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Tales from the hiring panel.

It’s shocking this needs to be said again, but DEI is vital for your company, your business, and your workers:

“Companies with above-average diversity produced a greater proportion of revenue from innovation (45% of total) than from companies with below average diversity (26%).” — Forbes, 2020

But in an industry that prides itself on being filled with disruptors and innovators, tech seems to be failing on the diversity fronthard.

Thousands of exceptional designers are currently searching for their next role with pervasive layoffs.

In this employer’s market, there’s no time like the present to interrogate your recruitment and hiring strategies so that every role has a diverse and large pipeline.

There’s no simple fix, but if your organization wants to be leaders in hiring (and retaining) diverse design talent, they should consider these widely-held myths in our industry:

  1. It’s a pipeline problem
  2. It’s not my problem
  3. There’s nothing we can do
  4. It’s a one time effort
  5. You have to find people who have “done it before”
  6. Great designers all have the same skillset
  7. Your work stops once they get in the door

Myth 1: It’s a pipeline problem

As hiring managers and recruiters, these factors are often prioritized when considering candidates for an open role:

  • Years of experience
  • Senior title
  • Big names in tech
  • Open to hybrid, on-site

Seems harmless, right? But let’s understand the structural and systemic factors at play here:

Emojis of white man and woman, with label “They only meet 6 out of 10 of the requirements for the role but they have potential.” Emojis of multi-ethnicity men and women, disability, rainbow, trans flag, brain with label “They meet most but not all of the requirements. We need to continue the search.” “So, is this a pipeline problem or a bias problem?” credit Arthur Chan

+Years of experience

UX, PD roles are relatively new in our industry. Those lucky enough to get into it early-on needed: access, opportunity, sponsorship.

+Senior title

Companies (especially the big ones) have difficulty retaining women and POC talent.

People of color (POC) face obstacles in promotion. For example, Lean In and McKinsey’s annual Women in the Workplace report found that 55% of Black women leaders have had their judgment questioned in their area of expertise (vs. 39% of women leaders overall), and the same percentage of Black women leaders worry they’ll be penalized for mistakes.

+Big names in tech

Tech companies have historically lacked diversity.

+Open to hybrid, onsite

Many metropolitan cities have become more expensive and less diverse and segregated.

Any one of these requirements alone limits your talent pool. Add these requirements together and it’s no surprise your hiring pipeline lacks diversity.

Maybe it’s not a pipeline, but a fitting problem?

“The fitting problem” filters diverse talent out of your pipeline by screening candidates based on qualifications with systemic issues:

Multi-ethnicity, disability, trans, rainbow flags on top of a water pipe. Labels on pipe fittings (pieces connecting curves of pipe) with “years of experience, big names in tech, senior title, hybrid, office-centric policies”. Pipe output equals emojis of white men and women. Credit: Micah Bennett
“The fitting problem”

Myth 2: It’s not my problem

We’ve all seen it: the one person of color on staff is tapped for all the coffee chats, website images and company blogs. The job of sourcing, attracting and hiring diverse talent often falls on the people who already put in the most emotional labor in their day to day jobs as a minority in the workplace.

DEI is not just the responsibility of ERGs, your DEI leadership team (if your org still has one) and grassroots efforts from your employees.

As a hiring manager, it should be one of your top priorities as a leader.

As design leaders at Asana, my colleague Catt Small and I set out to approach this issue as a design problem that everyone in our organization could have a hand in solving. We asked:

How might we develop innovative methods in increasing the representation of Black and Latine folks on the design team?

To start our work, we distributed a survey to the entire design team to solicit anonymous feedback on our current design recruitment & hiring processes.

A surprising number of interviewers and hiring managers were unsure what the blockers were and were unaware what we were currently doing to improve.

Some sited the typical tactics organizations use to attract inclusive talent:

  • A great culture
  • DEI training
  • ERGs

And they identified the following blockers:

  • Not seeing Black & Latine candidates onsite (the pipeline)
  • Same tired referral sources
  • Lack of investment and prioritization (or lack of awareness of that prioritization)

It was no surprise many felt unsure where to start in improving our hiring processes — we didn’t yet understand the current pains and opportunities.

Myth 3: There’s nothing we can do

Tackling this like a design problem, we mapped the recruiting and hiring process with the entire design leadership and recruitment team. This was illuminating for many of us, de-mystifying some of the many omni-channel steps that lead to a hire. Each step held the possibility of bias or sending red or green flags to our talent.

Not surprisingly, we identified that 80% of the pain lay in getting the candidate to onsite.

Journey map of the hiring process with link to template.
Create your own map using this template

Now that we had a detailed account of the pains and gains in our current process, we ideated on opportunities and new methods to attract more talent:

Impact/effort matrix of opportunities along the hiring journey to increase DEI.

Some ideas that were fruitful:

  • Removing years experience from job postings.
  • Starting an early career, paid apprenticeship program.
  • An evergreen job posting to attract general interest applicants.
  • New coffee chat and networking efforts.
  • Interviewing diverse design talent to understand their pains and gains along the hiring journey. What are they looking for? HMW better attract them to our company?

Myth 4: It’s a one time effort

One of the most important parts of this work was accountability and distribution of responsibilities. After we aligned on next steps we each volunteered to drive a single opportunity and scheduled monthly check-ins to share status updates.

With time people’s plates got full with shifting business priorities, management and organizational changes. And many initiatives stalled out.

We learned that Senior leadership and HR need to own coordinating these collective efforts. Otherwise, despite the best of intentions, it can too easily slip to the wayside among other more pressing fire drills.

We needed a single responsible party who would be accountable for checking in on our progress, and transparent about our outcomes and learnings:

DEI Reports Mask Lack Of Progress And The Path To Transparency

“We shouldn’t be surprised that CDO roles are going away after more than three years of CDOs saying they were set up to fail.

This moment is not a sign that the industry is dead. It’s a sign that the “fair-weather-allies” that sprang up out of the woodwork post-George Floyd and were never committed to achieving real impact are quietly making their exit. Those that are left are the ones who were doing this work because they wanted to achieve diversity, equity, and inclusion as OUTCOMES, who wanted accountability through rigor and sustainable DEI, and who were ready to resource the work with the headcount and budget it needs.

Has interest dropped? No — the bar has risen. We DEI practitioners should be holding leaders, organizations, and ourselves to it, but otherwise staying focused. There’s good work to be done.” — Lily Zheng on LinkedIn

Myth 5: You have to hire people who have “done it before”

What would it look like if the requirements listed above weren’t blockers to bringing candidates onsite? What if we hired and invested in those who haven’t done it before — but who clearly can?

“Where a lot of people screw up is… they don’t want to give chances to people early on. Or they want to find that incredible Black Woman production designer who’s already done four movies, don’t want to give ’em their first movie, right?…

We’re just challenging the fallacy that the best talent are typically the people who have a certain type of experience because they typically don’t have the barriers to entry that other groups of people have.”

— Montrel Mckay, Hoorae Media, Project Greenlight: A New Generation, E2

Sub product designer for production designer in the above quote, and it perfectly captures the fitting problem I’ve described so far. How is unconscious bias factoring into whether or not someone is seen as “qualified” for the role?

“If you only hire people who have “done it before” then you’ll miss out on every marginalized person who hasn’t gotten promoted because their bosses couldn’t “picture them doing the job”.”— Catt Small

Instead of gatekeeping talent based on factors steeped in systemic injustice and bias, what if we hired for the future and focused on potential?

“Rather than looking for folks who have “done it already”, look for those with the right mindset to get stuff done. Ask each interviewee questions to help you determine if they have the core skills necessary to succeed in the role. Make sure each interviewee responds to the same questions so you can compare them according to a rubric.” — Catt Small, If you’re risk-averse, you’ll never have a diverse leadership team

Where were the talented designers at MAANG companies working before they got their big break? What if you found them first, and invested in their advancement and development into the design leaders we’ve all been looking for?

DesignMap, a product design studio, has hired many early career designers from bootcamps and distinguished HCI masters programs alike.

They hire and develop exceptional design talent with the following soft skills:

Venn diagram of quality, grit and heart. Labels “grit: interest, purpose, practice, hope”, “heart: self-regulation, empathy, self awareness, social skills”, “quality: judgement, excellence, taste, standards”. Credit: DesignMap.

“As a consultancy, our people are our most important asset… “soft” skills, such as empathy and authenticity, can be grown and should be practiced in the same way we build “hard” skills such as drawing wireframes, coding, or making a presentation. Soft skills are ones that we can, and should, diligently and rigorously build.” — DesignMap

The diverse mix of traditionally trained designers from RISD and CMU HCI alongside scrappy bootcampers with prior work experience was a unique, fantastic chemistry. Many of our strengths supported the others’ weaknesses, and our designs and products were all the better for it.

Myth 6: Great designers all have the same skillset

If you hire for potential, you’re going to have a much wider range of design shapes in your organization — which will also enable your teams to learn and develop from one another through a coaching culture and inclusive workplace.

Unconscious bias doesn’t just factor into how we hire talent, but also how we grow and promote them. As managers, we are designing designers and cultures. And like all design, this work is subject to cognitive bias.

“We humans are messy, illogical creatures who like to imagine we’re in control — but we blithely let our biases lead us astray. In Design for Cognitive Bias, David Dylan Thomas lays bare the irrational forces that shape our everyday decisions and, inevitably, inform the experiences we craft. Once we grasp the logic powering these forces, we stand a fighting chance of confronting them, tempering them, and even harnessing them for good.” — Design for Cognitive Bias

In one round of calibrations in my career as a manager, we had numerous L6 designers with varying levels of competencies:

Mapping of various L6 designers competencies, size and color based on their strength (green/tall = excelling, orange/medium = developing, red/short = weakness). Variation in strengths, weakiness across the L6 designers.

By mapping these shapes, we were able to see how differently managers weighted various competencies when considering the level of a designer.

Map of “building icon, a healthy org: activity: talent mapping, audience: managers:orgs, purpose: planning — staffing” → “megaphone icon, promote talent: activity: calibrations, audience: managers:managers, purpose: G&I” → “star icon, calibrate the calibrators: activity: shape mapping, audience: managers:managers, purpose: G&I” → “person icon, coaching & development: activity: toolkits, audience: manager:ics, purpose: expectation setting”

Shape mapping is a worthwhile venture with your leadership team to calibrate on competencies and levels based on diverse shapes of designers versus specific individuals. And it can further bridge the gap between how we hire, coach and develop talent with a broad range of soft and hard skillsets.

Myth 7: The work stops once they get in the door

A key part of DEI is Inclusion — not just hiring, but also retaining your talent. The more you attract and retain talent, the more others will gravitate to your org:

“ [When] retaining talent — actions speak louder than words. Saying the quiet parts aloud. Listening and not just giving lip service. Following through. Backing up and promoting your employees. Not treating them like tokens. Using words wisely.

Also, ideally [I look for] an already diverse team (I am tired of being the only woman of color)… red flags are people saying they’re looking for “diverse people” to join the team. It’s a little unintuitive maybe but a group should be diverse from the start. I don’t make it that way by showing up, and I won’t keep it that way when I leave…I’m there to do my job and just want to be treated like a person.” — Catt Small

As a manager and mentor, I do a range of career mapping activities with designers, including a habitat map. We then check in each month to see how they’re fairing — are they getting the essential things they need to be happy, productive and inspired? This has been key to identifying early symptoms of burnout early, and course correcting to ensure your designers are working under the best conditions possible.

Figjam canvas with “water, food, sunlight” labels, monthly checkin template.
Make a copy of the template

I’ve also written further about fostering the conditions for psychological and creative safety here:

How to cultivate the genius in yourself & your org


  1. It’s not a pipeline problem, it’s a fitting problem — consider the structural and systemic factors behind your requirements and how they may be filtering out talented candidates.
  2. It’s everyone’s problem — DEI is the responsibility of every hiring manager and senior leader in your org, not just ERGs, HR and existing URM.
  3. There’s a lot we can do — What if we tackle the pipeline problem like a design problem, and explore, test new and innovative ways to attract and retain talent?
  4. It’s a long term team effort — Accountability and outcomes are key.
  5. You can hire people who haven’t “done it before” — Take risks and hire for potential.
  6. Great designers have many shapes — Shape mapping can help you hire and develop diverse skillsets in your design org.
  7. Retention begets future hires — Foster the conditions for creative and psychological safety to retain your top talent and attract new talent.

Unlearning systemic bias takes work. But it’s probably the most important work any of us can do in our careers.

I want to believe we can do better in our industry.

What other myths have you encountered from the hiring panel? How has your organization succeeded, and failed, in hiring more diverse talent?

7 myths about hiring a diverse, equitable, inclusive team was originally published in UX Collective on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.






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