Something I’ve been passionate about since starting in the recruitment industry more than seven years ago is building a diverse, inclusive and representative workforce. It’s something that’s continued here at Canva. While hiring for iOS at Canva, it became very clear to me that we needed to focus on bringing in people with different perspectives and backgrounds, given the impact this has on our users and the success of the company.
Recently I’ve been given the opportunity to step into a new role with the mission to help build out the most diverse and inclusive engineering organisation in the world. We’re going to do that by ensuring our pipelines are filled with the highest quality candidates, especially those from underrepresented areas. The creation of this role demonstrates Canva’s true commitment to solving workforce challenges and positions us for long-term success.
Pursuing diversity at Canva
This focus really started for me after leading recruitment for our mobile teams. When we made our first female hire, there were seven male engineers to one female engineer in the iOS team. We thought hard about how we could make our new hire feel as included and comfortable as possible. Imagine consistently being in meetings where you are underrepresented - there are considerable challenges associated with that. Underrepresented groups often face challenges such as having the chance to speak and contribute in meetings, and knowing that their views are considered and respected. It is important to note - I am not saying that this has been a problem here, but it is an unconscious bias that underrepresented groups constantly experience.
We saw gender diversity as the most critical area to be cognizant of at Canva. Although this is where we have started, we will continue to focus on a number of other underrepresented groups to ensure our workforce continues to empathize and build for our diverse user base.
Where we’re at now
On the mobile team, we’ve had some incredible success. 33% of the team are now female engineers. In fact 80%, or 4 out of 5 of our latest hires on iOS have been female engineers. As you can see there’s still room for improvement, but it’s something I’m very excited to be working on.
Some members of the Canva mobile team
How we tackled it on iOS
At the beginning of this journey, I honestly didn’t think that solving this problem would be that difficult. In reality, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The team believed that we needed more diversity, but were singularly focused on making an amazing product rather than recruiting. Typically in engineering environments hiring is seen as the less attractive part of an engineer’s role and is often deprioritized in favor of delivering technical objectives. This is why solving a representation problem requires time, dedicated effort and improvements to many processes by a team of internal stakeholders. It needs to start with someone taking charge, and giving that challenge to a dedicated team like Talent Acquisition can be a good start.
My first idea for an actionable solution was to headhunt female engineers across multiple channels and bring them into our process. Interestingly, I actually met Canva’s first female iOS Engineer at a mobile development meetup at the offices of another top Sydney technology company. The two of us were among the few females at the meetup so naturally we chatted, and I mentioned that she should come to work at Canva as our iOS team is amazing! It took about seven months to finally convince her to come in for a lunch with the team. My primary learning from this was: a lot of things you do now will pay off later.
Here are some of the learnings so far
Get data: I knew that Canva had to do a few things at the same time in order to get the diversity results we wanted as a company. The first step was analyzing our current recruitment process and figuring out what we could do better. Engineers love data and so do I, so this step was pretty simple in practice. I looked at our raw interview and hiring data and created a presentation with the improvements I thought we could make.
Fix the interview process: Another key task in our diversity journey was helping the team members responsible for hiring at Canva improve the interview process. At Canva, interview decisions are distributed among a broad panel and engaging with all team members on this panel was crucial to improving our interview process. I asked the team to tell me what we were lacking. They acknowledged the obvious lack of diversity and that it needed to be fixed. We decided to remove unintentional barriers in our process that may have made it harder for some candidates to succeed. In addition to this, we noted that we needed to get more candidates through to the final stage of our process. To accomplish this, we decided to intentionally balance our pipeline without lowering our quality standards for any candidates.
Ultimately, what had the greatest impact was just getting the conversation started in the team. Not only did we want diversity in our team because it was a good business decision, but because research has found that non-homogeneous teams are simply smarter, more innovative and make better and more informed decisions. Diversity improves overall company culture and success. Despite the obvious business reasons, diversity just makes the workplace a happier and friendlier place to be.
Focus my time on balancing the pipeline: On a personal level, I decided to allocate my resourcing and interview capacity to increase the gender balance. Over the course of three months, we quadrupled the historic average of 10% interview opportunities for female engineers to over 40%.
Work on representation goals with our recruitment agency partners: At Canva, all of our teams are growing significantly and we work with some external partners to help us bring in more candidates to the pipeline. I asked each of our external recruitment partners to help me diversify the pipeline with some awesome headhunted candidates. You can’t solve everything yourself, you need all the help you can get. Being direct with our partners about focusing sourcing efforts on key areas of importance to Canva proved hugely effective in securing a more representative group at the top of the funnel.
Nothing groundbreaking - just focus
As you can see, there’s nothing really groundbreaking in what I did. It’s a step by step process where following through with what you think works best, trying new things and getting people onboard with the vision is key. My advice to other companies who want to improve the lack of diversity in their teams would be to start small - start by improving your actions and that of your team. Ensure your team is educated on diversity issues, that they understand its benefits and are working on tangible solutions to the problem. It is very well known that many groups are underrepresented in the technology industry, so what specifically will you and your team do about it? There are so many things that can be done on so many levels - make sure you select the key areas you will spend your time and resources on in order to reap the greatest rewards. Finally, be persistent with your attention and create a goal for your team that you actually put on the agenda and prioritize.
What we’re doing going forward
We have started measuring the gender gap, and soon we will be looking at more than just gender. We also have a diversity committee that is working on a Diversity Roadmap. The goal of this group is to make Canva’s workforce more representative of our user base as well as the community we live in. Our initial focus will be on closing the gender gap, but our ideal future is representation for all groups whether it be age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability and more. We are also supporting events that encourage women and young girls to enter technology, such as Node Girls, Women Who Code, Code Like A Girl and Curious Minds. Our People Team is making sure that Canva has the best employee policies for families, including flexible work arrangements and parental leave.
Finally, it’s important for us to acknowledge that we don’t know everything, and are just at the beginning of the long journey to make Canva more representative. As we grow to hundreds and possibly thousands of team members in the coming years, we’ll need everyone’s help in building an inclusive workplace where every single person can feel like they belong.