It wasn’t difficult for Byte Back CEO Elizabeth Lindsay to find reasons why corporate companies should be considering diversity in their hiring practices: “We’ve known for years that diverse companies perform better – they outperform companies that are more monolithic in their identity. We know that the cashflow of diverse companies is 2.3 times higher than the cashflow of those that aren’t diverse…diverse companies are 70% more likely to capture new market (than organizations that do not actively seek diverse talent).”
Despite this, inequity in the workforce is evident, particularly when it comes to those who have unconventional backgrounds. Byte Back recently hosted a panel on the importance of investing in non-traditional job applicants called “Breaking the Mold: Why Companies Should Rethink the Ideal Candidate.” While these are not the only barriers to employment individuals face today, for the purposes of this discussion, a “non-traditional” job applicant in the tech field is defined as someone who may not have a four-year academic degree, has little to no experience working in the tech field, is of working age, and/or is a person of color.
When it comes to contemporary hiring practices, Elizabeth argued the main issue is that companies find themselves “stuck in an old way of defining what talent is,” which causes many individuals with non-traditional backgrounds to go by unnoticed in the applicant pool. This extends to the stigma non-traditional job seekers may experience while competing for jobs in markets like Washington, DC: Melissa Daley, founder and CEO of ORCA Intelligence, shared that she has seen employers fear those with non-traditional backgrounds may not be able to hold security clearance, which is critical for government-related work. Employers also fear these individuals may not have had enough experience with the ever-changing nature of technology if applicants do not have what they determine is enough work experience on their resumes.
To properly address the gaps in traditional hiring practices, companies should start at the beginning: with the job description, argues Kathie Bailey, HR Senior Manager at Applied Information Services. She suggests adding “Non-traditional candidates are encouraged to apply” to job listings and highlighting employees with non-traditional backgrounds on company career pages. Beyond the job description, she notes it’s also important to retrain interviewers on what the “perfect candidate” actually looks like – rather than focusing on a list of specific qualifications, it’s important to look for signs of emotional intelligence, a positive attitude, and a willingness to learn. These are the skills that make candidates competitive in today’s workforce, particularly as technology continues to change at a rapid pace.
Jasmine Isaac, an IT Support Technician and Byte Back alumna, can speak to how soft skills like these have helped her succeed in the tech industry. Though she always wanted to work in tech, Jasmine knew a four-year college program wasn’t for her. She enrolled at Byte Back and graduated with certification, but found most entry-level positions had “Master’s Degree or 3 years experience” listed in the qualifications. With the help of a job recruiter, Jasmine found a job, and quickly learned that her education at Byte Back in some ways put her ahead of her colleagues. “(Byte Back) teaches you how to be an IT Professional — not just a curriculum to pass, but how to do the job.” The additional skills she developed in troubleshooting helped her establish herself as a resource in her current position, as employees at high levels often seek her out for assistance.
Jasmine’s success story is one many employees with unconventional educational backgrounds share, but in order to continue bridging the gap between employers and untraditional candidates, the work ultimately falls on the employers. In order to properly address inequity in the workplace (and in this country), companies must work actively to ensure their workforce is a true representation of this country’s population and call for diversity at all levels. “At the end of the day, it’s a human rights issue,” argued Melissa. She calls on all employers to ask themselves: What are you doing at your organization to accept people – of all backgrounds and identities – and how are you ensuring they have the ability to succeed in their roles once hired?
Hear more from our panel on this important topic: