Stop Telling Yourself You Have a Pipeline Problem: And Four Ways to Do Something About It

by Elizabeth Anderson, CEO of LunarLab


Everyone uses tech: people from every race, color, age, ethnicity, national origin, gender expression, religion, socioeconomic background, disability status, and just about every other type of lived experience that you can imagine. Tech is for everyone, but unfortunately it isn’t made by everyone: you don’t need a study (or two!) to know that most tech companies are overwhelmingly white, middle class, abled, heteronormative, and male. To make tech more inclusive, we’ve got to start by making sure our companies reflect the wonderful diversity of our communities.

Business leaders often point to a “pipeline problem” to explain the lack of diversity, meaning that they simply aren’t getting qualified candidates from underrepresented groups. This excuse upholds the status quo by blaming underrepresented groups for not applying, rather than spurring leaders into action to diversify hiring pipelines. It also tacitly suggests that people from underrepresented groups are inherently unqualified, which simply isn’t true.

The truth is that many companies have created a monoculture hiring pipeline. At some companies, that’s intentional. But it can also happen unintentionally without leaders even realizing it: if you’re doing the same thing you’ve always done or what a biased system taught you to do, nothing will change.

It doesn’t have to be that way! If you’re serious about increasing diversity in your hiring pipeline, there are actionable steps that you can take today to do something about it.

Create inclusive job descriptions

Start by making sure that your job descriptions use inclusive language. Some words, phrases, and other indicators that are commonly used in job descriptions can exclude people and turn them off from even applying. Words like rockstar, ninja, guru, or competitive are often perceived by candidates to be male-coded words. You can use tools like Gender Decoder to identify and decrease subtle bias. Additionally, ensure that your job descriptions are easy to read for people with dyslexia or people who are neurodivergent.

Along the same lines, stick to the core qualifications and duties for the role. We’ve all heard the stat: Men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them. Don’t stray outside of what is absolutely required so that you don’t turn off great applicants who don’t have some of your “nice to haves”. Do applicants really need to have a 4-year degree for your job? If not, remove it as a qualification.

Check your biases

As the applicants start rolling in, keep a close eye on your biases to ensure that you’re not excluding great candidates. We all have biases, and doing the work of recognizing them can help us to think about the candidates we screen, interview, and hire.

Creating a standardized hiring process can help to ensure that all candidates have a fair chance. It’s easy to justify skipping steps for candidates when you know that candidate… but realistically that creates preferential conditions for candidates who got to skip a step. Always asking the same set of questions means that every candidate has an equal opportunity. My company took the (maybe a bit unorthodox) step of sending all interview questions to candidates before interviews. We felt that this benefited candidates who are neurodivergent or who experience anxiety, without creating preferential conditions for anyone.

If your current workforce is largely straight, white, and male, consider scrapping employee referrals. People are most likely to refer people that fit within the same demographic as they are, so it can lead to monoculture. Along the same lines, be sure to post your jobs online so you aren’t giving preference to internal referrals if your company already lacks diversity.

Go to where the applicants are

If you really want a diverse pool of applicants, go to where the applicants are. It’s always a great time to establish a relationship with nearby HBCUs, bootcamps, or other local communities to share your job postings and develop a talent pool. Birmingham has a wealth of these types of programs in Innovate Birmingham, Birmingham Black Techies, the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services, Birmingham Promise, Tech Equals, and more!

If you’re recruiting for remote roles, the world is your oyster. Here are some of my favorite job boards that are specifically geared towards creating a more diverse hiring pipeline:

Create a culture of belonging

Once you start bringing on a diverse pool of candidates, you also have to keep them. If your company doesn’t live up to expectations, those new hires will leave quickly and you’ll be back to square one.

This is important, and it’s something we’re really intentional about at LunarLab. Make sure your company is very clear on where it stands on DE&I by talking about it openly and creating inclusive policies. Policies should be informed by talking directly to people in underrepresented groups, but don’t expect people to do the unpaid emotional labor of educating your company. Ensure that your leadership team reflects the diversity that you’re trying to achieve (it may be time to consider a round of promotions!).

Additional reading

There’s room to grow at every company. If you’re interested in learning more about diversifying your workplace or hiring pipeline, here are some of my favorite resources: