beyond their skills in the work force. We've focused on incorporating empathy, perseverance and mutual respect into everything we do, that has resulted in an incredibly supportive culture.

-  Vinay Gidwaney, CofounderMaxwell Health


Carlie Smith, OpenView Venture

One of the best ways to get in front of a diverse pool of candidates is to partner with organizations, groups, and schools that have historically diverse populations. Once you have a pipeline, it’s important to educate your team on common biases that exist in the hiring process. Whether we're conscious of it or not, we tend to want to hire people like ourselves, who we can easily relate to and feel more comfortable with. Don’t let this skew the data on how a candidate stacks up against your requirements. 

It’s important to hire for cultural fit, but before you can do that, it’s imperative that you define the characteristics of what a cultural fit actually means for your organization. Once defined, make sure your hiring team takes stock of those characteristics as part of the criteria they're interviewing against. A great way to do that is having them fill out interview scorecards. After the interviews are complete, get everyone together and monitor a debrief discussion to ensure everyone is providing objective feedback, rather than subjective details, against each of these data points. 

 Carlie Smith, Talent ManagerOpenView Venture


Jibran Malek, MassChallenge

Strong core values that appeal to broad demographics will naturally draw a diverse set of individuals. Make sure you show those inclusive, community-driven, impact-aligned values outwardly in all mediums such as your website, in photos, and even at conferences. 

Folks from all walks of life are attracted to organizations that aim to make a difference. Once all this is in place, diversity just seems natural.

Jibran Malek, Marketing ManagerMassChallenge


Kate Morgan, Boston Human Capital Partners

You must first define what diversity means to your organization.  I think most people make quick generalizations of what it means.  Diversity isn't about hiring for gender or ethnicity; it's about breaking away from "group think" and providing a different perspective.  Being in the thick of recruiting for hi-tech, the most disappointing biases I see are around age and educational experience.  Make your only hiring criteria be to hire smart people who know how to get stuff done and diversity will happen.

Kate Morgan, CEO @ Boston Human Capital Partners