Few tech companies are likely to say hiring for diversity is easy or simple. If it were, Silicon Valley wouldn't be known for its overabundance of white male employees. A challenge some startups may not anticipate when they consider how to grow with diverse workforces: Understanding what the actual obstacles are to achieving that goal.

At the Airbnb Open Air conference Wednesday, diversity recruiter Y-Vonne Hutchinson asked a group of founders of startups that prioritize diversity about how to balance business interests with recruitment of staff from a variety of backgrounds.

The founders of Blendoor, Interviewing.io, and Clef agree: Even when you make a point of hiring diverse candidates, you're going to face challenges in terms of how to do that. Here's what they told Hutchinson, who is founder of recruitment firm ReadySet and a founding member of Project Include, aimed at increasing diversity in tech.

However you cut it, diversity recruiting is a challenge.

B Byrne, founder of cybersecurity startup Clef, says that once you make the commitment to diversity, you have to deal with a series of challenges. However good your intentions, however hard you work, you may come to see that your immediate outer circle is not as supportive of your efforts as you believed. You'll encounter pushback in the broader world. "It's a very uphill battle to fight even once you've committed to it," says Byrne, whose tech startup has publicly committed to growing with a diverse staff.

Think of recruiting as an area to innovate.

A lot of companies think of diversity recruiting as a social good. Stephanie Lampkin, founder of Blendoor, a job matching app aimed at mitigating unconscious bias, says she aims to convince companies to perceive recruiting as an area where they can innovate. You can try different approaches to creating an inclusive environment. For example, if you want to cultivate a culture of inclusion, you might ask interviewees how they feel about having a female manager or how they feel about a gender neutral bathroom.

Anonymity may be the answer.

"Despite everybody's best intentions, there's always this tension between 'we need to fill seats, we need to get people through the door,'" and making a point of bringing in diverse new employees, says interviewing.io founder Aline Lerner, whose recruitment tool allows for anonymous interviewing.

As you might expect, she says "anonymous screening has to be in place."

"We're very much in the camp of anonymity and using as much data as possible on a person in making a decision," she says.

... or it may not be.

Byrne is skeptical of anonymized recruiting as the solution. He thinks companies that want to recruit more diverse talent need to flip the script in a few ways. Rather than try to figure out why candidates are the same as them in some way,  "instead we need to be saying, 'do you know things I don't know,'" he says. And instead of evaluating culture fit, leave the decision about fit up to the candidate. Tell them what your employees are expected to stand for, rather than let the potential bias of culture-fit questions get in the way. "Oh, that person didn't like ping-pong, so not a culture fit," he joked.

Published on: Jun 9, 2016