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Tech companies are notoriously bad at hiring diverse talent, and bad turns to worse the further up the ladder you go. According to the 2014 Equal Employment Opportunity report, women represent only 31 percent of all employees and only 20 percent of executive roles at high-tech companies. The numbers are even more disappointing for African Americans, who represent 7 percent of the workforce and about 2 percent of executive roles, and Hispanics, who represent 8 percent of the workforce and 3 percent of executive positions.

Given these numbers, there's no denying tech has a diversity problem. But while statistics on gender and race gaps are often quoted, proposed solutions are rarer to find. A new company, interviewing.io, is changing that.

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The software startup, founded by MIT grad and former tech recruiter Aline Lerner, provides anonymous or "blind" practice interviews for tech candidates. If candidates perform well, they're given the opportunity to do a blind official interview with a number of tech companies, including Yelp, Amazon and Asana. While the company is still in beta mode, they've seen an average of 60 percent of candidates move forward to in-person interviews.

We caught up with Lerner to find out more about why she started the company and how she thinks tech companies can work on diversifying the talent pool.

Why did you start interviewing.io?

I'm an engineer by trade, and then I kind of fell into tech recruiting. As I was doing it, I realized that a lot of the people in recruiting didn't have technical skills. Instead, they had to rely on proxies—like where people went to school or where they'd worked before—to figure out if they were good candidates. To me, that's an extremely non-inclusive way of finding talent, because then you just end up taking the same 10 people as everybody else.

"In Silicon Valley, recruiters left to their own devices will bring in candidates that nobody can blame them for bringing in."

In Silicon Valley, recruiters left to their own devices will bring in candidates that nobody can blame them for bringing in—people that have experience working at Google or Facebook, or have gone to MIT or Stanford. If those candidates don't work out, no one is going to say they did a bad job, because of course those candidates looked good.

In what ways do you want interviewing.io to impact the recruiting process in the tech industry?

We hope to bring more and more companies around to the idea that they don't have to go by the same few signals [to find good candidates], and that they can end up with a much more diverse and potentially better-suited work base than the status quo. By the same token, we want to empower candidates—no matter who they are—to get a direct line to companies where they want to work without having to jump through a bunch of hoops or know somebody who works there.

How can companies try to provide a more fair process for all candidates?

You can't do it all at once. I would encourage companies to look beyond the resume, if possible. That's a good place to start. Instead of asking people to submit a resume, some companies will ask them to write about something cool they've done recently. That has been really effective as a hiring tool.

If you must use resumes, look for aberrations. Look for people who have done more than you would expect, given the constraints that they were operating under.

What else can be done to help diversify largely homogenous industries?

I think a lot of what needs to happen is outside the scope of hiring. I think that we need to encourage kids to get into computer science. Another thing we've seen on our platform is that after a bad interview, women quit and don't come back roughly 10 times more than men. It's crazy. We can encourage women to dust themselves off and try again—because everyone does poorly in their first few interviews. It's about reframing how people think about making mistakes and, of course, getting people who don't have access to certain resources better access to those resources.

"We're trying to make things meritocratic, but you can't really have a meritocracy unless there is a level playing field, and I think that anybody who thinks there is one is insane."

I think we're doing an important thing at [interviewing.io], but without all of these other pieces in place, we're not going to have success. We're trying to make things meritocratic, but you can't really have a meritocracy unless there is a level playing field, and I think that anybody who thinks there is one is insane.

Photo: Twenty20