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Why It’s Never Too Early to Design for Diversity

We’ve seen how putting bias-reducing hiring practices and inclusive culture initiatives on the back-burner for too long can build up and erupt: Uber, Google, Tesla—the list goes on.

Fast growth companies with “we’ll focus on diversity later” mentalities have suffered reputational blows as blog posts, emails, and internal memos are exposing weak commitments to diversity and inclusion pledges.

Although it may be too early to tell how long it will take for some of these brands to recover from their respective media backlash, startup founders and entrepreneurs already have a lot to learn from these company culture disasters.

How does your company avoid ending up on Glassdoor’s “worst places to work” list? It’s simple: make diversity and inclusion a core value of your company, and implement the strategy to make it happen.

The benefits of diversity and inclusion in the workplace isn’t really a question. McKinsey found that gender-diverse companies were 15 per cent more likely to financially outperform their competitors, and that ethnically-diverse companies were 35 per cent more likely to financially outperform. That’s probably because diverse teams are more likely to question the status quo and think “outside the box,” making them more likely to report growth in market share or capture a new market. The question that comes out of these discussions is, “So when is the right time to make diversity and inclusion a priority?”

The answer: it’s never too early. The cumulation of these tech sector PR disasters have made that clear. It’s a crutch of startups; founders’ first hires tend to be within their own networks (which is often a homogenous group), and as the company scales, these first employees draw from their own social circles and networks. By the time an organization reaches a size at which it starts to develop brand recognition and media attraction, it has often already implemented unconsciously biased hiring processes and an established company monoculture. It’s nearly impossible to work backwards from there.

Venture capital firm KPCB chair John Doerr has a solution. Doerr’s advice to startup founders and entrepreneurs is that your first hire should be your head of recruiting and talent acquisition. Why? Quotas or PR statements about a “commitment” to diversity may slightly increase the volume of diverse talent getting in the door, but once these hires get into a monoculture where they feel like outsiders, turnover is inevitable.

If you truly believe people are your company’s greatest asset, treat them that way. Talent acquisition managers use metrics and data to invest in a culture where people are engaged and included, which allows organizations, teams, and individuals to do amazing things.

Clarity and alignment are key; that’s why it’s not enough to just hire a head of talent acquisition to set quotas and metrics without foundational company values. At the same time, it’s not enough to write your company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion on the wall and call it a day. Values and strategy must collaborate in an iterative and actionable way.

So maybe you’ve made a commitment to diversity and inclusion a core company value, written on the wall for all to see. Maybe you’ve even hired a head of talent acquisition, so you can start investing your resources into recruiting outstanding and diverse talent. Now what? How do you ensure that you’re setting up processes that will scale with your company and continue to recruit, hire, and retain top diverse talent? That may seem like a daunting, almost overwhelming, task – but it doesn’t have to be.

Designing for diversity is all about taking unstructured processes and structuring them to give every candidate and employee equal opportunities and consideration. Consider re-structuring some of these processes:

  • Job postings. Are your descriptions in job advertisements designed to attract diverse talent, or are they copy-and-pasted from your website? The research shows that if a job posting lists 10 required credentials, men are likely to apply if they meet 6 of them, whereas women only apply if they meet all 10. If you’re struggling to attract more women candidates, cut down your requirements from an arbitrary list of educational and experiential credentials to focus on what is absolutely necessary to complete the job-related tasks.
  • Shortlisting. Are you narrowing down your candidate pool based on a keyword search and a “gut feel” scan of resumes? Credentials that hiring managers are looking for in a resume – like Ivy League education or prestigious internships – are indicative of socioeconomic status, but have almost no correlation with future on-the-job success. Companies like Plum are upending the resume-first conventional norm by providing a platform that automates shortlisting based on proven predictors of employee success – like personality, social intelligence, and problem solving – instead of unconscious bias. Plum’s hiring tool is just one resource you can utilize to structure your hiring process.
  • Interviewing. Are you using the “beer test” or the “airport test” to assess how much you like a candidate? Or are you using consistent interview questions that mute confirmation bias (skewing your interview questions to fish for answers that uphold initial unconscious assumptions) and more easily allow you to compare candidate responses objectively?

The list goes on. The point is, established recruiting, hiring, and benchmarking processes used by start-ups and global enterprise companies alike are riddled with bias.

Muting that bias is certainly not impossible but it’s a whole lot more manageable and less susceptible to cultural resistance when your company is small and newly established.

Designing your hiring, on boarding and culture with diversity and inclusion as a priority is not only the right thing to do. In this day and age of transparency through social media, high profile media scrutiny and a whole lot of finger-pointing, you can’t afford not to.

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