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How the Pandemic Changed Our Diversity Recruitment Strategy

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Erik Bledsoe
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Katie Horne
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Camilla Lever
 on September 2nd, 2020

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we had just moved into our new office space. We went from trying to remember where the plates were to trying to ensure that all of our employees had everything they needed to work from home productively, comfortably, and safely for an unknown period. We needed new Zoom licenses, new equipment, and to address what seemed to be hundreds of other details.

We were also in the final stages of securing our Series B funding.

These events put our core beliefs and company culture to the test.

From a Centralized Office to a Distributed Workforce

The three founders of Coder met online when they were 13. The three founded Coder from their bedrooms, thousands of miles apart. As the concept solidified, they were very passionate about having a home base. That's why they all moved from three different parts of the world to Austin to create Coder. They had researched and visited several other cities, but Austin offered the resources and culture essential for a tech startup as well and having an overall good vibe. Austin felt like home for Coder.

From the earliest days, we've worked to create a culture that is both fun yet serious, hard-working yet laid back, and collaborative yet capable of letting each individual shine. Despite our status as a startup, we're slow to fill open positions because we are looking for fit and ability to contribute to that culture in addition to the skillset needed for the job.

To that end, we felt strongly that being in Austin was essential -- we wanted people who were Austin-based or were willing to relocate. To us, our physical office seemed vital to maintaining that culture. Conversations, both work-related and personal, happened in the kitchen, in the conference rooms, and even over Slack despite the fact that the participants were sitting next to each other.

As with so many other startups, we spent so much time working that our social and work interactions mingled freely. We would leave the office as a group for planned social outings together. It’s cliche, but we felt like family.

Then came COVID.

The founders and our team worked hard to develop a strategy for maintaining the Coder culture and the bonds we'd developed. We turned afternoon social outings into virtual golf tournaments. We started a daily Good Morning Coffee Chat over Zoom to start the day. We took our in-person watercooler conversations to Slack. It took a while, but we adjusted to the new normal and we were thrilled to see that the culture we worked so hard to build survived the transition.

We were still Coder, just distributed.

Growing Our Distributed Team

On April 15, we announced that we had received Series B funding. This meant that we had both the resources and the mandate to grow our team.

Our first hires afterward were Austin-based, but (like the rest of us) would be working remotely until we could return to the office.

As more and more people joined the Coder team, we quickly realized that the culture we developed was strong enough that it could thrive even without the initial interactions in the office. So, we decided to be more open to fully remote employees for our next hires, and we cast the widest recruitment net to date.

The effects were instantaneous and dramatic, especially when it came to attracting a more diverse applicant pool, especially for our technical positions.

How Our Diverse Workforce Changed Coder for the Better

The challenges many tech companies face when it comes to recruiting and maintaining a diverse workforce are well-documented and do not need to be rehashed here.

However, we feel that Coder has several advantages in terms of attracting and retaining such candidates. Our founders have impressed upon me, as the Head of HR, their desire to have a diverse workforce. "With diversity comes new ideas, and with unity, those ideas turn into a better reality," says co-founder John Andrew Entwistle. We are a small, young company that's free from the baggage of the past's intolerant actions and policies; instead, we focus on implementing policies that reflect the different needs of our employees. Our parental leave policy, for instance, goes well above the federally mandated requirement by providing paid leave because we understand that starting or adding to a family is stressful enough without having to worry about reduced income as well.

Over time, our morning catch-up calls began to look and sound different. The faces revealed a wider range of ages and the accents were more varied. The discussions themselves have changed, reflecting the variety of lived experiences of our team.

And, as we learn more about our coworkers, we are discovering the many faces that diversity can take, many of which are not immediately obvious.

A few months ago, we created an open Slack channel focused on diversity, with nearly half of the company joining voluntarily. We ask questions, share news, and discuss ideas for raising awareness across the company (for example, what is Coder doing when it comes to providing accessible design?). We don't want to just talk about these issues, however, so we are actively implementing programs that began as discussions on the channel.

The thing about diversity is that once it is recognized and embraced, it has a way of becoming ingrained in all that we do as a company. We planted the seeds early by defining what we wanted Coder culture to be. However, our initial thoughts on how to make this happen — being in the same place — changed, and with that, we saw an increase in diversity and a strengthening, not a weakening, of our company as a whole.