There’s been a lot of conversation lately about the tech industry’s diversity problem, and possible ways to make things better. A variety of Portland tech companies, including Cozy, have signed a pledge to actively improve diversity within the tech community. Cozy had an all-hands meeting to talk about signing the diversity pledge and brainstorm ways we could work toward the goals stated in the pledge.

Cozy is overwhelmingly white and male. This isn’t surprising given tech’s diversity problem and Portland’s lack of racial diversity in general. (According to the 2010 census, Portland is 76.1% white.) It’s also an unacceptable status quo.

What Cozy Is Doing Already

I came to Cozy after attending the Recurse Center in New York City for three months. Frankly, RC spoiled me. They do really well at diversity, and work very hard to maintain a welcoming environment. For example, they have a set of social rules meant to ensure that the Recurse Center will remain a safe space for everyone.

One of the reasons I love Cozy is that Cozyans seem to have internalized RC’s social rules without me ever needing to explain them. My coworkers excel at providing a space where I am comfortable asking questions and expressing ignorance about new topics. No one speaks over me. My opinions, on coding and other topics, are valued.

I also think Cozy does a good job with the hiring process. Our engineering interviews aren’t designed like a frat hazing ritual; instead they’re designed to showcase how you’ll work with your potential coworkers. The interview process focuses on pairing and problem-solving using real-world examples, rather than whiteboarding or being quizzed about algorithms. As a junior developer looking for my very first developer job, I actually enjoyed the interview process at Cozy. Having a realistic interview process is essential to removing bias against people without prior professional coding experience or a Computer Science degree.

So Cozy has a great hiring process and working environment, which is half the battle. What about the other half, finding underrepresented groups to hire in the first place? That’s where Cozy has the opportunity to improve the most.

What We Need to Do Better and How We’re Going to Do It

During Cozy’s diversity discussion, we brainstormed ways to reach out to underrepresented groups during the hiring process. We’ve tried to do this a little bit in the past; when we first start the search for a new support tools developer, my manager delayed posting the job opening on our website in an attempt to allow myself and another female developer time to reach out to our professional networks and find people from underrepresented groups to apply first. On one level this is awesome, because as a woman in tech, my professional network is mostly other women in tech. On another level, this isn’t extreme enough because my professional network is mostly white women, since it’s mostly people like me. (This is why just hiring through existing professional networks is a problem, of course. Nepotism does not encourage diversity.)

So what else could we be doing to reach out to potential employees? We currently only post job descriptions on tech sites. We need to get better at reaching out to people who don’t yet have tech jobs but might want one. We could start advertising jobs at local universities and community colleges. We could also reach out to special-interest groups like Pyladies and Women Who Code.

There are also some specific topics we can start focusing on immediately. For example, one of the goals stated in the diversity pledge is to “educate staff on unconscious workplace biases.” This is a very clear-cut goal that we can immediately start working towards by organizing an anti-bias training or workshop.

Just because we’re doing some things well, it doesn’t mean we should get complacent. There is always room to do better. I’m excited for further discussion to find solutions and to continue improving our culture and diversity.

Further Reading

  • Kate Heddleston’s blog, especially the post on onboarding and team debt.

  • The Parable of the Polygons, about how small individual biases turn into a large cultural bias.

  • “It’s Just Not Good Enough: Why Diversity in Tech Efforts are Still Failing” by Terri Burns in Model View Culture 2015 Quarterly No. 1.

  • The interview with Nicole Sanchez, also in Model View Culture 2015 Quarterly No. 1.