Diversity in the Songkick technology team

Respect each other and celebrate diversity is one of Songkick’s core values. Groupthink can be the enemy of innovation, and there’s a ton of research12 that’s been done to look at group dynamics and what a diverse set of experiences can bring to the table. So as well as creating a welcoming and supportive environment for everyone to work in, it helps us to build better products, too.

The Pipeline Problem

You will have probably heard of this – for the uninitiated, this is a way to explain lack of diversity in the tech industry due to problems earlier in the “pipeline”, eg gender biases which manifest themselves in schools and affect study choices, which in turn affect the number of applicants for jobs at companies like ours. This is a hard and acknowledged problem and Songkick can’t solve it (unfortunately!), although there are things which we can do to both attract diverse candidates and try to eliminate potentially biased treatment once they’re in our hiring pipeline.

Outside of our immediate hiring needs we can also contribute to a healthy debate on the issues and promote technology as a career choice to all.

So let’s start with widening the pipeline…

However good our hiring process, this will make no difference if we don’t fix the top of the funnel. We can be honest about this – we don’t get many women candidates. There are some great organisations such as Women Who Code who have a strong presence in London. We have hosted WWC meetups in our office and are in talks to host more in the future, and have also advertised on their job board. We have a hiring presence at conferences such as Lead Developer that care about diversity and have strong Codes of Conduct. Women are of course not the only minority group in tech, so there’s more we can do here.

We don’t have a preferred list of companies or universities to hire from, and indeed not all of our tech team studied at university.

A note on advertising

When reaching out to candidates, language is important. We run our job posts through linting tools such as joblint and textio. You will never see Songkick hiring for a ninja or wizard. These measures are easy and quick to implement, there’s really no excuse for not doing it. Our job listings only list the essential experience and engineering concepts you need to do the job, rather than using a wishlist of “nice to have” skills.

We’ve got a more diverse set of candidates – now what?

Once we have made contact with candidates we have some extra safeguards in place to avoid bias where it is practical to do so. For example, the coding exercise will be anonymised by the hiring manager, redacting all personal information before forwarding on to someone else to mark. We maintain a flexible interview schedule to accommodate our candidates as best as possible.

We base the technical interview around scenarios similar to those you’d find day-to-day in your job at Songkick, rather than expecting you to recall an obscure section of an university computer science course or solve brain teasers34. We’re looking for good all-round problem-solving ability and a willingness to ask questions.

Not everyone has the same preferences when it comes to ways of working, so during interview we’ll look to see if we can accommodate these rather than insisting that new hires conform to our existing style.

Day-to-day support

As in everything we do, we follow the principle of Continuous Improvement. In our Tech Team Offsite we had an action point to make our social activities less alcohol-based, allowing more people to take part and feel welcome if drinking was not their thing. We also wanted to schedule more of these activities in working hours so those with more commitments during the evening were not excluded.

We keep diversity and respect part of the conversation at work. We are always looking at what other companies are doing to tackle these issues, and encourage our team to call out any behaviour which is not respectful.

As we grow, we are developing a clear set of progression routes to support different interests within the technology team, from managerial to pure technical.

There’s still work to be done..

So what more could we do? We have a hiring council to bring more ideas to the table. One task is trying to find more diverse advertising channels. While there are many organisations for under-represented groups in technology, not all of them have corresponding job boards.

Our awesome team has been pro-active in outreach, and we’ve had some success with random shout-outs on slack channels. We are also looking at developing internships in the technology team and supporting graduates from intensive web development courses (not only university).

I was hired from Silicon Milk Roundabout, and there was an element of chance to it. I knew who Songkick were but didn’t approach them because I didn’t know Ruby (which they had listed on their stand), but a proactive member of the team approached me and assured me this was ok, and here I am a year and a half later. We now no longer specify language requirements in our ads, and hopefully this has helped in attracting a more diverse set of candidates since I started.

I’m really proud to work in a team that values diversity, if you would like to be part of this, please get in touch.

References and further reading

1. How diversity makes us smarter by Katherine W. Phillips
2. Why diversity matters by McKinsey and Company
3. Why we don’t hire programmers based on puzzles, API quizzes, math riddles, or other parlor tricks by DHH
4. Interview with Laszlo Bock, senior vice president of people operations at Google, The New York Times

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