February 26th, 2019

The Best People Will Always Rise to the Top. (Or Will They?)

In an ideal world, the most talented, hard-working and dedicated people will hold the top jobs in their industry, right? Luck, connections, happenstance… None of these would have a measurable impact. 

In that world, every smart decision you make will yield stellar results. Your intentions will always determine your outcomes. But our world tends to be a little more complex and little less statistically clean-cut than that.

So when Max - the founder and CEO of JobFit - and I got chatting a couple of weeks ago about diversity and inclusivity initiatives, I was reminded of that perfect world.

In a discussion about the role of diversity and inclusivity in hiring Max had with an acquaintance, the following argument came up:

The best people will always rise to the top anyway. Therefore, there’s no need for diversity and inclusivity initiatives. 

It caught my attention. So even though we’d wrapped up the article collection, we decided this would be a great thing to explore. Why? Partly because it’s so easy to dismiss anyone who makes that statement, especially if you work in HR. And partly because success tends to be a little more complex with that. 

Do they even know you exist?

I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up - and getting ready for college - my current job didn’t really exist yet. And no one in my social circle - not my teachers, family or friends - knew anyone who does what I do. 

A personal anecdote isn’t a statistical proof of any sort. Far from it. But it can be an interesting point to start a discussion- the discussion of career options. How do we choose our jobs? How do we decide what to do with our lives? 

What’s everyone else around me doing?

Let’s get a bit uncomfortable for a moment and talk about one major force that influences a lot of our decisions a little more than we may like: chance. More specifically, the chance that decided where you landed when you hit planet earth. 

Some of us follow in the footsteps of our families. For others, our initial choices are inspired by the communities we live in, our friends, our teachers, the books we read, the shows we watch, the people we admire. 

The choices we make are ultimately affected by the choices we believe are available to us. 

Ever had a friend say I’m too dumb to study medicine? I’m not smart enough to work with computers? People like me go into teaching, it’s just what we do. People like you go to college, they don’t pick up a trade. 

I have. Multiple times, from ridiculously capable people. And a lot of the time they are echoing things that have been said to them by loved ones, strangers, friends, teachers. 

What we think we know...

We can only make choices based on what we know. Or rather, what we believe we know. So if you don’t know or admire any doctors, statisticians, welders, data scientists, physicists or mechanics it can be hard to even begin considering those options for yourself. Because you may not know where to start. 

Let’s take welders, for example. There’s a big shortage of welders in the US and the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 6% increase in the industry by 2026. It’s a field that’s desperate for talent. 

And yet, I don’t know about you, but it’s not a career that would have occurred to me in a million years. Theoretically, it’s an option that I know exists but because it’s so far removed from the environment I grew up in, it never truly existed in my world. 

Yet it’s a real opportunity. The starting salaries are solid. The labor is skilled. And the finished product can bring a lot of pride. But if you grow up in the non-industrial part of an inner city or a tiny sheep-farming island, you may never realize that’s an option for you. 

The same theory can apply to computer engineering, data science, AI, finance, farming… you name it. Lack of awareness of the opportunities available to us holds us back. 

I don’t believe this industry will accept me

When Ryan Carson, the CEO of Treehouse, decided to increase team diversity, he had to answer one key question: Why weren’t more diverse candidates applying for open positions?

To find an answer, he interviewed more than 50 successful people in tech from diverse backgrounds about the challenges they faced. The same theme kept coming up again and again:

“My community does not trust companies that are majority white and male. We do not see people like us succeeding in those companies. Why would we apply for your jobs?” 

To address this, Treehouse created a pilot apprenticeship program. To find candidates, they partnered with a local boys and girls club- a trusted organization- and asked them to help find talent. 

The pilot was a success. After recruiting thirty potential applicants, Treehouse whittled down the best ones to fifteen who went through a training program. Five of the fifteen passed. Of the five, Treehouse hired three apprentices and the two others were hired by Invision and Nike. 

Treehouse weren’t doing the applicants any favors. They were simply providing opportunities for smart, hard-working people who may not know those opportunities were available to them. 

Increasing your options

Programs like the Treehouse apprenticeship program are a way to increase people’s options. To let them know about careers they may not have thought of. To extend the opportunity to anyone who wants a challenging career in their sphere, which happens to be tech. 

JobFit aims to do something with a similar spirit. That’s why we focus on fit stories and helping candidates connect with referrers, recruiters and HR managers. It’s a way to show just how many other options exist and to connect people to those who can help them land that dream career.