There are many reasons why building diverse teams within inclusive environments is beneficial. Others have written about them at length, and the cases are compelling. If you aren’t already familiar with the data and rationale, please take the time to do some research on it. Without strong intrinsic motivation from your leadership, change is unlikely.
With that in mind, here are a few motivations that drive me:
Typically, people tend to focus on (1) and (2), but personally I believe (3) is just the right thing to do, and so that is often what drives me the most.
This post is for those of you who are ready to start improving your teams today. In my last startup, I spent a lot of time working to build a healthy level of diversity in the team. While we were successful in achieving a strong representation of women in the company, we struggled in other areas. I learned a lot through the process, and am hoping some of these techniques will help you in your own efforts.
Here are 5 simple ways to improve the diversity of your hiring pipeline:
The easiest step is to review your job descriptions. They likely have language that discourages certain groups, without you even realizing it. Studies have shown that certain terms and words can be off-putting to women vs men. Also, women tend to avoid applying to jobs unless they feel 100% qualified. By contrast, men will generally apply as long as they feel they meet the majority of criteria. Reshma Saujani did an excellent TED talk on this topic.
To address this, you should:
Try and imagine reading your own job descriptions from as many different perspectives as possible. Then ask yourself, “If I was X, would I really apply to this job?”
It’s important to recognize that even with the best intentions of a hiring manager, the external perception of your company can work against you. What do the photos on your website show? It may seem welcoming to you, but try to imagine a candidate of color, a woman, or a transgendered individual. Do you paint a picture of uniformity, or inclusivity?
This is a tough thing to work on early on, but I found that once you get this right, it can yield exponential returns. Imagine a woman being interviewed by your team of all men. Even if she liked the role, she would be taking on significant cultural risk by accepting the position. Can she rely on your team to be considerate, thoughtful and inclusive of her, given they already have a team of ten without a single woman? Is the job worth that kind of risk?
By contrast, imagine her attending an interview and seeing even one other woman. The risk she takes drops dramatically. The same effect of course applies to other underrepresented groups. The lesson is here is that within each group, the first hire will be tough, but it’ll only get easier from there.
We all tend to have ideas in our head of what the perfect candidate looks like. While it’s important to have a sense of the skill-sets and experience you’re looking for, it’s equally important not to include specific schools or degrees in our “required” list of traits in the candidate. We need to remember that not everyone benefits from the privileges of top tier schools, and when they succeed in the field despite that, it demonstrates a level of perseverance and dedication that is often hard to find.
Often, hiring managers use the term “culture fit” to describe a personal, unspoken list of credentials they filter for. As a result, it becomes an invisible wall that certain candidates cannot get past, regardless of their qualifications.
Take down the wall.
Instead, look for candidates that will be a “culture add”, and evolve the overall culture of the team by extending it with their unique background and perspectives.
Building a diverse hiring funnel is hard work. It takes effort and perseverance to get right. Sometimes, it can help to get some guidance to ensure that the whole team (not just the hiring manager) is on the same page in terms of building the right environment and working against unconscious bias. Luckily, there are some great institutions focused on this issue that provide great resources and training (e.g. Women 2.0, ParadigmIQ).
If you do schedule trainings, everyone on your team should attend. While you may be interested in it for the hiring best practices, the more crucial training will likely be for your team to learn how to build and maintain an inclusive office environment.
Hiring managers sometimes make a token effort to look for diverse candidates, only to give up a short time later, citing a lack of diverse candidates in their applicants list.
Are the candidates not there, or are you not looking for them in the right places? Is it really that surprising that candidates who don’t conform to the typical stereotypes for the role also don’t hang out in the typical social networks / job boards / etc.?
Thankfully, there are now job boards which focus specifically on reaching diverse candidates (here’s a good list). The goal should not be to post only in these boards, but to use them as an additional channel in your overall pipeline.
The logic behind this is simple: go where the candidates are.
Building diverse teams is not easy. It takes consistent action, perseverance and dedication. Still, from both a moral and economic perspective, it’s totally worth the effort.
If there are other techniques or resources that you’ve used with success, let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear from you. Together, we can look forward to smarter, more inclusive, and healthier hiring practices.