• Sebastiaan Tan

How diversity backfires…

Somehow my company (Caspar Coding) got caught up in the diversity movement. The whole diversity movement looked like a nice ‘angle’ to promote the African software developers, but so far it did more harm than good. I know I am probably being controversial here, so let me elaborate.

This article is written out of a deep concern and a little bit of frustration, just so you know :). Here’s my angle: As many as 1.8 million IT Jobs could go unfilled by 2022 and the number will continue to grow. The key to closing this skills gap is human capital investments in the worlds youth. 60% of Africa is under the age of 30, making it the worlds’ youngest continent. In fact, by 2050, Africa will be the largest population in the world.

Because of these facts, and other findings that I’ll share, our mission at Caspar Coding is to change the world’s perception of Africa.

We do this by connecting software engineers from across Africa to opportunities in Europe and Canada. In the process we’re building amazing connections, and a supportive community of global-minded engineers. Although we have received over 5,000 applications, we work with the top 5% and support these developers through the job search, visa, relocation, and housing process. For developers that don’t want to relocate, we connect them to local jobs in Africa and remote jobs. We’re focusing on the world’s youngest continent with most of the worlds fastest growing internet economies to close the global skills gap.

In the process of executing our mission, I’ve found that diversity feels like a ‘must-do’ for companies. Usually companies have a mission that is supported by the whole staff, a good thing! Within an organization every employee has his or her responsibilities. I.e. human resources is responsible for hiring, people, etc. A technical leader is responsible for creating the best product, staying ahead of competition, etc. Both positions are very challenging. Seeing ‘diversity’ as a ‘must’ creates a conflicting incentive and belief. HR feels there’s a need to hire diverse talent and may be willing to make compromises on quality. This is a no-go for technical leaders, I am a tech startup founder and I totally understand and see the importance of the ‘we don’t compromise on quality’ statement. Technical leaders have more influence on the final decision in hiring. Outcome: hr pitches a diverse strategy or candidate, technical leaders are even more biased on their ability to judge a diverse candidate. The association between diversity and poor quality is established by the willingness of others to compromise on quality.

A diverse strategy for me means equal chances for all. In my opinion companies have a strong responsibility to give equitable chances for everybody. And I can easily say from lots of experience: we have a long long way to go. Currently we are doing a ‘ghost’ trial with 25 African software developers. 9/10 times this is the response:

Hi Suen,
Thank you for applying for Software Engineer (PHP), we really appreciate your interest. Unfortunately, we will not be moving forward this time, although, you have the required credentials and experience, its just not the right fit for us at the moment. I am sorry for the bad news. We encourage you to keep an eye on our open positions and apply again in the future.
Once again thank you for all your effort and interest, we wish you best of luck for all the future endeavours.
Best wishes,

A couple of weeks later we send out the exact same developer profile, same experience, same cv. This time we change the name into a ‘typical’ Western name with a location outside of Europe but not Africa, this makes it an equal change. Both developers have the same skills, and if hired, they both have to go through the same immigration process. So this will take the same effort from the hiring company. So far 19 of the 22 companies we tested failed the test. The second application (with the western name) is invited for an interview. Very disappointing.

Ok, so I think most of us agree there’s a responsibility for creating equal opportunity. We all have a lot of responsibilities, our decisions are not driven by responsibility but driven by priorities. Let me make another statement: if you don’t create an international culture within your tech company or department, you’re doomed to lose the battle on talent. Diversity strategies are important but Inclusion, the how, is even more important. Inclusion is about the behaviours that welcome and embrace diversity.

In Europe and Canada, we have a growing demand for human capital. This means an international hiring strategy is a strong business priority. I would like to invite you to stop watching the news and reading newspapers when it comes to informing yourself on Africa. Check out the following links on tech giants like Microsoft, Facebook and Google in Africa.

- Microsoft to spend $100 million on Kenya, Nigeria tech development hub

- Almost All Of Facebook’s 139 Million Users In Africa Are On Mobile

- Microsoft is making a $100 million bet on African developers

Use the information I just shared with you to your advantage. Embrace international hiring (diversity) as an opportunity to expand your business. After all, increasing diversity has a direct effect on the bottom line for organizations. A study by BCG found that increasing the diversity of leadership teams leads to more and better innovation and improved financial performance. In fact, companies that have more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenue because of innovation.

How can you help? Please keep on hiring quality. Measuring (diverse) talent equally is the ultimate way of creating an equal world. When you think of your international strategy, don’t be scared to include the booming tech hubs across Africa. True talent wants to be judged on their skills, not their skin colour, gender or sexual preference.

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