Maynard Webb, Contributor
Recently I was visiting one of our portfolio companies for our first board meeting. I couldn’t help but notice that every new hire was white, young and male. I asked why and was told, “ We know this is a problem, but there just isn’t enough pipeline to find other good people now. ”
The thing is, it is a problem they can fix, and one that they must fix, if they want to ensure the best success for the company. I have to admit, there was a part of me that felt as if I had no business telling the company that they had to focus on diversity. After all, I am also white and male. But over the past seven years at WIN, and my 40-year career, we’ve come to see how crucial it is to be deliberate about making your company diverse — and doing it early is much, much easier.
I know what it takes to build a great business. I also know there are plenty of smart and capable and diverse candidates ready for these jobs. We are seeing increased enrollment rates for both women and minorities in tech programs. With 50% of our population being female and nearly 50% in the U.S. (often overlapping) being racially diverse, the issue is not “pipeline,” so that is not a suitable answer and it’s a bad excuse.
Since I’m hardly an expert on diversity I have consulted with a variety of professionals for advice on how create a diverse workplace; they have included Lori Nishiura Mackenzie, executive director of the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University, Laura Mather, the cofounder of the HR solutions company Talent Sonar, entrepreneur Masha Sedova at Elevate Security, and legal and HR professionals at eBay, Salesforce and Visa. The following list includes clear steps you should incorporate into your hiring strategy to help build a more diverse team:
• Make inclusion and diversity part of your corporate culture. People will hire based on “fit” — and that often means “people like us.” Instead, if you build a culture where fit means people who expand who we are, then diversity will be germane to your future success.
• Think about the company you want to build—not just the one to two spots that are open. What matters in the long run? We often get caught in the short-term need to add someone with a functional skill, like project management. We need to also consider how each person adds to the overall diversity of approaches and experiences that will help guide the team through growth and challenges.
• Prioritize the skills you are looking for before you interview. Don’t use a laundry list. Agree to criteria in advance of seeing candidates. This helps you fairly and effectively evaluate candidates with different but equal experiences.
• Disregard unnecessary criteria that can promote bias. When writing the job description, jettison anything that may be filtering out quality people — examples might include rigorous expectations of number of years of experience, coming from a set of high-profile universities, or studying a certain curriculum that may not have been available. You can also add to every job description a disclaimer that explicitly encourages people not precisely matching the job spec to apply anyway.
• Remove subconscious biases from the hiring process. Write a job spec and test it out to make sure it doesn’t only appeal to one group of people, such as men. Think about the words you use. “Dominant” and “competitive” are seen as positive traits for men, but as negative attributes for women. Similarly, “competitive,” “best of the best” and “fast paced” appeal more to men and tend to steer women to self-select out. “Ninja” is another one, as Japanese ninjas were historically men. Words like “extreme culture” or “exclusive” alienate many people and discourage them from applying. Other words, such as “loyalty,” passion,” and “collaboration,” have been shown to appeal more to women, experts say. It’s not that you can’t ever use any of these words, but it matters how you use them. Make sure that your spec is well balanced and appeals to all genders equally. (There are apps that help you screen for this.)
• Look for talent in unlikely or overlooked places. One of the founders I know posted job opportunities in daycare centers as a way to target people who had a lot to offer as well as to demonstrate she understood their circumstances and that she could accommodate them. At LiveOps, I found many of our best performing agents to be professional women who valued flexibility, and had been overlooked by traditional corporate America. Reach out to them where they are.
• Employ a diverse set of interviewers. Women are much more likely to join a company when they can interact with women who are already there, and can testify to a company’s commitment to diversity. In fact, experts say, one of the biggest deciding factors on whether or not a female candidate accepts a job is if there was a woman on the interview panel.
• Reconsider how you define diversity. Gender and racial and ethnic diversity may be visible, but ensuring other kinds of diversity such as educational background, geography, economics, family status, disability, sexual preference, gender expression/identity, political inclination, religious affiliation, age, and neuro-diversity (people who may connect the dots differently) is also important.
• Learn how to value the journey. We often value recognizable indicators of past success, such as elite schools, or work experience in leading companies. We are less skilled at recognizing unique talent, or those whose journey is possibly longer and less traditional; in many cases, those candidates can demonstrate exemplary grit, resiliency and creative problem-solving.
• Use data and facts to evaluate candidates the same way. Create a standard evaluation system and metrics and use them the same way. Some companies remove names and photos before reviewing them so they are not aware of race or gender.
By 2022 the workforce is expected to be comprised of 47% women and 40% minorities. If we find a way to appeal to everyone and become a magnet for openness, diversity and inclusion, we will have stronger companies and stronger futures.