As a non-profit career services organization working closely with emerging talent, diversity and inclusion in recruitment is a core part of Startuplifers’ values and strategies. We are committed to creating an equal job market for everyone. However, when trying to implement the best D&I practices there are problems we face on a daily basis. Since waiting around for meta-level structural changes is not an option, we believe in fighting the good fight from the top-down and bottom-up. 

Therefore, we’ve resorted to creating awareness among the startups and other partners we work with, as well as empowering our talent pool. Most importantly, we pay extra attention to how and what we say and do, and call out the biases we carry as recruiters. Meanwhile, we recognize wholeheartedly that we are not experts in D&I and may not be able to make a dent in the wider scale of this issue. However, we will never stop trying. So here are some of the everyday challenges we face when promoting D&I in recruitment, and what we’re doing to overcome them.

Hugely disproportionate male to female ratio

At the moment the Startuplifers talent pool and alumni community are made up of lot more men than women. The talents are divided into 3 focus areas, namely tech, design and business. In the tech area the proportions are even more skewed with male candidates dominating the board all round. We have tracked this disproportion all the way back to universities particularly in the fields of computer science and engineering. However, passing on the problem to someone before or after us in the talent pipeline is not good enough. The reality is there are very few female candidates that come our way, and we are working hard to change that.

We’re doing several things to tackle this problem at the moment. First and foremost, we create awareness among women in tech about the opportunities available, the rewards, and tips to success. Since we focus mainly on connecting talent with Silicon Valley startups, we also discuss openly what it’s like to be a woman in tech in the Valley. Secondly, we put a spotlight on female role models who’ve walked this road before. We know that seeing and talking to amazing women who kicked butt, will give confidence to many more looking to take the leap. Finally, we try to be as inclusive as possible in the way we speak and look as a company. We try to appeal to everyone with the messages we send out, the content we create, and the positions we advertise. It’s an ongoing process but now we know what to watch out for.

Disparity in salary expectations

Salaries can vary a lot, particularly depending on the experience level, education qualifications, and the industry. Therefore, different candidates have different salary expectations and that’s quite natural. For instance, I know for a fact that will not match what a teenage professional e-sport player earns. However, the harsh truth is female candidates as well as those from minority groups ask for much less, compared to their native male counterparts. I once interviewed a native male candidate and a foreign male candidate on the same day. Both are in the data science field with similar experiences. However, their salary requests were 4000€ apart, and that is a lot. Candidates from minority groups often feel they are at a disadvantage in terms of their language competency, social status, immigration requirements, and so forth. They compensate for this by settling for lower salaries.

How do we overcome this? Mainly by initiating a discussion. Whenever we hear a salary request lower than the national average we talk to the candidate about it. We inform them about the competitive salaries they can demand, and help them to see the qualifications, experience, and skills they have to deserve that price. We also have channels where candidates can discuss salary offers openly with seasoned alumni to investigate if the offer is fair. Moreover, as opposed to settling for the initial offer we encourage candidates to negotiate their salary in a reasonable way. We strongly advocate for our talents to be fairly compensated. Therefore, we avoid working with startups who’re unwilling to pay competitive salary packages.

Disregarding foreign experience

International students and graduates who are currently studying or have received their degrees from Finnish and Swedish universities make up a considerable proportion of the Startuplifers talent pool. Many of them have extensive work experience from their home countries. Unfortunately, some employers disregard experiences obtained outside of the Nordics, Europe, or the Western world, for the lack of a better description. Sometimes they go as far as to name certain countries and say ‘we don’t take into account experiences someone has received from X and Y’. As a result, we see highly experienced candidates leaving out years of experience, and appearing extremely amateurs on paper.

Step number one is always to have an open discussion with the employers. This line of thinking is very discriminatory and we do not condone it. As long as candidates provide true and accurate information each one of them must be assessed fairly and equally. On the other hand, we work together with candidates to craft their employment history in a constructive way. We ask them to describe concretely the tasks they carried out, tools and technologies used, and where possible elaborate briefly on the company and/or project. The aim is to highlight the similarities between the responsibilities and how transferable the knowledge and skills are, irrespective of the location where they were carried out and developed.

Unconscious bias of hiring managers

We all carry certain biases. Some more than others. Often in recruitment people are more inclined to hire those who resemble them. For instance, if the hiring manager is from the same university or country, speaks the same language, looks or dresses similarly to a candidate, he or she might feel a sense of familiarity, a connection, loyalty, or feelings of trust. This is problematic. To begin with, none of these are criteria to assess how well the said candidate will fit in nor perform in the specific role they are being considered for. Secondly, it creates quite an uneven playing field for the rest of the candidates who may be equally or more qualified, but lack such similarities.

This is one of the hardest challenges we’re trying to overcome at present. It’s quite difficult to identify and call out these biases because they’re often subtle and hidden deep inside. Nevertheless, as the middle person between talent and companies, we keep a close eye on any indications of unconscious bias from the employer’s side. Simultaneously, we encourage candidates to leave out personal information such as pictures, age or birthday, marital or relationship status, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, nationality, etc, from job applications. We get them to put the focus on their qualifications, skills, past experiences, and motivations. After all, what matters most when hiring someone is not what they look like or where they come from, but rather what they will bring to the table and how they will continue to grow and evolve.

If you have feedback, comments, tips or resources you’d like to share with us on D&I in recruitment or this article please contact us. We’d love to hear from you.