sf.citi hosted our trademark Breaking Into Tech event for the fourth year in a row, this time focusing on how companies can remove barriers to tech hiring. As always, we organized a speed networking session to connect job seekers of all ages and backgrounds with seasoned employees at San Francisco’s top tech companies. Unlike previous Breaking Into Tech events, however, we turned our attention to employers, exploring ways companies can make tech hiring more equitable—especially for newcomers to the industry.
Expanding access to jobs within the tech industry is especially critical when we consider the future of work. Lisa Countryman-Quiroz, CEO of workforce development nonprofit Jewish Vocational Services (JVS), noted that tech was one of the few industries to grow during the COVID-19 pandemic. If anything, the pandemic highlighted just how important tech has become in our everyday lives, powering our governments, our schools, and most of our social interactions for the past 14 months. The job landscape reflects this tech-forward trend with the Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting tech jobs to increase by 11 percent in the decade—far outpacing other industries.
During the pandemic, tech has been the only sector in the Bay Area to have experienced growth and has, in fact, added jobs. As we look to the future, we know this is only going to increase. Tech is going to be the major source of growth in opportunities.
—Lisa Countryman-Quiroz, CEO, Jewish Vocational Services (JVS)
And though tech is known for disruption, it hasn’t exactly applied that same spirit to its hiring processes. Ironically, some of the best-known tech founders never graduated from college, including Bill Gates, Co-Founder of Microsoft, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, and Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter. Despite these non-traditional success stories, tech hiring continues to favor “paper-perfect” candidates. By requiring a four-year college degree (if not a master’s degree) or years of experience at another tech company to secure an initial interview, businesses too often eliminate a huge swath of potential candidates and talent.
Fortunately, some tech companies are working to change that.
PRIORITIZING EQUITY IN TECH HIRING
On April 27, sf.citi kicked off our 2021 Breaking Into Tech week with a conversation featuring leaders at three tech companies—Okta, Slack, and Workday—that are pioneering more equitable approaches to hiring. They shared innovative ways to reimagine tech hiring, what that looks like in practice, and how other companies can do the same.
Learn more about equitable tech hiring practices by watching our conversation with Tony Bush of Okta, Deepti Rohatgi of Slack, and Jacqueline Green of Workday, below.
Seek Out Talent in Diverse Places
One of the greatest upsides to the pandemic-accelerated shift to remote work is the opportunity to attract and hire talent beyond Silicon Valley. Tony Bush, Senior Director of Recruiting, Product, and Technology at Okta, is responsible for recruiting Okta’s team of technologists, product managers, and product marketers. He explained that Okta was quick to embrace remote work, in part because it allows the company to reach parts of the country that “not only have technical talent, but also have diverse communities.” Okta is now proactively posting jobs and recruiting in cities not seen as traditional tech hubs like Atlanta, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.
Slack has taken an even more audacious approach to seeking out talent in unique places. In 2018, Deepti Rohatgi, Head of Slack for Good and Public Affairs at Slack, launched a tech apprenticeship program called Next Chapter to help formerly incarcerated individuals find work and succeed in tech. Rohatgi explained that the impetus for Next Chapter came after she accompanied Slack’s CEO, Stewart Butterfield, and a few other team members on a visit to San Quentin State Prison just north of San Francisco. There, they met participants of The Last Mile, a nonprofit program that offers incarcerated individuals business and technology training. “We were just blown away by the talent we saw,” said Rohatgi. This discovery of a little-known talent pool culminated in the creation of Next Chapter, which recently expanded to include Dropbox and Zoom.
Rethink Four-Year College Degree Requirements
Jacqueline Green, Senior Director of Diversity Talent Acquisition and Internal Mobility at Workday, described the power of skills-first hiring in advancing equity. Workday, for example, scrutinizes all of its open requisitions to ensure it’s hiring for skills rather than degrees. Workday actually drops college degree requirements wherever possible. Encouragingly, Green noted that the focus on skills versus educational degrees is slowly but surely gaining popularity among other companies as well. Tony Bush of Okta added that assessing for skills is one of the most basic ways to reduce bias in the hiring process.
If you can identify the skills required for the role, make sure everyone is aligned on what great looks like, and assess those skills, that’s how you’re going to take bias out.
—Tony Bush, Okta
Partner with Equity Experts
Each of the tech leaders we spoke to highlighted the importance of turning to experts outside of their companies when trying to institutionalize equity across their workforces. To diversify its tech talent pipeline, Okta has partnered with organizations like AfroTech, the National Black Society of Engineers (NSBE), the Hidden Genius Project, and Qualigence.
And Workday has teamed up with workforce development providers such as JVS, Year Up, and Upwardly Global to scale its Opportunity Onramps programs, which offer training, internships, and job opportunities for nontraditional candidates from diverse backgrounds. These partner organizations are so successful at upskilling people and preparing them for the modern workforce, in fact, that Workday committed to hiring 20 percent of its early to mid-career full-time roles with Opportunity Onramps hires by 2023.
While all of our speakers acknowledged there’s much more to be done on making tech hiring more equitable, these initial steps and examples offer a starting point for other tech employers.
BREAKING INTO TECH NETWORKING TESTIMONIALS
We followed our conversation about equity and tech hiring with a virtual speed networking session on April 29. In true Breaking Into Tech tradition, job seekers from all backgrounds talked to and learned from current tech employees at sf.citi member companies, including Facebook, Funding Circle, NextRoll, Okta, Salesforce, Twitter, and more. Although not quite the same as our in-person Breaking Into Tech events, the experience was gratifying for job seekers and mentors alike.
Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed attending this event. Very helpful to meeting folks in tech that are so open to sharing insights. I really hope there will be more events like these. Thanks for coordinating such a great event.
—Job Seeker, Breaking Into Tech 2021