Unlocking Opportunities for Black Software Engineers

That's not a valid work email account. Please enter your work email (e.g. you@yourcompany.com)
Please enter your work email
(e.g. you@yourcompany.com)

Interviews unlock opportunities and change lives. Unfortunately, the data indicates that Black software engineers have been mostly kept out of the highest levels of tech and not afforded access to the career opportunities that interviews create.

Many access gaps prevent aspiring Black engineers from entering the tech industry, including limited access to technology and interview preparation. Underrepresented candidates don’t have as much exposure to computer science education as their counterparts. For example, Black students are less likely than white students (47 percent vs. 58 percent, respectively) to have classes dedicated to computer science at the schools they attend.

Beyond limited access to computer science education, a lack of technical interview prep also hinders opportunities for highly qualified Black candidates. For example, many Black students are the first in their families to go to college to pursue a career (both in and outside of the tech sector). This is not the case for many of their peers. Their peers who might have family members working at Google or Amazon have immediate access to crucial insight into how the job search process works, prep courses, or even resume-building opportunities that a non-traditional tech candidate may not have.

With the tech industry now focused on providing equitable interview opportunities and inclusion for underrepresented minority groups, organizations need to adopt tactics that will allow them to recruit, invest in, and retain a diverse pool of candidates. A recent survey from Built In found 46 percent of all tech employers have leadership-approved goals around diversity hiring.

At an industry level, programs like Karat’s Brilliant Black Minds are working to close the access gap by ensuring that underrepresented candidates have the same understanding of the interview and hiring process as other tech candidates. Here are three approaches top tech companies are implementing for more equitable hiring practices to build a more diverse pipeline of candidates:

Eliminate Pedigree Bias

One of the first steps HR and diversity, equity, and inclusion leaders can take is reexamining the resume-screening process to eliminate pedigree bias. Resume screens reinforce pedigree bias by often eliminating candidates who don’t come from traditional backgrounds (top computer science schools, previous big tech experience, etc.). This constrains diversity to existing in-groups.

If your talent pool is filled with engineers who only come from top CS programs, you risk creating in-groups, which becomes dangerous. For example, restrictive criteria like only reviewing resumes from candidates at the traditional top 10 computer science schools or requiring experience at one of the Big Five tech companies automatically limit your talent pool’s diversity to the diversity of those sources.

One approach companies can take is expanding their direct-applicant pipelines. According to Karat’s internal data from over 80,000 technical interviews, less than 10 percent of direct applicants (those who apply directly to a job posting) get interviews. There’s a distinct bias in favor of proactively sourced candidates over direct applicants. However, once they get to the technical interview, it’s very common for candidates from direct applicant pools to outperform the ones your recruiters are sourcing. The majority of companies are overscreening direct applicants.

Level the Playing Field

It’s critical to understand that some candidates may be superstar test-takers, and others may be just as qualified but aren’t as adept at exams. For example, neurodiverse individuals may not do well in stressful timed assessments, which could prevent them from showcasing their full range of skills on a preemployment test. Therefore, it would not be fair to only compare candidates’ skills by administering tests. When testing differences aren’t acknowledged, an organization may miss out on highly qualified candidates who would add value and depth to the workforce.

Diversify Interviews

Interviewers should represent a cross-section of the organization. For example, another member of your company should be a part of the interviewing process in addition to the HR and recruiting team. When job candidates see a diverse set of interviewers, it makes the workplace feel more inclusive, which can help boost interviewees’ confidence levels. The organization should have strong interviewing processes, and all interviewers should be on the same page when it comes to the questions asked. One tip is to standardize interview training and providing structured scoring rubrics so that every interviewer is evaluating candidates according to the same criteria.

Most importantly, tech companies need to begin working with local schools and universities as they continue to break out of the Silicon bubble and set up hub locations across the US. For example, organizations could allow students to participate in virtual technical interviews just like the ones they will encounter throughout their careers. This is most effective if participants receive detailed feedback from professionals about their strengths and areas for improvement. These practice interviews can help participants build confidence, hone their technical interviewing skills, and ultimately receive full-time job offers.

Tech is shaping the way we live today and the way we will live in the future. It is imperative that the people who have the opportunities to code our future represent all of us. By acknowledging that diverse software engineering talent does exist and taking a more holistic approach to the hiring process, top tech companies can meet their diversity and inclusion goals in meaningful ways.

Portia Kibble Smith is an executive recruiter and diversity and inclusion lead for Karat. She has recently been the driving force behind the Real Talk: Diversity in Tech series and the launch of Brilliant Black Minds

Get the top recruiting news and insights delivered to your inbox every week. Sign up for the Recruiter Today newsletter.

By Portia Kibble Smith