Inclusive hiring – there’s a lot more than posting on the right job board

“Which job board do I post on to reach diverse* candidates?” is a question I’m asked on a weekly basis. There’s more to attracting underrepresented talent than simply where you advertise job opportunities. Attracting new talent starts with having an honest look inward at your current culture. How are you growing and developing your team now? Who is rising up the ranks? Who is represented in leadership (and in the succession plans for leadership?) Who is choosing to leave and why? You need to do an honest look inward before you identify external places to post a job ad.

I have a lot to say on inclusive hiring–this is the first in a series of five posts that I’ll be posting over the next couple of weeks. 

Assess your culture today

person cleaning a hardwood floor with a red vacuum cleaner

I try to clean (or at least tidy) my apartment before guests come over. At minimum, I make sure there’s a place for them to hang their coat, that there’s toilet paper in the bathroom and that I have a clean glass or mug to offer guests something to drink. Thinking along similar lines–does your internal culture need a little bit of a tidy up before you invite new people to join your company? 

Different kinds of data can be very helpful in understanding the big picture. 

Do a voluntary self identification project so you can look at aggregate data about gender, race/ethnicity, disability status, caregiver status, veteran status, etc.

You can use this data to help you understand who is represented in your company now and see how your diversity efforts change over time.

Look at your engagement survey data to understand where there are differences between majority and marginalized demographic groups.

For example, do women, non-binary folks and men all report feeling the same degree of safety to report harassment? Do Asian, Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and white staff all report they have managers who are invested in their growth? Is there a specific office, region, or business unit that has outlier high scores for belonging that you can learn from? Culture Amp has a list of common demographics that might be useful for planning your engagement survey.

Use focus groups to dig deeper to understand why you’re seeing gaps between groups.

After analyzing your engagement survey you might see that there’s a big gap between Asian and white staff on a question about your manager showing genuine interest in your career aspirations. You may know overall at your company that Asian staff’s scores are 20 points lower, but until you really understand why you can’t change things. Focus groups can be a useful way to probe deeper to understand how staff are really experiencing the workplace and really hear about systemic issues.

Audit your voluntary attrition data and exit survey data to understand the patterns of who is leaving and why.

I love Dr. Erin Thomas’ wisdom on this topic. She suggests talking to the departing employee’s manager, HR Business Partner, closest collaborators and work friends and her unconventional advice is to circle back with the departing employee 6-12 months after they’ve left when they’re more likely to have the perspective of what wasn’t working and be willing to share it.

Representation is affected by hiring AND attrition. If a demographic group is leaving faster than you’re hiring you will never shift representation. Attrition is an important, and often overlooked, part of this equation.

Listen to what current and former staff are saying about their experience on social media

What are current employees saying about you on Blind? What are former employees saying about you on Glassdoor? What are employees saying about you on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram? The Instagram account Change the Museum posts anonymous quotes detailing “tales of unchecked racism”. 

Lego minifig holding a balloon in one hand and flowers in the other. On a stack of bricks including Megan Hall, Chocolate Soup, VP Operations, CS 2020, Late Founder, 1 year

From Chocolate Soup’s Instagram Used with permission.

Of course, it’s not just negative experiences that people share. When I see people at various companies posting personalized Lego blocks from Chocolate Soup on my LinkedIn feed, it always makes me smile. I love reading people’s work stories where they’ve been encouraged to stretch and grow, or where a team was more than the sum of its parts and did something new and innovative.

You should have a better idea of where your culture is awesome and where it needs work. You need to work to fix the problems, whether it’s a culture that celebrates brilliant assholes, or the practice of sweeping bullying and harassment under the carpet. If you don’t do the work to fix what’s not working you may be successful in hiring underrepresented talent, but they’re not going to stay long. Also: staff morale and engagement will tank. When staff take the time and risk to share their experience, you need to hear them, and then act to fix those. 

Before you invite guests over for a party, fix the wobbly handrail at your front steps, clean the bathroom and make sure you’ve vacuumed the dog hair off the couch. 

*A note on language: “diverse” is an adjective that can describe a group of people. A singular person can not be diverse. People use “diverse” as a shorthand for saying what they actually mean because it’s short, sweet and many of us have been taught that it’s impolite to be specific.  If you’re looking to hire women for engineering manager roles, say that. If your university internship program is focused on university students with disabilities, say so. If you’re looking specifically to hire Black senior leaders, then say that. In some places you can’t be this explicit  in the job ad, but you should be clear about who you’re looking to attract. Using vague language like “diverse” allows us to hire someone who is different in a small way (like, someone who has a university degree, but it’s not from an Ivy League school). This means we dodge accountability for prioritizing historically marginalized people and moving the needle in meaningful and necessary ways. 

Thank you to Jess Mitchell and Aubrey Blanche for feedback on this post.