Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Building on Your DEI Foundation: Five Lessons from Twilio

By Vivek Ravisankar

In recent years, many tech companies have introduced programs to mandate diversity and unconscious bias training, develop diverse hiring panels, and coach hiring managers to make their workforces more diverse and inclusive. This work is necessary, but the industry’s slow progress shows that it’s not sufficient to make the meaningful changes these companies strive for. 

Recently, I had the honor of speaking about this issue at the HR Technology Conference with two leaders I admire from Twilio, a global leader in cloud communications and customer engagement. Mat Connot, the company’s Senior Director of Talent Acquisition, and Savannah Curtin, its Director of DEI Talent, joined me to talk about creating a culture of diversity and inclusion in recruiting.

I was thrilled to present with Mat and Savannah because Twilio’s DEI efforts go above and beyond standard industry programs and have a proven impact. For example, the company increased the representation of women, Black and Latinx employees by significant margins from 2019-2020. 

 

Twilio's diversity stats from its 2020 DEI report

 

Twilio continues to evolve its DEI strategy, including recently implementing Racial Justice and Equity Initiatives that will drive forward the company’s antiracism commitment. Efforts like these shift the focus away from short-term goals toward lasting systemic change. 

“Many things can contribute to building a representative, equal and just environment,” Mat said at the event. “It’s not just a measure of how much you can hire in one quarter. We want to look at a longer scale.” 

As organizations of all stripes seek to build on their DEI foundations, they can learn a great deal from Twilio’s efforts. Here are five approaches to consider when building equitable hiring practices.

1. Attract diverse talent

To find and attract diverse talent, companies need to think outside the box of traditional recruiting and interviewing practices. By looking beyond typical candidates, schools, and career history, companies can reach diverse technical talent that may otherwise go overlooked.

Twilio has instituted several initiatives to attract these hidden gems. The company’s Hatch Program is a software engineering apprenticeship for underrepresented groups designed to nurture talent from within. It’s working: the company has offered jobs to 95% of graduates. Twilio Unplugged is an interview preparation series that teaches candidates about the skills, values, and experiences Twilio seeks in the interview process. It’s an especially useful tool to coach candidates with non-tech backgrounds on translating their experience into a technical interview.

By developing real, concerted efforts — whether that’s instituting programs similar to those at Twilio or even small steps like removing gender-specific language from job postings — companies can create space to attract diverse candidates.

2. Surface skills and potential

Another crucial aspect of an impactful DEI program is prioritizing skills over pedigree.

At Twilio, this means assessing candidates’ skills and values equally in the interview process. During our talk, Mat explained how they go hand-in-hand: “When we look for values alignment, we’re not asking, ‘Is the candidate like us?’ Instead, we mean, ‘Does the candidate practice certain values, like ownership, when they demonstrate their skills?'”

We’re proud to offer tools that help Twilio achieve this. Our Developer Skills Platform is designed to help hiring teams identify skills beyond resumes and create a consistent hiring bar.

“HackerRank is phenomenal in helping us set a baseline for core skills,” Mat said, “and in giving us the tools and language to navigate different phases of the assessment process.” 

3. Remove bias consistently

To uncover and root out bias, companies should continually evaluate their full hiring funnels.

This is not a one-time project. For example, one of Twilio’s long-term initiatives is its Bar Raiser program, which ensures that a neutral interviewer, or “Bar Raiser,” is part of every interview panel. Bar Raisers are trained to be on the lookout for bias — and on how to have honest conversations about eliminating it. Twilio’s commitment to the program means that a single “no” from a Bar Raiser means a candidate will not receive an offer. 

One of our primary goals at HackerRank is to support companies working to eliminate biases from hiring. We have developed a rigorous methodology behind our test development process to ensure that our assessments are highly job-related, reliable, and fair to all test-takers — regardless of their gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic background. It helps organizations make their hiring processes consistent, standardized, and focused on candidates’ skills.

4. Operationalize talent development

Many companies have found success in developing programs that continually train existing employees. During our conversation, Savannah pointed out that developing talent from within is another way to uncover technical aptitude.

“It’s one thing to bring in talent. It’s another to help them grow, and to coach them on creating a career path in the organization,” she said.

A companion to Twilio’s Hatch program is RiseUp, a new career growth and leadership development initiative for Black and Latinx employees. In addition to career planning support, RiseUp offers these employees face time with senior leaders and the company’s board.

Other industry programs rely on training and upskilling as a constant source of new engineering talent. Amazon’s internal Tech Academy–part of the company’s $700 million investment in upskilling–is open to any nontechnical employee, providing intensive reskilling with the goal of transitioning Academy students into Amazon software developer roles.

5. Expand business ownership

A successful DEI program requires company-wide buy-in. The entire organization–from hiring managers to the C-suite–should be committed, engaged, and accountable. 

With its commitment to become an antiracist organization, Twilio is one of the companies leading that charge. 

“This will be a long journey for us to continuously listen, examine and understand where we need to make systemic changes,” Savannah said. “A key question will be, ‘How do we move away from fear toward growth and learning?’ We’re really focusing on how we shift from fear to growth and learning.”

Twilio’s DEI work continuously inspires me, and I am eager to see where this journey takes them. 

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