Diversity Referral Award: Why We’re Giving It a Shot

In: coalition, conversation, diversity, hiring, inclusion, social impact

By Andres Bascumbe, Program Manager, TechCongress 

Originally posted on TechCongress Blog

TechCongress’ work in bridging the knowledge and experience divide in Congress has made us aware of the lack of diversity in both the tech industry and Congress. We are committed to actively improving what we view to be a critical flaw.

The reasons for the lack of diversity in Congress are varied, but include the fact that hiring is often based on pre-­existing relationships, making it difficult for people without a Congressional connection to get their feet in the door. Most people live in personal and professional networks that are occupied by people who look like themselves. This creates a very difficult problem for industries like tech and politics, which are not diverse and rely heavily on network-based hiring. How do you utilize the networks of employees and supporters to hire and grow your teams, without perpetuating the status quo and lack of diversity?

We’re learning from tech companies like IntelPinterest, and the startup Glowforge, and groups like the Kapor Center to pilot a new approach: diversity referral awards.

We’ve long used nominations as a way to encourage people to send us talented candidates for our Congressional Innovation Fellowship. This year, as an additional aspect of our nomination process, we’re announcing a diversity referral award for our 2019 recruitment cycle.

If you nominate a candidate from an underrepresented community for the Congressional Innovation Fellowship, and they apply, are accepted, and join the program as a fellow, we’re going to pay you $500. It’s as simple as that.

We want to send an unambiguous message about the importance of diversity recruiting within our organization to the tech sector and Capitol Hill. There’s a substantial difference between vocalizing the importance of diversity in an organization and actually committing funds to support the cause. This is one way to put our money where our mouth is.

The TechCongress Diversity Referral Award will incentivize those with connections to diverse communities—underrepresented minorities, women, veterans, and disabled individuals—to put forth talented people they believe will succeed in the Congressional Innovation Fellowship.

TechCongress is committed to building an ecosystem of inclusive cross-­sector technology policy leaders—leaders that represent the diversity of the United States. We’ve committed to directing at least 51 percent of our outreach to groups working with underrepresented communities, and have exceeded that goal in each of our three annual recruiting cycles. This commitment shapes the procedure for our recruitment process and the effort is evident in our results. To be clear, we still have a lot of work to do, but we are proud that we’ve prioritized inclusion and diversity since day one of TechCongress’ inception and have continued to make gradual improvements during the three years of the Congressional Innovation Fellowship program.

These procedures have resulted in classes of fellows of which 46 percent identify as racial minorities, 38 percent identify as veterans, and 31 percent identify as women. At TechCongress, we are transparent about our successes and shortcomings with regards to diversity. For example, we are falling short of our goals in regards to recruiting women. We’ve spent time and effort recruiting women in tech: we participated in the Women Who Code conference, advertised on job boards directed to women, and conducted targeted outreach to 54 women “influencers” in tech to share our application with their networks, among other efforts. But we need to do better. Our overall goal is gender parity—in our applicants and in our final classes of fellows.

Inclusion is a constant battle and we will constantly be seeking to improve the  diversity of our organization. We want feedback and advice about how we can do more. If you have ideas for how we can improve, or constructive criticism about how we’ve done so far, send them to Andres [at] TechCongress [dot] io.

You can read more about the award on our FAQs page.

About Andres

Andres most recently worked on Capitol Hill where he handled technology, telecommunications, cybersecurity, and federal affairs issues for Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, Vice Ranking Member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. He also served as a clerk on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.

Bascumbe earned a J.D. from American University, Washington College of Law and a B.A. in Mass Communications and Spanish from Florida State University. He can be reached at Andres [at] TechCongress.io or @andresbascumbe.