A few thoughts on inclusive hiring

BeVisible, Techstars, and Foundry Group hosted a wonderful event recently on the topic of diversity and inclusion. We were fortunate to have Mandela Schumacher-Hodge join us from Kapor Capital. About 50 Boulder area startup executives joined for a round table discussion on the topic. 

First, we talked about why we should care about inclusion. There are now numerous studies and enormous amounts of proof that more diverse teams make better decisions and generally perform better financially. Many attendees said they were focused on inclusion for that reason – better business performance. Some attendees talked about how they were doing it because it was the right thing to do. I think both are good reasons, and they can work in concert. But if you only believe one, it’s still obviously worth your energy.

Here’s a few things I took away from the discussion that I thought might be helpful to others.

Stop using the phrase “culture fit.”  Your hiring managers and employees tend to hear this as “hire people like us.” Instead, a simple fix is to use the term “culture add.”  Language matters, and I think this is a brilliantly simple change that I’m adopting in my language.

Limit “required experiences” in job descriptions.  I was reminded of the things that really matter when hiring employees. Skills matter. Motivation matters more. Experiences matter the least. One of my personal mentors, Walt Winshall, once shared with me the quote “Hire and promote first on the basis of integrity; second, motivation; third: capacity; fourth: understanding; fifth: knowledge; and last and least, experience.  Without integrity, motivation is dangerous. Without motivation, capacity is impotent. Without capacity, understanding is limited. Without understanding, knowledge is meaningless. Without knowledge, experience is blind. Experience is easy to provide and quickly put to good use by people with all the other qualities.”    I’m scrubbing my job descriptions to take out experiences that one needs in favor of skills and values that align with our company.

Interview at least two candidates from under-represented groups.  Stefanie Johnson at the University of Colorado has done some amazing work to help show that if you interview 3 white men and 1 woman, it’s not enough.  The “Rooney rule” is the idea of interviewing at least one minority or under-represented candidate before making any hire. It’s a simple idea, but it’s not as effective as interviewing two. Using men and women as the example, interviewing 3 white men and 1 woman will trigger statements like “should we hire the woman?”  The one person who is different is noticeably different, and this has an effect on decision making. If there are two women, it’s no longer a choice about hiring a woman as there are multiple candidates of each gender.  Stefanie has found that having two candidates from the under-represented group meaningfully impacts the result, as compared to having one. So, the takeaway here is to consider not making a hire until you have at least two final candidates to interview from the under-represnted population.  Also, it turns out that if you interview three white men, one woman, and one African American man, the results don’t improve as much as if there were three white men, two women, and two African American men. It turns out that having two people tends to eliminate the unconscious bias of what’s “different” in the candidate pool.

Assess someone on “distance traveled” rather than “experience.”Distance traveled is the idea of how far a candidate has come and how many obstacles they’ve had to overcome.  The example that really resonated with me here was how a woman who had a great career, then had a child, and went back to the workforce successfully and had an impact has a very large “distance traveled.” They’ve basically succeeded in 3 different careers!  Or someone who has come from a challenging socioeconomic background who got into a great college and performed well may have a larger distance traveled than others with the same degree. Evaluate resumes and people based on distance traveled, not just experiences. You might just end up with more resilient and determined employees.

Extend your networks consciously. We tend to hire people that are “like us.” Our networks are full of people that are similar to us. You’ve got to show up and participate in other networks if you want to widen your talent funnel. This doesn’t just happen, you have to work on it. Think about groups that would love to hear you speak to them or participate in their events that you can engage.

Focus on inclusion early.  The larger you get, the harder it is to fix hiring practices. Focus on this early and build it into company DNA. Otherwise, the mere presence of so many people that are like each other is a deterrent to others who will feel “different” as you grow.  I realized from this discussion that Techstars is not doing enough to bring this topic up during our accelerator programs. We’re going to add some early content to help founders understand why this matters and how they can extend their natural networks, and hopefully it will have an impact. 

There were many more interesting ideas from the discussion, and I’m thankful to Andrea and the team at BeVisible for making it happen! 

Find more resources on improving diversity and inclusion at http://diversity.techstars.com/bealeader.

file under: Startups
  • Bob Crimmins

    Really salient ideas and observations, David. And very practical suggestions as well. Thanks for sharing. I will definitely be sharing this with my network and referring to it as I continue to strive for greater diversity in Startup Haven membership and operations.

  • Elaine Marino

    Love the quote by Walt Winshall and will be using it. Said it better than I ever could — “Hire and promote first on the basis of integrity; second, motivation; third: capacity; fourth: understanding; fifth: knowledge; and last and least, experience. Without integrity, motivation is dangerous. Without motivation, capacity is impotent. Without capacity, understanding is limited. Without understanding, knowledge is meaningless. Without knowledge, experience is blind. Experience is easy to provide and quickly put to good use by people with all the other qualities.”