Robin Cannon's Blog

How do I Build a Diverse Candidate Pool?

March 28, 2019

I’m a straight, white, cis, male, able-bodied manager. I work in an industry dominated by straight, white, cis, male, able-bodied people. In a country dominated by straight, white, cis, male, able-bodied people. And so on. I don’t want the teams I manage to all look like me.

In tech industry terms the Carbon Design System development team is a diverse one. And we work for a company in IBM that has a long and positive history of promoting diversity. I’m pleased that we’re that diverse. I’d like to do better.

I think I’ve done a decent job over my career of hiring diverse talent. And I wouldn’t need research to convince me that more diverse teams are more productive. My own experience tells me it’s true. That is what the research says, though.

I’ve never deliberately discriminated. I’m fairly confident I’ve avoided the worst excesses of subconscious discrimination. But I’ve been too passive in pursuing diversity.

I’ve been fair in assessing who was in front of me. But I haven’t taken action to change who might be in front of me in the first place.

The “usual” is not diverse

We’re hiring a new developer for the Carbon team right now. Like many large companies, there’s an HR team who helps hire for that role. That HR team posts our job role in all the usual places. I can find the posting on IBM’s own portal, LinkedIn, Indeed, etc. And I’ll give a fair assessment to the people who apply.

But our industry isn’t diverse. If I let our job be posted in the usual places, and wait for resumes, the applicant pool will reflect the industry. If I want to really encourage diversity, then I need to do more.

I need to tell diverse communities that the job is there

The most diverse thing about me in my US office is that I’m British. I can, at least, be aware of my limitations. I asked some colleagues at IBM, who I know work with groups that encourage gender diversity, if they could give me some pointers.

But gender is only a small part of diversity. So I also looked around for any information I could find. Twitter, for all its drawbacks, can be a good place for professional information. And isn’t it strange how, when you’re thinking more about a topic, you find more about it?

I saw someone share a tweet from @parissathena. I didn’t remember having seen her on Twitter before (because I hadn’t, or because I hadn’t been looking). And it was a post about how to encourage diversity in the workplace. Then I saw her profile and saw #blacktechtwitter. That gave me somewhere new to share information about our role.

And it’s Twitter, so I could also ask her for her advice on where to share. She didn’t reply, but @oceanatoll did, and they told me about #latinxtechtwitter. So I had another place to share.

I also asked @lesbiantech for advice and learned about include.io. That’s a job board and service designed to help underrepresented techies. It’s still in beta, but I want to learn more.

Searching for more channels

I’d like to outreach more. It’s a no-lose situation for me, and for Carbon. It means more good developers will find out about my role. A diverse pool of good applicants should lead to a great hire. And a consistently diverse pool of good applicants should lead to a diverse team. And diverse teams are happier, and more productive.

I’ve done no more than scratch the surface, I’m sure. A couple of Twitter hashtags (is there a similar LGBTQ hashtag? What other ones should I use?) I can share to. Finding out about some relevant Austin based meetup groups. I probably can’t justify an extra charge for a service like include.io if it’s only for Carbon’s hiring. But I can talk to IBM’s HR team about it.

We’re one, small team, and I hire at most two or three people a year. But we can also set an example in the kind of candidates we encourage, and thus, the people we hire. If we’re a great, diverse team making an excellent product, other teams will look at us and want to emulate us.

At least from my straight, white, male, perspective, that seems like a good way to encourage diversity more broadly. By showing that it’s better.


Robin Cannon

A Brit in Texas. I manage the dev team for IBM's Carbon Design System.
My blog for work, tech, and industry related musings. Thoughts my own.
@shinytoyrobots on Twitter