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Inclusive Hiring

There's been some confusion (and some bad faith misrepresentation) when we talk about inclusive hiring. The confusion is understandable, given that the norm in our industry is not, sadly, to be inclusive.

To that end, it's worth talking about how we practice it here at Obvious. We hope that this attempt to share our practices clears that confusion, and serves as a reference point for both ourselves and anyone else who is interested in the topic. As with all our policies and thinking, this will evolve over time.

What many people think inclusive hiring is

A common trope is that inclusive hiring means "cherry-picking" candidates on the basis of what are known as "protected" characteristics (which include but aren't restricted to age, gender, race, and religion).

The hiring funnel becomes a useful visual metaphor here. In a perfect world, a hiring funnel would be a perfect representation of society. You would expect to see a distribution along various demographic axes—like gender, age, religion, and race—which corresponded to the distribution that existed in the real world. However, this is rarely the case, with our industry (specifically, technology) having a strong skew towards a younger, male workforce.

Breakup of respondent's gender in technology by country (from StackOverflow's 2020 survey)
Breakup of respondent's gender in technology by country (from StackOverflow's 2020 survey)
Breakup of respondent age (from StackOverflow's 2020 survey
Breakup of respondent age (from StackOverflow's 2020 survey

When Obvious started hiring, our funnel looked similar. And as you might expect from a relatively objective hiring process that tests skills, our outcomes continued to look similar. We were hiring "people like us", or men between the ages of 20-30. To change our team makeup would mean applying different hiring standards to underrepresented groups, which we did not want to do.

A typical hiring funnel
A typical hiring funnel

Instead, the logical way to work would be to change the demographics of our funnel. We actively reached out to make the "top" of our hiring funnel (or TOFU, to use HR jargon) more representative of the world that we exist in. Et voila, we got to an outcome where we were able to build a more representative and diverse team.

A hiring funnel after active effort to be more inclusive
A hiring funnel after active effort to be more inclusive

What we do to increase the TOFU

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Note: A precondition for any of this to work is to actively build and promote an inclusive culture (more here) and publicly talk about it through events and meetups, and have it visible on your website or playbook.

Here's how we're trying to increase the TOFU:

  1. Remove gendered language within our job postings. Textio, for instance, is a very useful tool.
  2. Actively publish and promote job posts to community groups that were either centered around or had better than average gender diversity (eg: WomenDroid, WomenWhoDesign, GirlsThatJavascript etc).
  3. Actively encourage underrepresented candidates to apply. We had our interns call every woman who applied and encourage them to complete assignments or address questions or reservations they may have had about us as a company.

The results so far

Surprisingly, this just... works. We have managed to move our team from being a homogeneous, all-male to one that looks a little bit more representative of the real world. We now continue to challenge ourselves to go deeper into what diversity means, and look at it along other axes, including age, caste, religion and geography.

Design Hiring