Accelerating Diversity In Tech: Q&A with Project Include’s Y-Vonne Hutchinson

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Team member Y-Vonne Hutchinson shares how Project Include’s diversity and inclusion resources help tech leaders who say “I don’t know where to start.”

Project Include's team: Erica Baker, Ellen Pao, Tracy Chou, Y-Vonne Hutchinson, bethanye McKinney Blount, Freada Kapor Klein, and Laura I. Gómez. Missing is Susan Wu.

Project Include founding team members Erica Baker, Ellen Pao, Tracy Chou, Y-Vonne Hutchinson, bethanye McKinney Blount, Freada Kapor Klein, and Laura I. Gómez. Missing is Susan Wu. Image: Project Include

Y-Vonne Hutchinson is the founder of diversity solutions firm ReadySet and a founding team member of Project Include, a non-profit dedicated to increasing diversity and inclusion in the technology industry. We spoke on the phone about the practical changes employers can make to build diverse teams and inclusive workplaces.

“In order for a company to be truly inclusive, it has to be integrated into all aspects of what they do.”

What is Project Include, and why was it started?

Project Include was launched by Ellen Pao to increase inclusion and diversity in tech. The founding team is comprised of eight women who collectively have about 150 years of experience in the industry, across all sorts of functions. We really wanted to come out with a comprehensive approach to diversity and inclusion that touched all areas of the business and was easily implementable. We had heard from lots of CEOs saying “I don’t know where to start.” So we compiled all of these great resources that already existed, created some of our own and put them into a centralized repository so that people could go there and figure out what they need to do.

Why should the values of inclusion, comprehensiveness, and accountability shape solutions to diversity problems?

These values really embody the best practices:

Inclusivity: Diversity initiatives tend to fail when they don’t cover enough of the population. Gender is a huge issue, but so is race, and so are age and ability. These are all emerging as issues and identities that are marginalized in tech.

Comprehensiveness: Diversity and inclusion should touch all parts of your business. A lot of companies just focus on hiring, and then they’ll get people in the door and those people won’t succeed because the environment itself is not inclusive. We advocate for companies to do both: build an inclusive culture while working to diversify your workforce.

Accountability: When there isn’t executive-level buy-in, diversity initiatives aren’t sustainable. There are a lot of competing priorities in tech: growth, product, and all sorts of stuff. It’s really easy to lose sight of the diversity issue, to think of it as just a moral question and not a business one. Often it will be delegated to people within companies who don’t have power to make the sweeping institutional changes that might be necessary for a successful initiative. When there is no institutional accountability, it diversity falls to the wayside.

How do benefits plans and work/life balance policies influence inclusion?

To start, it’s important to acknowledge that throughout the hiring process your company communicates its attitude towards inclusion. Candidates are smart – they will look for these messages. For instance, a candidate will go on a company’s website and see that it’s all guys and think, “Okay, this is not an environment where I can succeed.”

It’s the same with benefits. If someone who’s interested in having children feels uncomfortable asking about maternity leave, or, someone asks about maternity leave and it’s apparent the company hasn’t even thought of it, that tends to indicate the environment is less inclusive than maybe the people working at the company would think.

If your company is committed to inclusion and attracting diverse candidates, it’s really important to look at things like the benefits package you offer. Make sure that it reflects that inclusive ethos and make sure that it’s going to attract the kind of people you want to but that you might not traditionally be thinking about.

How can interview training help make the interview process more inclusive? What does it need to include to do that?

Interview training is a great idea because you’re dealing with people during the hiring process. Those people will have biases, and it’s really important to mitigate those as much as possible. Training should cover how you structure an interview, how to structure questions, how to formulate predetermined questions, how to score people, what the scorecard should look like, how to talk about candidates – all those areas. I also recommend training on assessments that we don’t traditionally look at, such as distance traveled.

While culture fit has been falling out of favor, particularly when thinking about diversity and inclusion, training on values and values alignment is really important. Your company’s core values should be incorporated into all your processes, including the hiring process, and recruiters and hiring managers should be able to articulate how those qualities individually apply to candidates.

“Throughout the hiring process your company communicates its attitude towards inclusion. Candidates are smart – they will look for these messages.”

Is diversity recruiting every recruiter’s job, or should companies have dedicated diversity recruiters?

I think it’s every recruiter’s job. Sometimes we think about diversity as an add-on. In order for a company to be truly inclusive, it has to be integrated into all aspects of what they do. When you have diversity recruiters, people who specifically bring in diverse candidates, there is a big danger that those candidates are going to be automatically labeled as the “diversity hire”. They become the other, outside the norm. That can impact even successful candidates as they progress through their careers at your company. All recruiters should be trained on how to expand their hiring pools, and all people working in people ops and HR should be trained on how to build more inclusive workforces. It needs to be integrated into the core of the team and not considered a separate component.

Does location or region affect how a company’s approach to diversity and inclusion?

Yeah, absolutely. Companies need to think about their local talent pool. They need to acknowledge their business isn’t built in a vacuum. One of the things that has particularly detrimental to San Francisco and Oakland-based companies is that we’re seeing a decline in diverse populations in this area. So recruiting locally is even more of a challenge. Even where there are diverse populations, there may be structures in place that prevent them from fully accessing jobs and opportunities.

What role can technology play in mitigating bias in recruitment and hiring?

Technology isn’t a panacea. Tools need to be implemented as part of a broader program. That being said, there are some great workforce solutions out there that have inclusion in mind:

  • Atipica, which uses data and algorithmic matching to reduce bias,
  •, which facilitates anonymous technical interviews,
  • Blendoor, a “blind recruiting” app, and
  • Unitive, which helps write inclusive job descriptions and create accountability during interviews.

My Project Include colleague Freada Kapor Klein’s VC firm Kapor Capital also has a huge portfolio of people ops technologies – all really good. I definitely recommend checking them out as a resource.

What’s the first step companies should take to improve the diversity and inclusiveness of their teams?

The very first step is acknowledging there is an issue, and doing so at the executive leadership level – the CEO. Not just framing it in terms of unconscious bias, but saying, “we as a company need to be more diverse, this is a priority, and we need to fold it into our core mission.” Once that happens, you can turn towards your team and look to outside resources to figure out exactly what that process should be.

Companies that want to make some of these changes should check out Project Include and sign up for our Startup Include or VC Include programs, which will help you identify areas of challenge and track progress. And companies looking to implement practices and training that will help make their teams more inclusive, My company ReadySet can support you. I’m happy to help.

Explore Project Include’s recommendations and case studies, and sign up to join its Startup Include and VC Include programs.

Christian De Pape, Recruiting Social’s Head of Marketing and Content
About the author

Christian De Pape is the head of brand experience at Recruiting Social. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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