As the founder and CEO of TeamSense, a recent spinout of the joint innovation studio between Pioneer Square Labs and Fortive, I’ve been reflecting on how we built our early team. The statistics on representation for women and people of color in our industry are particularly disheartening, and it is clear that the tech industry has so much progress to make.
My position as a founder has given me the opportunity to work towards meaningful, sustainable change. Diversity should be a key priority for organizations of all types and at TeamSense, this is not just a matter of justice, but also smart company-building. Our product serves a diverse customer base and we wanted to reflect that level of diversity in our team as well.
From day one, I embedded diversity in the TeamSense culture as a core value. I’m proud to report that we have been successful in achieving better-than-average results in terms of representation of women and people of color.
I have heard other leaders suggest that building a diverse team takes more time; in our case, this was not true. Within 71 days of founding we were able to close 2 engineers, a product designer, and a demand generation specialist of underrepresented backgrounds.
Though we are far from perfect, I wanted to document and socialize some of the strategies we used to help us. The end goal of all of these strategies is to decrease unconscious bias and foster an inclusive environment.
To startup leaders: I know you’re busy, but by prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion from day one, you can be an important part of the fight for representation while also setting up your company for success. Here’s what worked for us:
We started the effort to build a diverse team from inception. From there, it just got easier.
We’ve all seen companies grow quickly, and then after building a team with deeply entrenched imbalances look in the mirror and recognize the need for change. We didn’t want that to be us. That meant our efforts had to start immediately.
Tactically, we started by adding diversity at the board level with two women (me as CEO and Kirsten Paust from Fortive, alongside T.A. McCann from PSL). With 66% female leadership on the board, we solidified the corporate priorities around diversity and worked with Dani Johnson, PSL’s recruiting lead to make this a joint goal as we moved forward.
Companies who fail to prioritize diversity and inclusion early struggle to fix the problem later. We found that once we had representation around our company table, it became easier and easier to get ahead of the curve. Our interview loops were constructed to reflect our culture, and we received feedback from candidates that this came across throughout the interview process.
We widened our aperture on candidate sourcing and built inclusivity into our job descriptions
We opened up our sourcing strategy to reach a broader set of applicants. Instead of relying on the same recruiting pipelines we’ve always used, we got creative. We leveraged our relationships with Ada Developers Academy and posted to job boards in cities (like Chicago) to tap an even broader talent pool.
Also, after speaking with a number of candidates, we came to understand that the typical technical job description--which often includes a laundry list of required technical skills--can deter candidates who are perfectly capable of doing what actually matters: building a great product.
With TeamSense, we have sought to cast a wider net in our job descriptions by explicitly describing the tools we use rather than manuscripting language that places a candidate in a box of ‘must haves’.
We doubled down on “homework” and practical demonstration of knowledge to keep ourselves from simply testing for interview skill
In our standardized interview loop, we have implemented a ‘homework’ piece that removes any ‘gotchas’ and allows each candidate to solve a real problem with real data. For example, we asked our marketing candidates to review data of sample demand-gen campaigns and take action based on this provided information. In efforts to be transparent, we try our best to construct a scenario where they are able to show off and directly apply their talent to work that they would be doing if hired.
We have found that this not only better establishes candidate qualification, but also draws out particularly strong results from candidates with non-traditional backgrounds. They showcased out-of-the-box thinking, fresh perspective and domain expertise even more than in a traditional skills assessment.
Another way we have had success is through our ‘hire by audition’ practice. In this situation we set up a paid project or contract where we outline clear expectations and expected outcomes.
This method serves as another option for those who may thrive in a hands-on environment rather than a typical interview cannon. It also allows the candidate to demonstrate skills that are not fully present during a 1:1.
We were intentional about our interview environment to give every candidate a chance to perform their best.
For us, this started with putting together a diverse interview loop. We wanted the candidate to feel like TeamSense offered them a culture they could thrive in and be a part of.
For technical interviews, we deprioritized the “whiteboard” coding test. Yes, there is an argument for their value. It can show off on-your-feet thinking and deep technical knowledge, but we are also highly aware of some serious drawbacks. Specifically, “whiteboard” interviews can reward a certain type of assertiveness and thinking style that can be unrelated to the functional requirements of the work.
Small Steps Towards Change
I truly believe that startup founders have an important role to play in the push for diversity, equity and inclusion. For TeamSense it was imperative that we continue to iterate and improve our process while being open to new sourcing pipelines and techniques. While we have had some early success, our work continues. I hope that these strategies are helpful to you, and am elated to see DEI take a deservedly prominent role in the journey to build great companies.