Attracting and retaining top talent can be a challenge due to the software engineer shortage, but workforce diversification can widen the talent pool and improve employee retention.
It’s a lesson HubSpot learned as it stood up a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) program in an effort to rid its reputation of having a poor employee experience, one that included a lack of diversity on several fronts. In 2016 it published its first annual employee diversity report; in 2019 it appointed its first director of diversity, inclusion and belonging.
The efforts have paid off, said Becky McCullough, vice president of global recruiting at HubSpot. The DEI program gradually improved diversity and resulted in a larger pool of candidates from non-traditional backgrounds who perform equally well in development positions, she said.
“A lot of job descriptions say you must have a bachelor’s degree in computer science,” she said. “We found that some of our best developers were from liberal arts backgrounds or didn’t have traditional four-year degrees, and that was a major opportunity for us to increase the talent.”
Attracting diverse candidates
HubSpot takes a multifaceted approach to attracting diverse candidates, McCullough said. For example, its annual First-Gens in Tech event provides information and resources to people who are first in their families to consider a tech career, she said. The event includes featured talks from first-gen tech leaders on topics such as networking and how to evaluate companies during a job search.
HubSpot also dropped the degree requirement about six years ago to broaden its pool of applicants, McCullough said.
Christopher Griffin, a software engineer at HubSpot who identifies as non-binary, does not have a traditional degree — they hold bachelor’s degrees in wildlife biology and psychology. Griffin joined HubSpot in 2019 after completing a full-stack coding bootcamp.
“I thought, either I’m going to study wildlife or I’m going to code video games,” they said. “I have more or less gotten to take both of those paths now in my life.”
Changing the educational requirement for talent fosters diversity because it includes self-taught developers who don’t have a traditional educational background, said Shanea Leven, co-founder and CEO of CodeSee, a code visibility platform based in San Francisco. But it also brings unique challenges to the recruitment process, she said.
One such challenge is retraining recruiters, who are often incentivized to find good candidates as quickly as possible, Leven said. As a black woman, Leven struggled with acceptance in her early Silicon Valley tech career, which meant she had to tread carefully, she said.
“There are two ways of going about this,” Leven said. “You’re either going to fight the system and do things how you want to do them; you’re going to wear, look, speak, do the things that you think are right for you. Or you will try to do everything in your power to fit within the system.”
One additional challenge Leven faced was that she held a bachelor’s degree in business.
“Not having a computer science degree is like, ‘Oh, they’re not as technical or they’re not a good developer,'” she said.
Recruiters use easy check marks to get people through the funnel, Leven said. “One of which is the ‘right’ school with the ‘right’ degree; those are easy wins to get someone through the recruiting funnel,” she said.
If companies retrain recruiters and hiring managers as well as the landscape of what are acceptable credentials, then the whole process will change, Leven said.
But DEI shouldn’t stop at the hiring gate. “You can get more diverse candidates in,” she said. “But if you don’t have the system internally to support them, they’ll just leave, and all that effort was wasted.”
McCullough agreed that nurturing diversity, equity and inclusion within the enterprise is essential; HubSpot’s post-hire DEI efforts include mentorship programs that target people of color.
In addition, HubSpot provides internal training to help all employees gain the skills that they might need to be successful in the role, such as workshops for entry-level engineers, she said.
HubSpot’s courses were helpful for filling in knowledge gaps, Griffin said. “Little corner cases, hard or rarely encountered pieces of the technologies — that was very helpful for me to know in order to build successful, clean software,” they said.
Another way that HubSpot tackles retention is with quarterly surveys, which allow the company to identify key themes to improve employee satisfaction, McCullough said.
HubSpot’s growth pains
Fostering a strong DEI culture is often overlooked, especially as an early startup, McCullough said.
HubSpot, founded in 2006, was no exception — except its struggle was put on display by ex-employee Dan Lyons in his 2016 book Disrupted. Lyons portrayed a negative employee culture at HubSpot, particularly when it came to an office vibe Lyons called “frat house meets cult compound” that skewed young and white.
Becky McCulloughVice president of global recruiting, HubSpot
McCullough thinks a lot has changed in the eight years since Lyons worked for the company. HubSpot’s diversity report show that the percentage of people over the age of 35 in product and engineering teams has increased from approximately 13% in 2016 to 25% in 2022. Representation of non-white employees has also increased from 22% to 41% in the same period. In 2020, its diversity report included an option for gender identification for the first time. That year, 11% of employees indicated they identified as LGBTQ+; by 2022, that number had risen to 13%.
Griffin had a positive impression of HubSpot’s culture when they started in 2019.
“I just came from one-year stint at a different tech company that was more of a business corporate culture — a little bit fraternity-esque,” they said. “And HubSpot felt very different upon entering, and so with that juxtaposition, I was very much like, ‘I think this is going to be comfortable.'”
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