Here’s how they and other companies recruit minorities as industry faces shortage

As Albemarle County-based Castle Hill Gaming recently announced plans to invest $1.3 million to hire 106 workers within the next three years, CEO Arthur Watson said he’s considering diversity as the nation faces a shortage of minorities in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics workforce.

This year, the company teamed up with one of its Native American clients in Oklahoma to offer an internship in data, programming and design and crafted plans to provide similar opportunities in the future. This is a move other companies in Charlottesville are taking to promote diversity, as the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau revealed disparities in the field.

The most recent data from the bureau shows that nearly 10 years ago, black and Latino workers accounted for 6% and 7%, respectively, in the STEM field. That same report also stressed that “among science and engineering graduates, men are employed in the STEM occupations at twice the same rate of women: 31%, compared with 15%.”

Castle Hill is seeking software engineers, data scientists, mathematicians, artists, graphic designers and other positions. The company said in a news release that it will receive matching grants from the Virginia Jobs Investment Program and the county to assist in the hiring and training of the new workers.

Castle Hill also said it uses different methods to recruit a diverse staff, including attending job fairs at colleges across the state, as well as training its management team on diversity and inclusion. It aims at allocating time and resources to area schools and organizations that focus on STEM in education, art and design.

“Diversity is certainly something that we think about and are aware of. We always look to recruit the best candidates, but we do make sure we’re in no way biased in our hiring,” Watson said. “And that we are recruiting from a diverse pool of applicants.”

Launched in 2013, Castle Hill is a gaming software company that mainly builds and designs games. Its current headquarters occupies nearly 5,500 square feet on U.S. 29 in northern Albemarle. It plans to lease at least 10,000 to 15,000 square feet for its new headquarters, Watson said.

“We’re actively working with the Albemarle Economic Development Department to look for a new space in Albemarle County,” Watson said.

‘Steering children into field’

Christy Phillips, chief talent officer for WillowTree Inc., said the company mainly focuses on community outreach effort by providing financial support to Charlottesville-based Computers4Kids, or C4K, a nonprofit exposing low-income children to STEM, and Spark!, which also has a goal of spreading knowledge of computer science.

“We try to do things within the community at youth level to support programs that are trying to either provide opportunities or encourage underrepresented groups to explore careers in tech,” Phillips said.

Phillips said her staff has allowed children from C4K to tour the company. During the visit, students learn about some of the positions at WillowTree and what they should expect on the field.

The company also is getting an apprentice program off the ground. It aims at training someone who wants to be work in the field and might not have the opportunity to get the education or skill set to get a STEM-related job.

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Christy Phillips, chief talent officer for WillowTree Inc., said the company mainly focuses on community outreach through Computers4Kids and Spark!

Credit: Courtesy of WilIowTree

“[We’ll] give them training, shadowing and mentoring while onsite,” Phillips said. “That will be geared toward someone who is from an underrepresented group.”

Reggie Leonard, associate director for career connections and community engagement at the University of Virginia’s Data Science Institute and School of Engineering and Applied Science, is an avid supporter of companies’ effort to invest in local organizations.

“That’s a strategy that I would [recommend] to anyone in town,” Leonard said. “… Things like that are things to invest in.”

Other strategies include sourcing, such as reaching out to qualified candidates on LinkedIn and participating in virtual career fair hosted by Fairy God Boss, a website geared toward women, according to Phillips.

Additionally, WillowTree uses Textio to better describe its job openings. The website allows companies to plug in their job descriptions, receive a score and then pick out words that are not universal. Companies should avoid using “ninja” or “rock star” in a job description, Phillips recommended.

“By using language that is more universally appealing to people, you are therefore encouraging a more diverse group of applicants to apply to your job,” she said.

‘Retaining diverse staff’

Recruiting minorities to fight disparities won’t solve the issue, experts argued. Companies are to promote an inclusive work environment — something both WillowTree and Castle Hill said they foster.

“It does not matter how diverse of a team that you build,” Phillips said. “If there are people who feel that they are not welcome or feel like it’s [not] the right place for them, they will leave.”

Leonard couldn’t agree more, stressing that companies are realizing diversity and inclusion are important because “the world is a diverse place.”

He said remote work is a growing trend that can potentially attract more minorities in the next five years. That work environment allows them to live in a community in which they feel comfortable, he said, because certain areas might not be as diverse.

“They might not want to move to a location where they are not [going] to see many folks who look like them,” he said. “But if they work remotely, they are able to build their lives in a way that makes them feel whole.”

Acqui-hiring, or hiring by acquiring a new company, also increases diversity, Leonard said.

‘Underestimated rather than underrepresented’

“They oftentimes are not considered for roles because people are using the narrative of ‘I don’t want to weaken my pool. I want to have strong candidates. That’s assuming these candidates are not as strong. That means that they are underestimated. Because of that underestimation, they are not considered for roles in a similar light.”

Reggie Leonard Associate Director for Career Connections and Community Engagement at the University of Virginia’s Data Science Institute and School of Engineering and Applied Science

Leonard said the goal is to push against the narrative that there aren’t minorities in STEM.

“There are plenty of minorities with STEM background who are not employed in STEM roles but who are actively seeking,” he said.

Companies can use social media as a platform to recruit, he said, by searching Twitter hashtags like #BlackInStem or #BlackTechTwitter.

“I have a particular insight into the African American community because that’s my background,” he said, explaining that he’s seen similar movements for women or the Latinx community.

Latino, black and women workers are ‘underestimated’ rather than ‘underrepresented’ because there are thousands of them in the field, Leonard said.

“They oftentimes are not considered for roles because people are using the narrative of ‘I don’t want to weaken my pool. I want to have strong candidates,’” he said. “That’s assuming these candidates are not as strong. That means that they are underestimated. Because of that underestimation, they are not considered for roles in a similar light.”

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Reggie Leonard, associate director for career connections and community engagement at the University of Virginia’s Data Science Institute and School of Engineering and Applied Science, weighs in about some of the trends in the STEM workforce.

Credit: Courtesy of University of Virginia