May 14, 2018
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:
- Product: As we build products for a wide audience (especially consumer facing), we often lack a diversity of perspective in the people building it. Despite how disciplined one might be in terms of trying not to just “build for yourself”, the creative ideas that come from people who have totally different experiences than us simply cannot be emulated by will. So, our products end up suffering and a large portion of our consumer audience does not resonate with them as strongly as they could have.
- Talent: Hiring is already one of the hardest things to do in terms of finding great talent without breaking the bank. Underrepresented groups are often not in the typical places we hire, and so there is a lot of untapped talent out there if we go to the right places (similar argument is often made for remote workers, it’s slightly different but core idea is the same).
- Opportunity: This one is not economical but rather more around principles: We should be doing everything in our power to ensure that people actually have a truly equal opportunity to succeed and contribute to common goals. The world as it exists today has systemic discrimination which makes it easier for people carrying privilege to access certain positions and opportunities (to better understand this issue, read Ijeoma Oluo’s wonderful book). It then follows that in order to truly provide equal opportunities we need to go out of our way to provide access for those that are underprivileged. This is not over-biasing to hire them exclusively, but rather compensating for the extra obstacles they have to go through just to be seen and heard, and giving them equal voice in the conversation of our hiring decisions.
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:
1. Write inclusive job descriptions
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:
- Remove terms that could be discouraging or aggressive to certain groups. Textio is a great tool to help with this.
- Encourage applicants to apply even if they don’t meet 100% of the criteria
- Explicitly encourage candidates from underrepresented groups to apply. Emphasizing your intent and policies around equal representation
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?”
2. Create a welcoming office environment
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.
3. Look for “Culture add” not “Culture fit”
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.
4. Enroll in diversity training
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.
5. Post in diversity-focused job boards
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.
Interested in getting some hands-on guidance in implementing these techniques? I currently offer strategic consulting services to help individuals and teams reach their full potential.