Who gets invited to the party?

It should be obvious to everyone at this point that the tech industry has a diversity problem. Lots of folks have written about this, but one of my favorite blog post on the matter is written by Dan Luu. In it, he links to a Twitter thread where Roger Dickey expresses his “unpopular opinion” that hiring women/minorities is hard because there is a pipeline problem. Basically, Roger thinks that there are not enough women or people of color graduating from STEM programs, so there aren’t enough of them starting companies to fund or entering the candidate pool to hire. Here’s my favorite response:

There’s a pervasive bias in who the industry hires, refers, and invites to parties…

There’s a pervasive bias in who the industry hires, refers, and invites to parties…

Let me tell you a story.

I used to work for a company (let’s call it Hooli), where recruiters would go on tour to various universities each fall with the hopes of recruiting some shiny new college grads. At some point they were going to colleges in my home state of North Carolina to do the usual: give some presentations, get the students excited about Hooli’s mission, something about #impact and whatnot. One of the colleges on the itinerary was North Carolina A&T, a historically black college/university, and a damn good one. Since I was one of only 3 black engineers in the Hooli office and a Carolina Boy, the recruiting team insisted that I accompany them on this leg of the tour. Free trip to NC? Count me in.

The first recruiting event was for Duke/UNC students and consisted of a 1-hour presentation which covered life at Hooli, various teams that exist, what the interview process is like, how to prepare for the interview, and then a slide containing the recruiter’s contact info. This was then followed by a 1.5 hour break-out session where the students formed small (~5 person) groups and then had a chance to ask a Hooli engineer at their table anything they want over a catered dinner. This was also a way for them to make a good impression before we collected all of their resumes, marked which ones seemed the most impressive, and invited half of them to dinner at a fancy restaurant the next evening. Wow, talk about rolling out the red carpet!

The second recruiting event was the following afternoon at NC A&T. Recruiters put out the catering leftovers from the previous night and rushed through a shortened (30 minute) version of the previous night’s presentation. There were no break-out tables, no resume collection, no recruiter contact details... I personally ordered a bunch of pizzas because nobody thought that this was a problem. I was livid. After the pizzas arrived, recruiters handed out some Hooli swag, encouraged everyone to apply, and packed up so that everyone could make the 2-hour drive back to Durham in time for a second dinner with the other group of students.

Sit with that for a moment.

The demographics of the first group of students reflected pretty much what you’d expect to find in your typical Silicon Valley tech company. Those were the people that received all of the attention and all of the advantages on this trip.

  • The Duke/UNC events were in the evening, so nobody had to miss class to attend. Many of the A&T students couldn’t attend the entire event because it was in the middle of the day and they had class.
  • The Duke/UNC students had multiple chances to talk with us in small groups. They received more information about the interview process, what to study, and Hooli via the extended presentation. They also had chances to impress us and elaborate on their backgrounds and experience. The A&T students barely got a chance to introduce themselves before Hooli packed up and left for a second dinner with the other group.
  • The A&T students were given leftover food from the night before. Fuck. What kind of message do you think this sends? Would you feel encouraged to apply for a job or internship if that’s how a company’s recruiters treated you?

I’m sure that the NC A&T event was just so Hooli could check some “diversity recruitment” box. It’s apparent that they didn’t actually take those students seriously. By showing more attention to the UNC/Duke students and half-assing the event at NC A&T, those A&T students were put at a disadvantage. Why? Did Hooli recruiters think that they wouldn’t pass the hiring bar?

This is the kind of nonsense women and people of color are going through. No wonder there’s a lack of diversity when the deck is stacked against them like this. Pipeline problem, my ass.

Racism is real and bias is persistent.

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