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Diversity and Inclusion: One of the Best Practices for Changing Your Work Culture

Diversity
Hiring
Cultural Differences

26 May, 2021

Kiranbir Sodhia
Kiranbir Sodhia

Director of Software Development Engineering at Microsoft

Kiranbir Sodhia, Director of Software Development Engineering at Microsoft, speaks about the importance of bringing diversity as a topmost priority for workplaces today.

Problem

I originally started at Microsoft building a team of three. When you have a small team and need to get work done, you don't think your impact on diversity will be a big deal. One of my hires was a diverse male. Great I thought, I'm at 33% diversity. However, I really didn't care because I thought I was such a small part of the equation.

Then another group was merged into my team. It was composed of 4 males. Two years later, another group was merged into my org and I realized I now had a team of 15 men and not a single woman. When everybody thinks their impact is small, it ends up scaling to an impact of 0.

While the general thought of the homogeneity of my team was on the back of my mind, it didn't really kick me in the face until I was interviewing a female new grad. She answered all of our questions perfectly, and when I wrapped up the day finalizing my chat with this candidate, I asked her about her experience. She bluntly said she was interviewed only by males, and she asked if she would be the first female on the team. She liked our team's work, but she ended up moving in another direction.

Actions taken

I had a chat with my team and we all were taken aback at the effect our team's composition had on attracting talent. We all agreed that we wouldn't want our lack of diversity to ever be a hurdle for any talented candidate.

We all know that the pipeline isn't fair from the get go including university graduates. However, universities are doing their part and we are seeing more equality from schools like Cornell. Other places are doing their part, and we also don't want to miss out on talent by not doing our part.

So we started ensuring we were better with our interview process, and we found a lot of nuances along the way. The first being that in an open position, we would potentially receive 50 qualified candidates and it was likely that we might find the ideal candidate in the first 5 interviews. If the first 45 candidates were all male, then we wouldn't even had a chance to interview a diverse candidate. While it's impossible to go through every application, let alone every qualified candidate, we did need to move diverse talent to the front of the line.

Now we were at a point where we were interviewing diverse candidates, however, they weren't cracking our interviews. We were stuck for a while, and then I watched a video from WEF, and they shared a statistic about how women in universities are always relegated to a PM role instead of development on group projects because women are better organizers. It really hit me that in many cases, a perceived advantage of someone diverse is used to relegate them to a role. Moreover, how is it fair of me to interview someone on a topic if they weren't offered the opportunity to work in that area, and why am I interviewing people only based on their experience, and not based on their abilities and potential.

So I did something I don't think I've ever seen in the industry and much to my team's chagrin. I changed our interview process where the initial phone screen was to gauge interest. Followed by this, I would share the topics that I would be asking about in the next technical phone screen. This is how I leveled the playing field in that if someone knew these topics, they had a head start. However, if they didn't, I could now gauge their ability to learn something new. That's what work is. It's a little about what we did, but a lot more about what we can do.

We saw a lot of significant impact in that our underrepresented candidates were cracking our interviews, and it even helped filter out all of our unqualified candidates across the board. We were finally hiring more underrepresented individuals.

Following this, we didn't hide our lack of diversity. We made it clear to our underrepresented talent that we were trying to do a better job, we are learning, and we would need their help. Because we were open and honest, we built a great culture on our team. That was an investment we made with great returns. Since then, our underrepresented talent spoke on behalf of our entire team and attracted even more talent. We've seen a growth of 0 to now 30% to even 50% on some teams.

This is a constant journey for us and we are still learning, but bringing in diverse individuals have also brought diverse experiences and thoughts, and we are seeing those dividends four years later.

Lessons learned

  • The diverse thoughts bring in diverse expertise. They attract even more talent, and thus, it is an investment with dividends. For instance, the first two women in my team brought in the next three women. It is something that naturally builds on itself.
  • Your team is never too small that you cannot care about diversity. When everybody has the same mentality, it scales to zero percent diversity.
  • You have to change your interview processes to get more diverse candidates. What we do now is screen people in instead of screening them out. Instead of filtering candidates out, try to make changes that would bring in candidates.

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