6 ways to build a racially diverse engineering team (that you might not have tried yet)

As the founder and CEO of ColorStack, a non-profit organization, the Black and Latinx computer science graduates I’ve supported at ColorStack provide an overview of what they’re looking for in the companies they’re applying to. A unique approach has been found. I have also seen how the technology companies we partner with are implementing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) initiatives and the challenges they face.

Here I learned what companies can do to build racially diverse engineering teams not only to hire, but to retain exceptional Black and Latinx software engineers.

  1. Start thinking early on, diversity. It is much easier to be the first black hire at a 5-person startup than at a 500-person company. What a company looks like in its early stages in terms of employee demographics often predicts what that company will look like in the future. This is because networking and referrals play such a huge role in company growth, and social networks tend to be racially homogeneous. a study found that in a survey of white Americans, more than 90 percent of the people in their social networks were also white on average. If your startup is primarily made up of white employees, chances are high that the candidates they refer to will also be white.
  1. Provide remote work option. Many US tech centers are in locations with predominantly white populations, such as San Francisco, and may not be attractive places to relocate for Black and Latinx software engineers. The Colorstack students I’ve talked to are interested in companies that offer remote work because it allows them to work and live in the communities they grew up in and feel more comfortable with.
  1. But, provide a personalized onboarding experience. Connecting with peers on tools like Zoom and Slack can be intimidating for Black and early-career developers of Latinx, who may be less familiar with the culture of tech than their White counterparts. Providing new hires working remotely with an in-person onboarding experience can reduce feelings of isolation and help Color Network’s developers effectively.
  1. Remember that diversity and inclusivity go hand in hand. As your company begins to hire more employees of color, keep in mind that most new employees don’t want to be the first or only person in your company who looks like them. Consider investing in internships or university recruitment programs that bring in a diverse group of new employees at the same time—as well as, as far as possible, these newly hired mentors and employee resource groups (ERGs). Support with a racially diverse group. This will help establish a culture of support and inclusion among new employees from underrepresented backgrounds in technology.
  1. Hire diverse talent at all levels. In order to hire and retain talented early career Black and Latinx software engineers, it is important for companies to hire diverse talent at all levels – not just at the junior level. The students I work with through ColorStack work with mentors who share their racial identity and can relate to their experience, and want to work in companies that have Blacks on their executive teams. And Latinx people are involved. Otherwise, they may see their opportunities for growth in your company as limited. And in fact, I’ve noticed that it even prevents students from applying for certain roles.
  1. And, share that information publicly. Finally, new grad Black and Latinx software engineers today want to know the racial and gender composition of the companies and teams they are applying to – these numbers speak louder than the commitments announced for DE&I. Unfortunately, less than half of Fortune 500 companies publicly share race and ethnicity information, With only 22 companies publishing full employee racial and ethnic demographic analysis, Sharing this information transparently is a big step towards solving the problem and gaining the trust of Black and Latinx candidates.

These are just six ways I’ve seen tech companies start to improve the racial diversity of their engineering teams. The good news is that any of these are a good place to start. And, an amazing strength of tech companies today is their ability to make decisions using data. When you apply this data superpower to measure and track progress for your diversity initiatives, you are well on your way to making meaningful change in your organization.

ColorStack is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization whose mission is to increase the number of Black and Latinx computer science graduates who begin rewarding technical careers. Launched in 2020 and led by the founder Jahron Patti, a 2020 Bachelor of Computer Science from Cornell University, Colorstack has become the #1 place for Black & Latinx College Computer Science students to find community, academic support, and career development. No matter what school they go to.

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