I lead an engineering services team that is responsible for a lot of custom development. In my experience, when engineers think about diversity, we tend to focus on skill sets.
4 benefits of hiring a diverse engineering team
But I’ve seen firsthand how diversity in age, gender, physical abilities, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and other perspectives contribute to better outcomes and innovation. Here are four examples of how diversity can benefit your engineering team.
1. More creativity
A diverse team yields better ideas, period. I don’t just say that from personal experience (although I will share more on that below). Studies show that teams made up of diverse members make smarter, and more accurate decisions. That’s why when I build my team, I look for people who have a diverse set of experiences, including those who came to engineering after doing something else.
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At the beginning of my career, I was often the only female developer in my company. My hiring managers often said that they’d like to hire more women and people of color but they couldn’t find candidates. That’s changing, thanks in part to the many professional organizations working to diversify the tech field.
My company offers apprenticeship programs for people who may not have the skill sets needed when they’re hired. To us, it’s worth investing in skills training so that we can benefit from more unique perspectives. This also allows us to cast a wider net than if we were simply looking for candidates with experience in a particular technology.
2. Less bias
Diverse teams can also help prevent embarrassing and troubling situations and outcomes. Many companies these days are keen to infuse their products and platforms with artificial intelligence. But as we’ve seen, AI can go terribly wrong if a diverse group of people doesn’t curate and label the training datasets. A diverse team of data scientists can recognize biased datasets and take steps to correct them before people are harmed.
Bias is a challenge that applies to all technology. If a specific class of people – whether it’s white men, Asian women, LGBTQ+ people, or other – is solely responsible for developing a technology or a solution, they will likely build to their own experiences. But what if that technology is meant for a broader population? Certainly, people who have not been historically under-represented in technology are also important, but the intersection of perspectives is critical.
A diverse group of developers will ensure you don’t miss critical elements. My team once developed a website for a client, for example, and we were pleased and proud of our work. But when a colleague with low vision tested it, we realized it was problematic.
This experience helped us realize that we tend to develop web and mobile sites in ideal environments – perfect lighting, large screens – and we failed to consider the fact that many users interact in scenarios that are quite different, such as outside in the sun, using a mobile phone. When our colleague pointed out the accessibility issues he experienced, it helped us to solve a challenge for all potential users.
Suppose you’re responsible for developing an online ordering form for a restaurant chain. If your development team members are all of a certain age, they may tend to focus on a classic web or mobile-based order form. But younger generations may prefer an SMS-based interface, and if the team isn’t aware of their perspective and fails to take it into account, it can end up developing a solution that neglects entire generations of consumers.
3. Broader recruitment
Recruitment is another key benefit of a diverse team. It’s no secret that our industry is in a labor crunch. On top of that, cryptocurrencies, NFTs, and the metaverse are the sexy new technologies that are attracting a lot of talent. A diverse team, especially at the management level, creates an inviting experience for people who want role models and opportunities for advancement.
4. Better work environment
But perhaps the most compelling reason to have a diverse team is that it’s simply more fun to work with people who come from a wide variety of backgrounds. It prompts more creative discussions and problem-solving.
For instance, while working on an application for a hospitality client, our team was thinking deeply about the customer experience and their expectations. A team member who had a background working in hospitality challenged us to consider our solution from the other side of the equation, and the result was a better solution.
When every engineering group or company commits to building more diverse development teams, every industry – and every employee – will benefit.
[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]
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