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Recruiting, Retraining, and Developing a Diverse Engineering Team

Recruiting, Retraining, and Developing a Diverse Engineering Team

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By Vidya More

Of all the professions that fall within the STEM umbrella, engineering may be one of the least diverse fields for women and minority groups of all kinds – and it’s hurting the industry. Pew Research Center estimates that 71 percent of engineers are white, while a recent analysis by Zippia claims that 86.3 percent are men. As the engineering skills gap is projected to leave millions of jobs unfilled over the next several years, there’s a clear need (and plenty of room) to grow the engineering talent pool.

And while addressing the education element of the problem – including the widespread understanding of what diversity encompasses and how it affects a business – is vital, the hiring process is just as important (if not more so). A successful diversity journey begins way before a candidate even signs their acceptance letter, and is in the hands of the corporation first and foremost.

So how can a company formulate and implement initiatives that seek to recruit, re-train, and develop a diverse and inclusive group of engineers? Further, how do they ensure these initiatives aren’t just one-offs, but rather start the process of creating a widespread and long standing culture?

Some recommended practices include:

Taking a tech-agnostic approach to hiring and job postings: Unfortunately, the holistic hiring process – regardless of industry – contains both conscious and subconscious biases that often affect underrepresented candidates; for instance, resumes with African-American sounding names receive 50 percent fewer callbacks than resumes with white-sounding names. That said, in order to attract more diverse people and/or people from underrepresented groups, job postings need to be inclusive as well, with diversity visible through the social media platforms of executive leadership. Further, in both the engineering and broader STEM industry, a lack of available technologies often affects these communities more harshly; for instance, lack of access to internet and high-functioning technology leads to underrepresentation for groups in the Black and Latinx youth communities. These technologies (in addition to rigorous educational experiences) will become more and more standard, and ultimately required, within the engineering industry; and this doesn’t just relate to basic technologies, such as computers, but also expensive and siloed programming software. When considering candidates, companies should keep this in mind to encourage applicants with varying levels of experience to throw their hat in the ring and move their focus to upskilling said applicants should they be hired. 

Committing to upskilling candidates: Technical skills are often what’s focused on in a STEM and/or engineering environment; if you have the skills on paper, many companies will hire you (for one reason or another, but largely due to the vast amount of open positions and broadening skills gap seen in the industry). But for better or worse, skills are just one piece of the ideal employee puzzle – and the puzzle is constantly changing shape. Employers need to commit to upskilling candidates internally, on an ongoing basis, to ensure they’re advancing with the technology landscape and the market. But further, and equally as important as the lessons learned – is how this information is being disseminated. Paired with the right mentors, a dedicated candidate can get up to speed on the nitty-gritty elements of the job while understanding nuances that may be overlooked otherwise. This is what makes diversity amongst mentors a crucial component for long-lasting heterogeneity, and essential for brands in the long run. This requires not only input from the DEl department, but also the HR department; they must be in sync on how to approach the concept of “lifelong learning” within an organization. To that end, lifelong learning can also include organization-wide trainings on creating diverse and inclusive cultures within engineering teams, unwrapping the beauty that diversity can bring to corporations as a whole.

Promoting work-from-home and part-time job opportunities to create a more inclusive hiring approach and increase your candidate pool: According to an analysis by the National Women’s Law Center of the latest US Bureau of Labor Statistics report, 1.1 million women left the labor force during February 2020 and January 2022, accounting for 63 percent of all jobs lost. Work-from-home and part-time positions offer women in the workforce, or women looking to get back into the workforce, an opportunity to balance work/personal life in a more functional way. Naturally, this means offering up the opportunity for part-time roles to be taken by those currently in a full-time role, without the shame or guilt often associated with such a move; this flexibility encourages inclusive and flexible workplaces filled with employees who are tapping into their potential on their own terms. Further, this also allows for companies to hire based on specific skills, and target part-timers for more project-based work, encouraging individuals to do what they’re best at, versus what may just be part of their broader job description. This ensures value across the board, and a greater ROI for both employees and brands alike. If a program like this is built and run correctly, a corporation will run more smoothly and with less unnecessary overlap from employees. In the long run, and in order to keep track, programs like this need to use data (and in an effective manner) to understand how and where they are trending; as such, organizations can and should have OKRs relating to culture and DEI (e.g., gender breakdown in the engineering department).

While the above practices don’t necessarily guarantee diversity within your engineering team, they certainly increase the likelihood of different types of candidates being offered up and integrated into your staff. However, getting diverse candidates to the threshold and/or through the door is only the first part of the DE&I journey; ensuring they’re consistently upskilled on technologies and the latest developments within the industry is equally as integral. This creates a level playing field for all involved, and encourages healthy and productive growth and competition amongst all.

Vidya More is Head of Engineering for Tax Products