Building in Public

The challenges of hiring diverse talent

How we’re implementing diverse hiring practices at Oyster.
October 6, 2021
Eryn Marshall
The challenges of hiring diverse talent

This article is part of our Building in Public series where our Remote Operations and People teams share our experiences as we build and manage a distributed workforce at Oyster. Our hope is that by sharing our tips, strategies, and lessons we've learned along the way we can inspire other teams to adopt a new, distributed way of working.

Even in small ways, our personal experiences have a way of shaping our perception of other people before we meet them. Because of that, biases can easily creep their way into the hiring process. 

An extremely common example of this is a manager seeing a brand name, like Google, on a resume and deciding to give that person an interview opportunity over someone else. We all know there are plenty of amazing companies with talented employees that don’t have the same brand recognition as Google, but still, brand names trigger our biases. 

This type of bias becomes an even bigger problem when you start hiring globally. The best person for the job may work for the leading construction company in Saudi Arabia, but you might be more likely to pass on their resume if you’re unfamiliar with their current employer’s name and logo, whereas a candidate who’s less qualified but works at a company you’re familiar with may stand out to you.

As a distributed company, it’s important for us to not only be conscious of our biases, but to actively prevent those biases from impacting our hiring decisions. Because we’re doing a lot of hiring on the Oyster team right now, we wanted to share the challenges we’ve encountered when it comes to hiring culturally and geographically diverse talent, and the diverse hiring practices we’ve been working on implementing.  

Hiring diverse talent at Oyster

At Oyster, we believe diverse teams perform better. Having a variety of perspectives, experiences, and beliefs increases our chances of seeing the full picture and creating something exceptional. We strive to be a company that attracts and celebrates diverse talent.

To us, diversity means having a vast range of experiences, genders, and ethnic backgrounds represented within our company. It also means having geographic dispersity. Our CEO often says the goal is for the company to look like the United Nations in terms of nationality and ethnic representation. While we don’t have any specific mandates around this, managers feel empowered to build dispersed teams and take pride in doing so. 

As of right now, 47% of Oyster employees identify as female, 41% male, and 12% chose not to identify. We currently have employees in 47 countries and counting. The talent acquisition team has a view of what countries we have talent in, and those that we don’t, and we're actively targeting promising talent markets where we don't yet have employees. Below is a screenshot of what our employee directory looks like broken down by country at the time of writing this article.

A graph indicating all of the different countries in which Oyster employees are located
A snapshot of where Oyster employees are located—from Argentina, to Japan, to Zimbabwe.


The challenges with hiring diverse talent 

One of the unique challenges we have at Oyster is that we get a lot of interest in certain roles. Being able to hire anywhere is amazing, but you also need to manage the volume of applications that it creates.

We recently had three very qualified candidates for a senior level position, one was an expat living in the United States, and two were in countries where we don’t have employees. In addition, there were 75 applicants to review (100 had already been rejected!) and another 24 who had been reviewed and met the minimum criteria for the role. So we had to ask ourselves, what is fair in this process? Is it reviewing 250 applications to make sure that we find the absolute best and most qualified person for the job? What if there are 100 who meet the minimum qualifications? At some point you have to make a decision to hire, or you could spend all your time interviewing. While I’m writing this, we’re currently working on an offer for a new employee in Singapore, and had two signed offers there last week. 

The reality is that the challenges you face when hiring diverse talent are going to be different depending on your company and the role you’re looking to fill. A big one that other distributed companies looking to hire globally may encounter, that we’ve certainly faced at Oyster, is that talent hasn’t been developed for certain roles in some countries. 

Software engineers are in extremely high demand. Throw in a hot programming language capability, and your talent pool is even smaller. What becomes even more challenging is looking for diverse leadership with those skills, since in many regions, software development talent is emerging, so there aren’t many folks who have been in a leadership capacity yet. 

It’s in these situations where despite our best efforts to be more diverse, we typically do have to hire within regions where we already have an employee presence, simply because that’s where the talent is at this time. 

How diversity impacts hiring decisions

When it comes to hiring, we of course believe that you should employ the best people for the job. But at the same time, the fact is that in many roles, the best people for the job are the people that have had that job available to them for the past 10, 20, or 30 years.

An example of this would be someone that has been working in Silicon Valley doing enterprise sales for other tech companies for the last 20 years. It’s in these cases that we must ask ourselves, no matter how much raw talent someone has, how can a candidate in a developing country compete with that experience when they haven’t had those same opportunities available to them? We don’t believe in hiring candidates from a certain country for the sake of hiring there, but we do need to give people chances where it's appropriate. 

Another instance where this comes into play is when we have two equally qualified candidates for a role. When one candidate is in a country we’ve haven’t hired in yet, or is from an ethnic or cultural background where we don’t have representation within the company, we do take this into account when making a final hiring decision.

It’s also important for me to mention that there are departments that are less diverse than others at Oyster. Our sales leadership is one that has room for improvement. This was a byproduct of growing really quickly, and not having a Talent Acquisition or People team to call it out early on. Now that we’ve taken a step back, we can be sure that any future leadership roles have diverse sourcing strategies from day one.

Implementing diverse hiring practices at Oyster

An important part of diverse hiring is ensuring that everyone who comes through our candidate pipeline has the same experience, no matter who they are or where they are in the world. 

At Oyster, we use a structured interview process where all of the candidates are asked the same questions and evaluated on the same criteria every time. At the start of the recruitment process, we assign attributes and qualifications for each role, come up with a set of questions to evaluate those, and ask every candidate the same questions in the interview process.

We’re continuing to build out and refine our structured interview process as well as educate interviewers on why this is so important. We’re also exploring more de-biasing tactics such as assessments or blind resumes, but we don’t have these in place now.

The last thing I’ll mention here is tapping into the “hidden workforce” to recruit more diverse talent. We need to ask ourselves things like, are people in Indonesia scanning LinkedIn for jobs like people in the West are? Or are they looking elsewhere? There's a lot of talented people that don't think getting a job at Oyster is in their realms of possibility. We need to connect with this portion of the job market to communicate with them and convince them it is.

The future of diverse hiring 

For other companies looking to diversify their hiring practices—especially at a global scale—from our experience, I’d recommend being really clear on the qualifications and attributes for the role up front, and making sure all of the interviewers are aligned. This will save you lots of time and reduce the chances of making biased hiring decisions.

Oyster’s mission is to create a more equal world by making it possible for companies everywhere to hire people anywhere. So of course, diversity in our hiring process is something that is ingrained in our company from our CEO down to every hiring manager. But that doesn’t make us perfect, and it means we have to keep considering our biases in every hiring decision we make. 

One of the best things about having a globally distributed team is having the opportunity to collaborate with people who have different world views than you do. The people that come into Oyster all have such diverse backgrounds and varied experiences that unique perspectives are aplenty—which wouldn’t be the case if we were hiring from a pool of talent that all grew up in the same place, followed the same educational path, or shared a similar career trajectory. Our diversity is our biggest strength! 

Interested in learning about how we collaborate with team members across time zones? Check out this article about the power of an asynchronous work week

About Oyster

Oyster is a distributed HR platform designed to enable visionary HR leaders to find, hire, pay, manage, develop and take care of a thriving distributed workforce. It lets growing companies give valued international team members the experience they deserve, without the usual headaches or the expense.

Oyster enables hiring anywhere in the world with reliable, compliant payroll, and great local benefits and perks.

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