Learn How Stanton Chase Boosts High Diversity in Tech Hires Through Data
By Greg Selker and Julie Davidson
A few months ago, in the course of preparing a presentation to win a C-level search for a subsidiary of a very large, very well-known tech company (a brand that dominates globally), we were asked to provide our diversity statistics. It was in the process of compiling our data that we made a stark discovery: for the last two years, our diverse placements in the North American tech sector totaled 64%, which is more than three times the industry average, and for the last three years, our diverse placements totaled 53%.
Stanton Chase has long recognized that, on average, diversity hiring in the tech sector is low, with the top four companies ranging below 23% for women. Even worse, hiring is well under 10% for Latinx and black employees, and these statistics are fairly consistent across the sector in North America.
Given this dramatic difference, we needed to answer the questions, “How did we get here?” and “Is it replicable?”
How did we get here?
We began our analysis of the difference in diversity placement rates by looking at the process that the Stanton Chase North America technology team applies to retained executive search. We wanted to pinpoint how our process leads to such dramatically different results from other firms.
We believe understanding “the diversity problem” begins with looking at how it is currently being defined. On one side is supply, with the argument being that the pipeline of qualified, diverse candidates is not reflective of the larger population. On the other side is demand, for which a lesser-known argument is that our implicit biases interfere with the hiring of diverse candidates.
The societal reasons for the deficit of diversity candidates have been widely researched and examined; this article will focus on how both hiring organizations and search firms work with this deficit.
Possible Solutions to Diversity Challenges
The most common solution on the supply side is to game the pipeline. The first, more extreme option is to restrict the candidate pool to only diverse candidates. Specialist diversity search firms, as well as many companies that have a commitment to diversity, use this strategy. However, there are two problems with this approach. 1) When a firm reaches a point where diversity is being mandated, the source of the issue often resides in the company’s culture. This is not addressed in gaming the pipeline. 2) It is natural to question whether a 100% diverse candidate pool represents the best candidates possible or just the best diversity candidates. This doubt can create a suboptimal environment for the chosen candidate’s success.
The second common solution is to stipulate that a minimal percentage of the candidate pool is diverse. While this strategy gives the hiring manager a greater sense of freedom in choosing what is felt to be the best candidate, it can masquerade as a diversity commitment. The reality is that it often checks the box without resulting in a diversity hire.
A lesser-used solution is to focus on the demand side, defining the problem as one of implicit biases unintentionally influencing the selection and hiring of a finalist candidate. This is the method we employ at Stanton Chase, which has proven to result in a very high rate of successful diverse placements.
Strategies for Improving Implicit Bias
Common corporate strategies to combat implicit bias are to hold specific workshops and training sessions. The assumption is that these biases unintentionally influence an interviewer’s assessment of candidates. These popular and easily implemented workshops and training sessions help reveal an individual’s biases, tools are given to continue to recognize them, and the problem is thought to be addressed.
However, those who study the subject admit to how intractable biases are. Additionally, the hiring process involves multiple interviewers, so it’s not just one individual’s biases that need to be overcome but those of the entire team. Interviewing in this context is like running the gauntlet of prejudices.
Beyond training, corporations have started to introduce best-in-class hiring processes where the focus is on objective and quantifiable measures with multiple interviewers in differing environments (phone, video-conferencing, in-person), from different departments (sales, HR, engineering, finance, marketing, product), and with each interviewer pursuing a different line of questioning. The best tech firms do this.
Recognizing implicit biases and structuring interviews to get better data are steps in the right direction, but these strategies can only partly explain the difference in diversity placement rates. When looking at why our diversity placement rate is so high, the correlation between the attention paid to the interviewing and assessment processes and the results becomes obvious.
Our Innovative Approach to Diversity
Our Stanton Chase technology team in North America defines the problem as being on the demand side and acknowledges implicit bias as a significant hurdle that needs to be cleared. Gathering objective data with quantifiable measures is essential. We use this rich data at a timely point in the review and selection process; this is the key reason that our approach works so well.
To understand our process and approach, it is critical to understand the notion of an anchoring heuristic. In essence, anchoring is a first impression ― a piece, or pieces, of information based on an initial interaction that is then used as the primary source and weight of future perceptions of information gathered.
How does this map onto the retained search process, and how can it be used to hire the best candidates, who also happen to be diverse? The answer starts at the candidate interview stage.
It has been our observation that retained search professionals often default to conducting a brief candidate interview with a minimal written or communicated interview report; limited data is presented to the client about the candidate.
However, this means that most of the data that paints a full picture about the candidate is collected by the client after the hiring team has seen and heard the candidate. Therefore, the most easily observed attributes such as gender, skin color, weight, and age, most of which are completely nonessential to the candidate’s value, become the anchor. And the anchor can and will influence the gathering and interpretation of subsequent information, which then has the potential of being corrupted by inherent biases.
To overcome these biases present in the standard selection process, we take advantage of the anchoring heuristic present in everyone’s decision-making process.
The key is to adopt a methodology that places an onus on the rigorous collection and presentation of data about a candidate prior to a client interview. We understand how truly powerful both anchoring and the weight of first impressions are; therefore, each of our executive candidates is put through a similar rigorous interview process. Three to five-plus hours are spent interviewing CEO candidates and two to three hours are spent with candidates who are direct reports to the CEO.
These are highly structured interviews to maintain consistency, with carefully thought-through questions designed to give candidates an opportunity to tell stories about their careers and their lives ― stories that elicit details around what is important to them, as well as when they have been in circumstances most like the ones they would confront if they became the hired candidate. Notes and direct transcriptions then allow direct comparisons with other candidates at a later stage.
The analysis of this data produces a highly detailed qualitative candidate report, which our clients read before an interview. This helps clients anchor their assessment with facts about candidates’ skills and work experience as well as our analysis. As a result, there is a more complete and relevant picture of each candidate established in our client’s mind prior to the initial in-person impression. The anchoring of truly important data causes the irrelevant, implicit biases, while not necessarily vanquished, to be diluted ― thus increasing the probability that the best candidate is hired.
To facilitate hiring the best candidate, the Stanton Chase North America technology team provides a data-rich comparison tool to our clients, increasing the probability that their comparative assessment of a finalist will be anchored and framed by clear and comprehensive data.
The methodology is designed to facilitate our clients in hiring the best candidate. It just so happens that because these methods also limit implicit biases in our clients’ interviewing process, 64% of those “best” candidates hired by our clients also happen to be diverse.
 This approach pulls from work by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman (whose work won the Nobel Prize), and it advocates for slowing down your thinking and letting the rational mind take control of decisions (System 2 thinking). This is opposed to letting our “gut” quickly make the decision (System 1), the place where implicit biases reside. Kahneman’s international bestseller “Thinking, Fast and Slow” is the primer on the subject.