Here is one firm’s solution for driving diversity in tech

How what one analyst calls a 'unique' approach could help with DEI hiring, which is historically difficult within the tech industry.
By: | January 29, 2021 • 4 min read

Meeting diversity, equity and inclusion goals, regardless of business sector, has been a challenge for most employers and HR leaders. But nowhere is the DEI conundrum more pronounced than in the tech industry.

According to its own analysis, CNBC, for example, found that major tech employers including Alphabet, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter have seen “low single-digit increases in their percentage of Black employees” since they first began quantifying DEI initiatives in 2014.

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In an effort to break that wall, Karat, a Seattle, Wash., firm, created what it calls the “Interview Engineering” process. Co-founded by Mohit Bhende, a former Microsoft executive, and Jeffrey Spector, formerly with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Karat offers a solution around its “Human+” tech concept for hiring and technical interviews.

According to Shannon Hogue, Karat’s global head of solutions engineering, the company is equipping HR and business leaders with an innovative way to drive meaningful change as it relates to DEI initiatives within their organizations—“one predictive and fair interview at a time.”

Karat’s “Human+” interviewing infrastructure platform leverages tens of thousands of interviews that dismantle what Hogue calls “antiquated hiring models” through interview practices that aim to mitigate bias. To date, Karat has conducted over 80,000 technical interviews on behalf of such organizations as Intuit, Peloton, Robinhood, Roblox, Atlassian and The New York Times.

“Just like front-end and back-end engineers, there are software developers with exceptional soft skills who specialize in interviewing,” Hogue explains. “Our interview engineers are seasoned professional software engineers, armed with best practices, battle-tested questions and purpose-built interviewing infrastructure.”

Karat’s platform hosts a global network of “interview engineers,” who conduct 24/7 live technical interviews. Hogue says the global scale and human-centered approach differentiate Karat by creating “elastic interviewing capacity” reminiscent of the early days of the public cloud, while still delivering empathetic interviews that “cut through the noise and produce a hiring signal” based on candidates’ true competencies.

See also: Silicon Valley still has a diversity problem

“Software engineers are the lifeblood of the modern enterprise, but most engineering leaders view interviews as a drain,” she says, adding that great interviews take time, and software engineering time is precious.

“Most organizations can’t conduct high volumes of interviews with the quality and consistency required to meet technical hiring targets, creating an ‘interview gap’ that forces shortcuts,” Hogue says. She notes that these “sloppy interviews” inject bias, as do artificial interview-proxies like resume screens; these restrictive processes favor in-groups of similar individuals and contribute to growing inequality in the workforce.

“The interview gap also negatively affects business growth by blocking organizations from hiring great people in an efficient, equitable and effective way,” Hogue says.  Apart from its hiring platform, Karat also focuses on creating more access to career opportunities in the tech industry. For instance, it recently announced a $1 million practice interview program in support of Black software engineers.

John Sumser, HRE columnist and HRExaminer.com editor-in-chief, called Karat’s approach “unique.” It does raise the question of whether outsourcing interviews could create a poor impression of the company, he cautions, and it would be interesting to explore that strategy’s impact on employee retention and performance.

However, the solution boasts a number of clear benefits, Sumser says. For instance, standardized interviews, such as those deployed by Karat, are linked to better outcomes. In-person interviews also foster a much “warmer” feel than automated ones, he notes, while outsourcing—particularly of technical interviews—can save the company significant time and productivity.

Karat customers echo the company’s stated objective of hiring the best talent while boosting DEI.

Claus Moberg, vice president of engineering at Roblox, which produces an online game platform and game creation system, says his company’s goal is to be the best place in the world to do software engineering and computer science.

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“Interviewing is a necessity and that’s where Karat comes in,” he says. “The investment in Karat gets us the highest signal-to-noise ratio and helps us optimize our engineers’ time.”

John Egan, head of growth engineering at Pinterest, says Karat has allowed the firm to free up thousands of hours in engineering time that was used in technical phone screens, while still reaching the firm’s hiring bar.

“The impact has been especially noticeable in peak hiring season,” Egan says, “where we can now interview hundreds of candidates in a short window and deliver a responsive candidate experience.”

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Managing editor Jen Colletta contributed to this story.

Tom Starner is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia who has been covering the human resource space and all of its component processes for over two decades. He can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.