Plumbing pipes with a valve that shows it partially open with the word inclusion written on the lever for the valve
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Your pipeline problem is that you’re not doing anything to reach the pipeline.

If you’re at all involved in tech hiring or diversity causes, you will by now have read many thousands of words on Facebook’s recent assertion that the reason they’ve failed to improve their diversity numbers is the good ol’ leaky pipeline.

It is a difficult truth that tech companies have been publishing their diversity numbers but not, for the most part, improving them. Companies attribute this problem to many causes, but by far the most common rationalization is that there just aren’t enough qualified candidates from underrepresented backgrounds to go around.

While Facebook has taken a lot of flak for their statement, they simply said in public what I’ve heard privately from at least ten other prominent talent and diversity leaders just this month. All at large tech companies.

Every time I hear someone say, “It’s a pipeline problem!” the narrative is always the same: Tech companies search far and wide, they say, they are doing everything they can, but try as they might, they can only find white men to hire.

I always have the same reaction: Maybe there’s a pipeline problem and maybe there isn’t, but what are you really doing differently from a year ago that makes you so sure of that?

The answers are usually not very good.

If you’re looking in the same places, sourcing and talking to candidates the same way year after year, and not getting the results you want, it doesn’t mean that there’s a pipeline problem. However, it does unequivocally mean that your particular approach has roundly failed at tapping into whatever pipeline exists.

The fact is that changing hiring outcomes is not easy. It is not free. It takes time and effort and commitment. It takes innovation. It also takes money. Something that routinely surprises me is when a talent leader shares their confusion and frustration over the status quo, but then expresses genuine surprise that change takes even minor sustained investment.

In a nutshell, it’s the narcissism of technology: we create revolutionary new things that we expect to disrupt the world. But when it comes to our own decisions, we want things to magically adapt to the practices that we already find comfortable, rather than making uncomfortable changes in our own processes and tools to actually achieve the outcomes we seek.

It’s worth noting that not every tech company gets this wrong. One neat side-effect of my job is that I see a robust landscape of which companies are positioning themselves to win talent over the next decade based on the investments they’re making now. Not surprisingly, the companies making smart talent investments are generally winning in business too, typically rapid-growth companies that move faster and try more than their larger and slower-moving competitors.

And make no mistake about it, they will continue to win. Because they’re making the right investments now: Actively sourcing from a broader range of colleges to find talented black and Latinx students. Offering longer-range apprenticeships with opportunities to gain experience on the job. Sponsoring returnship programs that provide intensive re-training for people — often but not exclusively mothers — to return to work after an employment gap.

They are also using new methods and technologies to change their recruiting outcomes. Textio’s machine intelligence platform has proven that the language you use in a job post actively changes who will even consider applying for your job, which directly impacts the quality and diversity of your applicant pipeline.

Just last week we published data showing that the use of gendered phrases in your job post strongly predicts the gender of the person you eventually hire. It stands to reason: If you reach more women with your job post, and more women apply, you’re that much more likely to hire a woman at the end of the process.

If you’re stuck talking to only a small subset of the population while your competitors are able to reach everyone, by definition they will find more qualified candidates faster than you can. We’ve already seen that regardless of their size, companies inside the Textio learning loop fill roles 17% faster, with more diverse candidates, than companies outside the loop. The gap is only widening month over month.

If you’re a large establishment tech company, this is worth thinking about the next time you blame your lack of progress on the pipeline problem. It may make you feel better right now, but your competitors are at your heels and many of them are getting this right.

And whether it’s this year or next year or in five years, if you aren’t seriously investing in a new approach to talent, you will lose. Not only in inclusive hiring, but also in business — because they are rapidly becoming the same thing.

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