Is Unconscious Bias Stunting Your Tech Startup Growth?

72% of founders agree building a diverse team is extremely important, not only in terms of boosting company culture but it also has a positive impact on revenue. However, only 12% of tech startups have five or more team members from under-represented communities.  

Currently, 32% of tech startups are in the diversity planning stage, understanding why diversity is important but with no diverse members forming part of their team. 

So, if there is such a clear benefit to hiring a diverse team, why are so many tech startups stuck in the planning stage? 

And how can you successfully attract and retain diverse talent? 

Planning for Diversity 

Before you implement a brand-new hiring strategy, understand what you need. Look ahead to the next 18 months. Assess your aims and goals then ask yourself what you need to do to get there.  

  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of your current process?  
  • How are you going to measure your success? 
  • How are you going to ensure your team is actively onboard? 
  • What tools are you going to use to dissuade bias? 
  • Are your current policies inclusive? 

Look at your current recruitment process and see where you could improve. For example, does your careers page showcase a diverse team? Include pictures and videos that reflect the nature of your team. You need to put yourself in the candidates’ shoes and walk through your process. 

Whilst this may be hard in the early days of your startup, it is important that any prospective candidate can see your values.  

Decide how you will measure your success. One way of doing this is by regularly sending out anonymous feedback forms to your staff, and then work to make the required improvements. Ensure that all your employees understand why a diverse team will be good for business, maintaining a good culture is everybody’s job. 

Have a look at any tools you could use to help filter out bias in your hiring process. Online tools such as Toggl Hire can help to remove unconscious bias. 

Take a look at your company policies and ensure they are inclusive. For example, instead of maternity policies, lots of businesses are introducing parental leave.

In order to open up your workspace to a diverse team, asking yourself these questions in the planning stage is key.

Attracting Diverse Talent 

A job ad is first point of contact you have with a potential hire; it needs to reflect your company culture.  

Currently only 15% of tech startups audit their job ads for unconscious bias. By cutting out biased language in your initial job ad, you will be more attractive to a wider range of talent. Studies have shown that words such as determined and analyse attract more male candidates whereas words such as support and understanding will attract more female applicants.  

Where you post your ad matters. Focus on reaching diverse pipelines with your ad. There are countless job forums and communities online that will reach under-represented people that may not apply through a mainstream job board.  

Look at the education and experience that you list as requirements on your ad. Attending a prestigious school or working at a big-name company is not a prerequisite of talent, it just means people have had more opportunities earlier on. 

Often, the non-traditional routes of learning are better equipped at preparing candidates for the unpredictable fast-paced nature of startups.  

For further information on how to optimise your job ad and the tools available to check for bias, read our blog on de-risking hiring. 

Assessing Diverse Talent 

Hiring at the startup stage can feel risky, many founders fall into the trap of hiring what they know because it feels safe. This means that all too often the interview process filters out what little diversity there was in your applicant pool.   

So how can you ensure that your interview process isn’t actively dissuading diversity? 

Take a look at your hiring team, if there is little or no representation amongst the people doing the hiring, then it will reflect in your future hires.  

For example, if you want to hire more female developers and they only meet male members of your team during the interview process, it may dissuade potential hires as your team doesn’t appear to be diverse.  

Involving different team members in the interview process can be beneficial. By involving a range of team members throughout different stages of your interview process, the candidate gets a much better idea of the team they will be joining.  

AI can be invaluable at the startup stage when time is limited. AI itself cannot be prejudiced, but if it’s not regularly monitored, it can carry the prejudice of the programmer. For example, an ATS (applicant tracking system) can be a great help at the pre-interview stage, saving hours of work filtering through CVs. However, if you have programmed the software to automatically discard any CVs without certain key words or qualifications then you may be unintentionally halving your diversity pool through unconscious bias. 

Some startups have gone as far as removing the CV entirely, instead focusing on portfolios, work samples and tasks. This gives everyone the opportunity to showcase their abilities instead of focusing on their past credentials.  

Set a standardised list of questions to ask each candidate and make your interview process transparent. This puts all candidates on an even playing field and internal hires aren’t at an unfair advantage. 

Giving a clear structure to your interview process speaks volumes to a potential hire about your culture. 

Interviews aren’t just for you to choose an employee, but for an employee to choose you. We are currently seeing a massive increase in the ratio of roles to candidates. The probability of candidates rejecting an offer from one company and accepting a role from another has almost trebled in the last year alone.  

Prioritising diversity in your interview process will ensure you don’t lose valuable talent to your competitors.  

Retaining your diverse talent 

So, you’ve successfully planned for, attracted and assessed a diverse range of talent. The final stage to growing your startup into a diversity leader is to retain your talent.  

This is where maintaining an inclusive company culture is vital. It is no use preaching values and goals in the hiring process that don’t reflect the day-to-day life of your startup; you will lose valuable team members.  

Send out anonymous feedback forms to see what areas you can improve in. Have regular team building events where everyone gets involved and never become complacent. Keep your company values at the core of what you do and set targets to measure your progress.  

This blog tackles the challenges of inhouse recruiting, but in the startup stage you may find that you are not in the position to dedicate time in this area. 

In this case, it is worth considering working with a recruitment consultancy. Not only will this free up your time to focus on other areas of company growth, but a recruiter will have access to a diverse talent pool.  

Diversity is not about simply bringing underrepresented people into your team; it is about creating a workplace where everyone can feel safe and then continuing to hire to promote this inclusive culture as you scale up.  

If you want any further advice on hiring then check out our Talent Guide for Founders, an in-depth look at growing your startup, or get in touch with our Director Alan Furley who has valuable experience helping startups grow:  0117 428 0600. 

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