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May 8, 2018
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

For all that Mary Poppins said, ‘that we should begin at the beginning’ (since it is, after all, a perfect place to start), we’re going to start out a little bit later.

Let’s assume that you’ve already realized that you need to be intentional about building a more inclusive organization, and you have buy-in from your executives all the way down to your contributors. Your organization is prepared to host employee resource groups, and you’re committed to becoming a great place to work.

Now, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and actually get started sourcing with an eye and care for inclusion by reaching out to people who aren’t hearing about your open positions in the same numbers as over-represented groups.

There are certainly some great strategies and search strings out there, like Glen Cathey’s excellent Diversity Sourcing Strategies post, or Phil Hendrickson’s recent Diversity Sourcing Tool comparison post.

People are out there, but your approach or your strategy might be flawed. Before you start sending out emails, here are some things to keep in mind for hiring inclusively.

Every strategy you come up with will exclude someone.

There is no magic bullet that will find every single person out there who is a perfect fit for your job or your organization. When you come up with a strategy, it’s important to ask the hard questions about who you might be leaving behind.

  • Have you examined the demographics of your sources? For example, Stack Overflow’s recently-released survey might have you believe that all software developers are white men – 93% of all of their respondents who identified as “professional developers” were male, and 74.3% of their respondents who identified as “professional developers” were “White or of European descent.” However, it’s much more likely that those demographics are merely overrepresented on Stack Overflow’s specific community, and that they do not reflect the professional software developer community at large. Stack Overflow might be an excellent source for finding candidates who love to answer questions in their free time, but please make sure that you aren’t just focusing there, and are aware of the demographics of your source. Consider diversifying your community sources and looking for additional websites, like this intentionally inclusive Q&A board!
  • Are you trying to recruit more people of color? It’s worthwhile to build a relationship with historically black colleges and universities but remember that there are people of color who didn’t attend those schools and post your open role widely elsewhere as well.
  • Are you trying to hire more female developers? The Grace Hopper Conference and the Anita Borg Institute’s local chapters are definitely a great place to start, but organizations like that rely heavily on their marketing. If your local chapter exists but doesn’t do a great job of advertising to its target audience, then you can attend all the meetups you want, but you’ll miss out on talented women who don’t know about, or can’t attend, their events.
  • Another popular strategy is to search for the top 100 female names from publicly-available census data (like Glen Cathey does, above). This is undoubtedly an excellent way to find candidates, but it will leave people behind. I challenge you to take a quick pulse of your coworkers, friends, and family, how many of them have names in any year’s top 100 list? More importantly, how many don’t?

Remember that bias is real, and some people do not want to be found.

Classes are protected for a reason. For every well-intentioned recruiter trying to increase access and awareness to their organization for under-represented folks, remember that there’s probably some biased recruiter who doesn’t want to make that hire. Some people will purposefully hide data that could identify them as part of a protected class; people have the right not to broadcast their race, gender, ethnicity, religion, and more online.

  • Despite what some detractors want to say, we do not live in a world where straight white men are disadvantaged from the job market. We aren’t too far beyond Jose Zamora’s famous 2014 test where he dropped the S from his name and magically started receiving calls. Many people still take pains to hide the parts of their identity that will open them up to bias.
  • We aren’t too far away from the era of pseudonymity. I still remember every single cyber-security lecture I got growing up: don’t tell strangers on the internet anything about yourself. That’s indeed becoming less and less true, and more and more companies are making a push to make everyone use their legal names, which is helping drive that, but people from marginalized communities are likely to be at the very end of those lists.
  • Gamergate was only a few years ago, and there are still corners of the internet where bad actors try to find identifying information about people to drive them offline.
  • If you have never had to weigh the pros and cons of putting your street address out on the internet, think about what that kind of privilege is. If you have good intentions, it might be tempting to wave those concerns away, but we’re far away from the point where people want to be free with their identifying information.

At the end of the day, we all want to have as broad a candidate pool as possible, with all sorts of different perspectives. For every search strategy you employ, you should think about the people who might not be included in it, and run a different search that might find those folks, too. The best strategy is always going to be to partner with local organizations and to help them grow.

Become a trusted partner by showing that you can be trustworthy, and by treating people well! That will help you grow much more than any targeted string with only a hundred names. Put yourself out there, broadcast your open roles widely, and keep an open mind about every single profile you receive.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.
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