D&I in Blockchain Club Recruiting

she256’s Maggie Valentine & Medha Kothari presented the contents of this blogpost at BAF’s event “Growing your Blockchain Club during COVID.” Slides from the event can be found here.

With the Fall 2020 semester taking an unfamiliar form, university organizations have been given the novel task of determining what club recruiting looks like in a remote-first reality. During this inevitable period of restructuring recruitment practices, she256 urges on-campus blockchain clubs to take this as an opportunity to reflect on D&I in recruiting— and hopefully walk away from this article with tangible action items on how to both grow and nurture a diverse and inclusive blockchain organization.

Why D&I + club recruiting?

When chatting with the overwhelming number of 20-year-old professionals in the blockchain space about how they initially got into the technology, a common theme arises: many joined their respective university’s blockchain club out of sheer curiosity, ended up falling in love with the tech, and eventually pursued a career in the space. Because college clubs are clear funnels into blockchain careers, the makeup of these organizations inherently determine the makeup of the industry. As such, we believe it’s crucial to incorporate D&I at this early stage.

When thinking about how to present this framework of D&I within the context of club recruitment, we divided these concepts into two phases: 1) diversity, which can be addressed before and during the recruitment process, and 2) inclusion, which happens after the recruitment process. Before diving into what you can do as an organization, it’s important to understand the distinction between the two.

As defined by Workable, diversity describes “the variation in physical, personal, and social characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, age, and education.” Typically, efforts toward building a diverse blockchain organization lie within the “pre-joining” stage of a club. As a recruiter, it’s important to think about how the application process is framed and what type of applicants it is attracting, and inadvertently encouraging to apply. By creating an inviting and inclusive recruitment experience, a diverse range of applicants will feel comfortable to apply, ultimately increasing this top of the funnel.

Inclusion refers to the “procedures that organizations implement to integrate everyone in the workplace, allowing their differences to coexist in a mutually beneficial way.” When thinking about creating an inclusive organization, one must look within a club’s culture and retention; what kind of environment — both social and learning — is your organization fostering?

So, what should I do? Diversity in Recruiting

While it’s easy to assume that a blockchain organization should primarily be made up of students with ample technical programming knowledge, the reality is that crypto is beautifully interdisciplinary. It’s built upon political theory, philosophy, and traditional finance. A future of mass adoption necessitates user experience researchers, designers, and lawyers. Use cases span pretty much every vertical, from finance, to art, to gaming. While it’s undeniable that the crypto space is highly technical by nature, it doesn’t mean that every recruit has to be a programmer or technical researcher. People from diverse educational backgrounds can contribute in a multitude of ways, and make your organization stronger as a result. By opening up a variety of non-traditional positions (such as marketing, law, and design), the possibilities of how your club can contribute to the blockchain ecosystem grows exponentially.

Before recruitment season begins, reflect on how and who you are marketing to. By simply relying on word-of-mouth or pitching your organization to STEM classes, you will inevitably bring in applicants that reflect the demographics of those circles. If you want to reach a more diverse audience, make the effort to target groups you are interested in and foster genuine relationships with them early on. Some examples of how to do this are below:

  • Look at college demographic data. Typically, universities make this data publicly available. As a recruiter, you can use this data to identify the demographics you’re targeting with your current marketing plan and identify where your plan is falling short. Which demographics are your current recruitment plan not reaching? What subjects are they studying? What type of careers are they looking into? By pinpointing the answer to these questions, you can take a more targeted approach in advertising your organization. Depending on what type of students you are pitching your club to, it’s helpful to present use cases that relate to that particular area of study or interest.
  • Understand intersectionality. If you’re unfamiliar with the topic, this blogpost by Jennifer Kim provides a great introduction while dispelling common myths. It’s easy to fall into the trap of hosting a “Women in <insert organization>” Panel, or sending a blurb to a “Women in CS” mailing list and calling it a day. Although these events are inherently not bad, they may not yield the results you expect. They’re low-hanging fruit that won’t necessarily solve the issue at hand (unless you intentionally market these particular events to people who would not have been inclined to attend to begin with). Rather, consider focusing on trying to reach the people who don’t know your org exists to begin with, or individuals who may not know about blockchain technology because they haven’t been exposed to it.

When assessing applicants, look at what an individual has accomplished given the resources at their disposal. Understanding what an applicant has accomplished given their background informs their potential, and potential is key. The truth is, it’s not as easy as just comparing two resumes; you need to contextualize the experiences of two individuals and gauge their candidacy holistically. To that end, make sure there is an aspect to the application process that allows the applicant to provide more context on their background. You don’t want applicants to be just their resume.

Understandably, many on-campus organizations can’t accept every applicant. However, it’s worth reflecting on the accessibility of events put on by your respective university club. If your club hosts educational events, think about opening them up to the general student population (specifically if they are an introductory event and, if not, think about hosting one! 🙂). By creating member-only events, it exacerbates an already siloed community and fails to potentially engage future applicants.

In many schools, membership to an organization is extremely competitive. In the construct of those systems, applicants will inevitably get rejected. However, after an applicant is rejected, how do you continue to foster a relationship with them and encourage their blockchain journey?

A great first step is to consider sharing resources that you found helpful when you were starting out in the space, (i.e. Beginner’s Guide to Blockchain). Think about pointing them to other organizations or initiatives that can help them learn and network within the space (i.e. she256’s mentorship program). If you have community events, be sure to reach out and invite them! As a friend said, your recruiting process should be so good that people you reject still refer their friends to interview with you.

So, what should I do? Inclusion in Recruiting

It’s crucial to cultivate a space where people feel comfortable asking questions and asking for help. A good way to establish a no-dumb-questions and continuous learning environment is by setting the precedent as a leader. Whether it’s in club meetings or slack channels, encourage organization executives to openly express when they are confused or when they’re curious about learning more about a specific topic. Additionally, it’s helpful to create an in-org mentorship system, where seasoned members can give advice and share resources to new recruits.

As we previously stated, the crypto space is beautifully interdisciplinary. In turn, blockchain organizations have the unique opportunity of creating departments that aren’t built upon the assumption that someone has a traditional computer science background. If your club expands to having a design, marketing, business, or legal department, be sure to value them equally and make it known; their work is just as important. In the spirit of decentralization, make club decision making an open and transparent process. This can be done through open-door exec meetings or a public slack and discord channel.

Moving forward, we believe open conversation is crucial for catalyzing change. Create dialogue with other blockchain organizations about what they’re currently seeing within the campus blockchain ecosystem: What are they struggling with? What seems to work for them? What type of students are applying to their club, and what types aren’t?

Trying to bring inclusive and accessible design to the blockchain space :-)

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