6 mins

An effective DEI strategy has to go beyond hiring if you want to retain diverse talent. Here are some strategies for extending best practice across the whole employee experience.

In the competitive tech industry, building a diverse engineering team extends beyond a feel-good initiative; it’s a strategic imperative. Diverse teams bring fresh perspectives, innovative ideas, and a wide range of skills. This improves decision-making, boosts creativity, and ultimately, strengthens the bottom line.

In an oft-cited 2019 McKinsey report, where the consultancy analyzed data from over 1,000 companies across 12 countries, researchers drew a statistically significant correlation between the ethnic and racial diversity of executive teams and financial performance. 

Companies in the top quartile were 36% more likely to achieve financial returns above their respective national industry medians than those in the bottom quartile. The report also noted that these gains were not due to diversity alone, but were a result of nurturing an inclusive environment where diverse individuals can flourish. 

Companies that successfully fostered such environments were more likely to reap the benefits of building diverse teams, such as increased innovation, improved decision-making, and better financial performance.

Promoting a truly diverse, inclusive and equitable (DEI) environment requires more than just a diverse workforce. It necessitates a continuous commitment to fostering a culture where everyone feels valued, respected, and empowered to thrive, from recruitment to farewell.

Hiring a diverse and inclusive engineering team

Building a diverse and inclusive engineering team starts with hiring, but extends beyond traditional recruiting channels. It requires effort to broaden your talent pool and attract skilled individuals from various backgrounds.

Actively engage with diverse talent communities

  • Partner with universities to access their engineering and computer science programs, especially those with diverse student populations. Participate in career fairs, deliver guest lectures, and offer internships.
  • Network with professional organizations and industry events. Build relationships with tech organizations that support underrepresented groups. Attend diversity-focused industry events to connect with diverse talent and demonstrate your company’s commitment to DEI. Some examples of US-based organizations include the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), and Women Who Code.

Employ diverse recruiting panels

  • Include diverse team members in the interview process. This approach allows for various perspectives when assessing candidates. Diverse interviewers can more effectively evaluate cultural fit and potential, identifying candidates who may otherwise be overlooked.
  • Educate your interview panel about unconscious bias. Provide unconscious bias training to all team members participating in the interview process. This training helps them recognize and mitigate potential biases, leading to more equitable and objective evaluations.

Implement blind resume reviews

  • Remove identifying information from resumes. This strategy can help mitigate unconscious bias against factors such as name, gender, or ethnicity. The focus should be solely on the candidate’s skills, experience, and qualifications.
  • Focus on skills and competencies. Tailor your job descriptions and interview questions to emphasize the specific skills and competencies necessary for the role, rather than generic traits or experiences.

Pay attention to your job descriptions

  • Use inclusive language in your job postings. Avoid language that could be perceived as biased and ensure your postings are appealing to candidates of all backgrounds. For example, “Seeking a strong and aggressive salesperson” could be seen as gendered, stereotypically favoring male candidates.

These strategies serve as a starting point. By actively engaging diverse talent communities, diversifying your recruitment panels, and adopting inclusive practices, you can widen your talent pool and attract outstanding individuals, regardless of their background.

Cultivating an inclusive environment through onboarding

The onboarding process significantly shapes a new team member’s experience and their long-term engagement with your company. Ensure that your onboarding experience is welcoming, inclusive, and encourages growth.

Personalized onboarding

  • Initial assessment. Conduct pre-boarding assessments to understand each person’s needs and preferences. This could include learning styles, communication methods, and any accessibility requirements.
  • Tailored learning plans. Develop learning plans that cater to individual skill levels and knowledge gaps. Use resources based on preferred learning styles. For instance, the onboarding and learning plan for a junior software engineer from a non-traditional background should differ from that of a senior engineer with five years of work experience.
  • Flexible schedules. Provide flexible onboarding schedules and work arrangements to accommodate individual needs and circumstances. For example, a new hire may be relocating for the job and require a flexible schedule during the initial weeks to address housing, schooling, or other logistical matters.

Diverse mentorship

  • Mentorship matching. Match new team members with mentors who have similar backgrounds, interests, or career aspirations. Ensure representation from diverse backgrounds, helping the new team member feel more understood and supported.
  • Mentorship objectives. Set clear objectives for the mentorship relationship. Concentrate on skill development, professional guidance, and cultural understanding.
  • Mentorship training. Offer mentors training on effective mentorship practices, unconscious bias awareness, and cultural competency. The aim is to equip mentors with the necessary skills to effectively support and guide their mentees.

Implementing these recommendations can establish an onboarding program that promotes a sense of belonging, empowers new team members, and lays the groundwork for a successful, long-lasting career at your company.

Cultivating a thriving and inclusive engineering team

A successful engineering team requires a work environment that enables each individual to thrive. Here are key strategies to accomplish this:

Promoting psychological safety

  • Conduct workshops and training sessions emphasizing psychological safety. Focus on building trust, vulnerability, and mutual respect within teams, while promoting a growth mindset that sees mistakes as learning opportunities. Celebrate experimentation and innovation, regardless of failures.
  • Offer anonymous platforms for team members to express concerns, share feedback, and ask questions without fear of judgment.
  • Maintain an open-door policy where team members can discuss their concerns and experiences with managers or HR representatives.

Valuing diverse perspectives

  • Building an open and respectful communication culture. Foster a space where everyone feels safe to voice disagreements or criticisms. Ensure open and honest communication through regular meetings, feedback sessions, and anonymous surveys. Support respectful conversations, healthy disagreements, and encourage everyone to share their ideas and concerns.
  • Running inclusive meetings. Actively seek input from all team members during meetings and brainstorming sessions. Be mindful of potential biases and make sure everyone has an opportunity to share their ideas. If someone is not participating, reach out to them to understand why.
  • Recognition and appreciation. Recognize and appreciate diverse contributions and successes to emphasize the importance of each unique perspective.

Establishing fair and equitable practices

  • Compensation and promotion audits. Regularly review your compensation structures and promotion processes to ensure they are unbiased and based on objective criteria.
  • Mentorship and sponsorship programs. Implement mentorship and sponsorship programs to provide career guidance and support for diverse employees, particularly underrepresented groups.
  • Transparency in decision-making. Be transparent about decision-making processes, such as the allocation of opportunities, to ensure everyone understands how decisions are made.

Implementing these strategies can help create a thriving work environment where individuals from diverse backgrounds feel empowered, valued, and motivated to reach their full potential. This will contribute to a more innovative, successful, and inclusive engineering team.

Creating a positive and inclusive offboarding experience

Conducting exit interviews with sensitivity and a DEI focus can reveal potential barriers and areas for improvement. 

Ask specific questions

Besides standard exit interview questions, include specific DEI-related questions, such as:

  • Did you experience any discrimination or bias during your time here?
  • Did you feel included and valued as a team member?
  • Did you have access to the resources and support you needed to succeed?

Active listening and actionable feedback

Facilitate a safe space for open and honest dialogue, actively listening to concerns and experiences without judgment. Analyze feedback and develop action plans to address identified issues and enhance DEI initiatives.

Final thoughts

Building a genuinely diverse, equitable, and inclusive engineering team requires time, dedication, and continuous effort. By implementing these best practices and committing to learning and improvement, you can cultivate a culture that thrives on the unique strengths and perspectives of all team members. This will drive innovation, success, and a more fulfilling work environment for everyone.