A few weeks ago, I asked a colleague at diconium, who has a passion for photography, to take a photo of my team. When looking at the picture, it became apparent to me how diverse my team is. I have long pushed for diversity, but seeing it reflected so clearly in the photo was still striking. Among ten people, we are from eight countries, five continents, seven different mother tongues, different genders, and sexual orientations. Although lacking in some dimensions of diversity, such as age and ability, this is the most diverse team I have been part of.
People of minority status or people belonging to lower parts of the power pyramid in the society face structural disadvantages throughout their professional lives; thus, finding a workplace that embraces diversity is critical. Many of those advocating for policies supporting diversity and inclusion—including myself—sometimes ground their arguments in the business impact of diversity, such as enhanced financial performance or greater workplace productivity. For example, one can cite studies from companies like McKinsey highlighting financial outperformance resulting from greater diversity.
However, the truth about why we care about diversity is not (or not only) that. It is because we would feel more comfortable and more safe working in diverse teams, that we advocate for more diversity and inclusion.
I have felt privileged over the past few years, working for employers where I did not feel discriminated against based on my race or gender. I have felt valued, and my managers recognized my work through promotions. Unfortunately, these experiences are not shared by many black people, people of color, women, people in the LGBTQIA+ community, or less-abled people, so I am cautious not to generalize. However, I want to emphasize that, even for me, having the privilege of working with the managers with sensitivities about racism and sexism, has felt much more different and more comfortable working with a diverse group of colleagues. This comfort includes becoming more visible, better seen, not being afraid of expressing one’s opinions, and mentally not being under constant pressure to prove ourselves and our skills. And when people feel more comfortable in their teams, not only might they like their work much better, but also the team spirit and collaboration horizons open.
I even heard from some German colleagues who have different work experiences in multiple companies that they felt more comfortable and had a better working atmosphere while working with more diverse teams. I think this is the beauty of acknowledging the differences between human beings. So, it is not just about our gender or skin color, but the different backgrounds, experiences, cultures, and mentalities we have. When people within a team approach a problem from different angles, and when people in a group feel comfortable talking and expressing themselves, we can better tackle problems and come up with better solutions.
I have never heard anyone saying, “No! Diversity is not good!” (at least never heard anyone expressing this openly), but then what happens that many teams and companies lack diversity? Especially in a big international city like Berlin? To answer that, I can tell you what we have done that our team is so diverse.
I am working in a fast-growing company: diconium data. Last year, as a senior data scientist, I was involved in the hiring of the data analysts and data scientists. Thanks to my manager then and his trust in me for letting me be involved in the selection of the candidates for the technical interviews and being part of interviews, I have learned several things. Since January this year, I am myself leading the Data Science and Data Analytics Team as a director and, therefore, involved in all the hiring processes of my team. Here I write several points that I learned from the processes and experiences of others in my network, which I think played an essential role in our hirings.
Let’s talk a bit about “culture”
“Cultural fit” often plays an essential role in the hiring processes of many organizations. Though “cultural fit” cannot be entirely overlooked, we should ask ourselves: if we don’t want to hire someone just because we think that person is not a good “cultural fit,” are we really thinking about team spirit and atmosphere, or are we trying to keep a certain homogeneity in our teams? For instance, consider a team of all younger employees without families and children who often go out for beers after work. Imagine a scenario where the team is interviewing a candidate who has children and may not have the ability to spend time with their colleagues after working hours. Suppose the team is reluctant to extend an offer. Are they really thinking about team spirit or just attempting to be culturally homogenous because they want to hang out with people like themselves? Admittedly, some of these situations are not easy to handle, but I am sure that most often, a homogenous team stays homogeneous and does not become diverse if we don’t think and talk about these points.
The whole hiring process matters
You must take care of the whole hiring process to have a diverse team. That includes the job ad for the open vacancy, how candidates get filtered by the recruiters, which interview steps you have, who the interviewers are, and what criteria you decide upon. For instance, studies suggest that women are likely to respond to certain job ads, depending how the text is being formulated. Other studies indicate that the chances of hiring diverse candidates increase with the diversity of the hiring team and interviewers. Also, we should not forget that we all have our own biases, and the only way to reduce the influence of our personal biases in the hiring process is to involve as many colleagues as possible in the hiring and listen to and respect all opinions.
Diversity does not come without compromise. If we care about diversity and are convinced that we want it for our team, then we should consider what we would like to compromise for having more diversity. For instance, if a company posts a job-ad written entirely in German stating it is looking for someone with 7+ years of experience in IT with long list of required technologies, having a bachelor/master’s in software engineering, then the chances are high that nearly all the applications will come from white German men. So, in this situation, if we want to attract other groups of people applying for this job, we should consider how and what we can compromise. Do we really need someone with fluency in German? Do we really need 7+ years of experience? Do we really care about what that person studied formally in the past if they have acquired the necessary and relevant skills? Or do we really need a person knowing all those technologies or we think some people knowing some of the technologies on the list can learn the others as well?
Most companies categorize their employees into different groups based on their experience level. These categories are reflected in job ads. Although I see the necessity of having these categories, I don’t believe in how most companies define junior/intermediate/senior levels. For example, if we are looking for someone as an intermediate data scientist and we define intermediate level, in a solid definition, as someone with 3-5 years of experience in data science, then we (or the recruiters) automatically filter any applicant with less or more experience. But the years of experience should not be the only deciding factor. Imagine a data scientist with a Ph.D. in physics or biology but less than two years of industry experience who switched to the field of data science from academia. Is this candidate less experienced than someone who studied computer science and entered the job market directly after their bachelor’s and has four years of experience as a data scientist? Or how about someone who worked 7 years in their home country but applied for an intermediate job because they have fewer opportunities in Germany and don’t know German?
We should, in my opinion, be more flexible in the definition of these categories, as the backgrounds and experiences of people can be very different from each other. The number of years of experience does not necessarily tell us if the person would be able to do their job or not.
All in all, diversity matters. For many of us. But diversity does not happen by itself. More diversity can happen through effort and commitment from everyone involved in the hiring process and needs a plan from the ones hiring. We learn how to improve our processes by sharing our experiences and talking about them. Here, I need to say a big “thank you” to the wonderful people from my team who have made lots of effort in our hiring process to improve it. If we look at that team photo now, a smile occurs on our faces because of your efforts.