Recruiting minorities and women in STEM fields is a struggle for most companies. The commonly cited obstacle is the ‘pipeline problem’: there are fewer women and minority candidates coming out of college with STEM degrees, and that translates into lower numbers of diverse hires. And while the pipeline is indeed a contributing factor to the problem, its influence on diversity hiring is exaggerated—to the point where citing it should be considered an excuse. Competitors won’t be put off by the pipeline problem any longer, so if you want the best candidates, you’ll need to change your tune. There are quite a few more factors at play that serve as obstacles to women and minority candidates, and recruiters need to examine the bias in their companies’ hiring processes in order to address them.

The Pipeline is Not the Problem

A recent report by the New York Times points out that African American and Hispanic candidates with tech degrees are much less likely to go into STEM careers upon graduating compared to their Caucasian and Asian counterparts. So why are these capable recruits opting out? The answer is multifaceted. For one, STEM recruiters aren’t going to places where minority students go to network and seek jobs. Other factors can be explained by candidates being discouraged because they see how few minorities currently work in the field or because the recruiting process is conducted against their favor.

The disadvantages can even begin as early as the job posting. There’s evidence that unintentionally using gendered language in job descriptions discourages women from applying for STEM positions.

If women or minorities get as far as submitting résumés, numerous studies now show that when a female name1 or a name that sounds like it might belong to an African American2 is attached to a résumé, it is less likely to be chosen by a STEM recruiter than if it has a name that is typically assigned to a male or white applicant, even if every other detail on the résumé is exactly the same.

If diverse candidates get as far as an interview, the chips continue to stack against them because of the way many STEM interviews are conducted. Whiteboard interviews, which have been a common practice for hiring programmers and engineers, are another way that minorities and female candidates are disadvantaged. Having faced discriminatory scrutiny from peers, these groups are accustomed to only showing completed work with correct answers. A whiteboard interview is meant to scrutinize a thought process and not the finished solution—exactly the opposite of how minority groups have been socialized to perform in the tech field.

Obstacles Persist After Candidates are Hired

Once hired, the likelihood that a female or minority employee stays in the STEM field diminishes over time at a rate much faster than Caucasian or Asian male employees. And there is a troubling list of reasons why. “Diversity and Inclusion” has two parts, but many employers put much less effort into supporting the “inclusion” half of the equation. Women and minorities are less likely to get credit for their ideas They’re less likely to be given raises, in part because their contribution is not recognized as their own, and they’re less likely to be put in decision-making positions. They leave for better opportunities when they realize their chances of career mobility are diminished.

Creating Change: How Can You Help?

Diversity hiring in STEM requires a long-term strategy. Stay tuned for the second half of this series, where we’ll provide an actionable list of ways to bridge the diversity gap in your STEM recruitment strategy. Together, we can be part of the solution.

Want to share your perspective? Drop us a line at conversations@jwt.com.

 

Citations:
1 – http://www.pnas.org/content/109/41/16474.abstract
2 – http://www.nber.org/papers/w9873.pdf

Olivia Landau lends expert knowledge and technical fluency on digital best practices, quality assurance, social media, knowledge sharing, email marketing, and popular internet culture.