DIVERSITY: Why Diversity in Tech Starts in the Interview by Asking the Right Questions

This was written by an employee at Virtasant, who prefers to remain anonymous. Virtasant is a global tech company that moves companies’ data storage to the cloud and then helps to manage and optimize their cloud accounts.

It was three months into the pandemic and I was back to freelancing after my part-time job got furloughed when the lockdown started. I was taking copywriting and editing gigs and creating branding and content strategies for companies, but that work was beginning to dwindle as well. It was time to look for another job. And then an email showed up in my inbox. The agency, We Are Rosie, had a client with a “unique business model” looking for someone to lead their content and publications. Two days later, I was on a phone call with Michael Kearns, the CEO of Virtasant

From the beginning of our phone call, I was intrigued. A tech company that helped businesses migrate to, and thrive in, the cloud. A fully-remote company that didn’t believe in corporate offices and 9-to-5 days. It was incredibly appealing and exciting to learn about the company and where Kearns wanted it to go next. But, as a Black woman (and mother), I had some questions about diversity.

I’ve worked in white spaces most of my adult life. I have almost always been the only Black person in the office, or one of a few. Management seldom brought up diversity unless it was to take advantage of trending hashtags, and leadership typically left me to do the job of calling out anything that displayed bias or ignorance. As a working mother, diversity includes family structures as well, like being asked to stay late when I have a child to pick up from school or daycare. Or being told to hire a babysitter when he was sick, even though he needed me and not a stand-in. These expectations were all considered normal and still are today. So, in usual form, I asked where diversity came into play at Virtasant. 

It turned out; diversity was practically the founding principle.

Michael explained that Virtasant’s fully-remote model is not just to save on overhead but to remove the logistical and geographical boundaries that limit whom he can hire. People with caregiver responsibilities, those who may have children with special needs, people located in remote parts of the world — all have specialized skills that traditionally, have only marketable if they move away from their preferred place of residence. 

Meeting people where they are, is so much easier to do when the “office” resides in their kitchens and living rooms. This remote model was not in response to COVID-19; it was simply seen as the way work should be — agile, responsive and globally accessible.

Like so many companies, we exist and collaborate over Zoom calls and Slack channel threads and Google documents. But, as a globally-distributed team, we have the added benefit of teams that include employees from everywhere. My team consists of almost all women residing in places like Brooklyn, Jerusalem, Sarajevo, South Carolina, and Atlanta. 

Every day I interact with co-workers from all over the world. We use practices like asynchronous communication and calendar-sharing, as well as collaborative apps to produce campaigns with multiple teams. Best of all, we get to be present in our lives in ways not possible in traditional work environments. Saving on the commute to-and-from work alone creates ease and contributes to my wellness.

The thing about diversity and an inclusive work culture is we (the current or potential employees) have to ask about it and demand it. Diversity should be just as important as pay rate and title. It should be a priority to us all – not just those of us who exist in marginalized communities. No one benefits from working in spaces that are oppressing or neglecting any of our colleagues. Whether remote or not, office culture impacts us and our ability to feel good about the work we do. I think everyone should start this conversation with managers and co-workers and ask questions about diversity when interviewing for a role. 

A few questions to ask in interviews include:

  • How is this company working towards diversity and inclusion?
  • How are Black and brown people supported here? How are women supported here?
  • Do parents work here? Is this company inclusive of families?

When it comes to equity in the workplace, every industry has room to grow. In tech, the impact of a one-sided perspective is detrimental to innovation and its impact on a diverse world. I work for a company that centers on accessibility and builds a global community of engineers and developers so that they can positively impact the way the world works and does business. And, I work here because I invest my time and skills into spaces that focus on the things I care about most. 

About The Author

Deirdre Newman is a long-time journalist, who's covered OC startups for a few years.

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