How to Build Inclusive and Equitable Hiring Systems in Your Business

By Avery Francis & Sarah Saska, PhD

June 2020 might go down in history as one of the largest reckonings in the world around systematic racism. June is also Pride month, an international celebration and protest in support of LGBTQ+ rights and LGBTQ+ people. These two conversations could not be more intertwined, and both are coming right to the (virtual) office doorstep.

Many companies have made bold statements against discrimination and police violence. Words are a small part of the work that needs to be done. Companies need to take action to ensure that they are offering a truly inclusive hiring experience for employees. Whether remote, in the office, or a hybrid model, there are specific things a company needs to do before building systems for success.

Together, we (Avery and Sarah) have helped organizations ranging from small startups to Fortune 500 giants build more inclusive hiring systems at work. Avery helps startups with talent acquisition, inclusion, and HR strategy through her company Bloom. Dr. Sarah Saska, PhD, helps companies develop inclusive systems through her company Feminuity. Here are the foundations we use across every organization that you can use to build equitable hiring systems and inclusive employee experiences.

Know Your Outcomes

When you know what you want your organization to look like in 3-5 years, you can build the hiring systems to make that a reality. That timeline doesn’t mean you can’t accomplish things faster, but it provides a baseline. Making your goal outcomes clear helps you build the systems now. You can’t just build it when you realize there’s a problem. Like any business system, there is an upfront investment you need to give before you run into challenges. In particular, remember that an inclusive workplace isn’t just about hiring people from different backgrounds, but having an environment where everyone can do their best work.

As you identify outcomes, here’s a simple phrase to use: “We are a business where…” or “We are a business that…”

Here are some examples of tangible outcomes that aren’t about setting quotas:

  • “We are a business where everyone can bring their ideas to the table, even if the ideas are unpopular or go against an idea brought up by someone more senior than them.”
  • “We are a business that naturally attracts – and retains – people from all different backgrounds.”

For this exercise, you just have to be clear on what the outcome is – you’ll work on the “how” part next.

Practice Intellectual Honesty

You can’t improve if you don’t know your baseline, and it’s possible that your baseline is bad. This doesn’t mean you intended it to be bad, but you need intellectual honesty to listen to the data.

To start this data collection, add anonymous survey with sentiment questions and a fulsome demographic question set to your regular employee surveys so employees don’t have to learn another process. Remember to tie the questions to your goal outcomes. If questions aren’t related to outcomes, your data will be interesting but not insightful.

Ask questions like:

  • “I don’t have to hide any part of my identity in order to be successful here.”
  • “I feel like I can voice my genuine thoughts, ideas, and opinions without fear of being gaslighted, demeaned, or otherwise made to feel like my ideas are unwelcome.”
  • “I feel like our employee base is a valid representation of our customer base and the communities we operate in.”

For more inclusion-related metrics and questions, check out Crescendo’s in-depth guide on Diversity and Inclusion Metrics.

Use Inclusive Language in Job Descriptions

An easy way to get started with changing your language is the concept of only say exactly what you mean.

For example: Job descriptions frequently use terms like “Ninja,” “Maverick,” or other phrases that studies show turn off candidates who aren’t straight men. These phrases are intended to be harmless, used as stand-ins for phrases like “ownership mentality” or “willing to ask tough questions.” Making this language more inclusive is simple: use the word you actually mean. Explain what you need candidates to actually do, not the type of person you want them to be.

If you have to explain a word you used by saying something along the lines of “What I actually meant was…” or “It isn’t an insult, it means…”, then in the future use what the phrase actually means to you. Not only will it likely be more inclusive, but you’ll also likely be more understood by people in the long-run.

The key to remember about inclusive vs non-inclusive language is that it has nothing to do with intent or even conscious will. We live in a world filled with derogatory or offensive language that made its way into normal conversation. Unlearning these words is difficult work, but it’s never personal.

Ask for Help

Building inclusive hiring systems is difficult work, and almost no one can do it alone. We see this all the time when we do inclusion assessments with clients, and there’s no shame in asking for help.

If you’re not sure where to start and want outside help, make sure you vet vendors for their inclusion practices:

  • When someone is explaining how they can help you, ask which practices they’ve implemented in their own organizations.
  • Ask for references or to speak with past clients to get a sense of the work they’ve done.
  • Check out their blogs, research, or other content to see if they have a consistent message or seem to be jumping from trend to trend.

With outside help, you never have to worry about saying the wrong thing. Working with experts means you have a non-judgmental, confidential partner to address all of your concerns and questions.

Systems Create Ongoing Rewards

Tackling diversity debt and building hiring inclusive systems is not always easy work, but it’s incredibly rewarding. We’ve seen it time and again with our clients: after building inclusive hiring systems and removing bias from the process, leaders see a diverse workforce that comes to life at work. The team is constantly presenting new ideas, are way happier to talk about their awesome employer, and more. It all adds up to a better workplace that’s more productive and more profitable.

It’s nearly guaranteed that you’ll stumble a bit and need to work on interactions or improvements, but the effort will be worth it for the personal and business benefits you gain. Not only will you have an easier time attracting brilliant talent, but there’s a clear financial upside as well. As more consumers become conscious and demand the businesses they shop from embody their values, you have an opportunity to add more growth and more customers.

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