Many companies have recently been rethinking their hiring process to include diverse candidates.
But it doesn’t end there. Diverse candidates need to know they’ll still be valued after they join the team.
We interviewed Hilliary Turnipseed, the founder of Hill Street Strategies, to get her advice on building an inclusive recruiting process and workplace.
Hilliary is an experienced talent acquisition and management executive, specializing in early-stage startups. While Turnipseed’s primary expertise is in recruitment, she also focuses on implementing diversity and inclusion strategies along with employee engagement and wellness program initiatives.
The conversation below has been edited for length and content.
How can technical startups hire people from diverse backgrounds if their current hiring process doesn’t lead to a diverse team?
Many managers just look at the resumes that come right to their desk. When they don’t make diverse hires, they reason, “I’ve been going through what’s on my desk and I didn’t see any diverse applicants.” In cases like that, the company’s hiring pipeline needs to be reassessed.
Recruiting is a combination of both reaching out to people and building a candidate pipeline that encourages people to apply.
A lot of times, hiring decisions are made quickly. Most tech leaders hire based on convenience and who they have in their immediate network. They assume they won’t be so rushed the next time they need to make a hire and can focus on diversity at that point.
But that can’t be the mindset anymore.
Because of the economic impact of the pandemic, a lot of companies are being conservative and are really thinking through the process of scaling before hiring new team members. For companies that don’t currently have a pipeline that leads to diverse hiring, it’s a critical time to learn, educate themselves, and change their hiring process.
There are several main areas I’d recommend to tech leaders who are looking to improve their current recruiting process:
Build relationships in the tech community.
To really develop a diverse pipeline, I’ve found it’s important to lean on the tech community and build relationships with groups like Women Who Code or Black Code Collective. Being part of these communities helps companies understand what technologists are looking for in a new opportunity – What gets them excited? What problems do they want to solve? What technologies do they want to use?
DC is a unique culture. Becoming rooted in these tech communities helps employers craft their story based on an understanding of what’s wanted, needed, and desired.
Listen to your current employees.
I’ve found that it’s also important to capture your current employees’ perspectives on working at the company – Why do they love working there? What is it that keeps them excited?
Bringing your employees into the hiring process has a two-fold benefit:
- If the employee has issues with the company, you can be proactive in hearing from them. You get to talk with them and bring up any issues early on (while they’re still working at the company and showing up every day).
- If the employee is happy, then you enable them to be part of your story as you bring others into the company. Employees who are involved in interviews are an extension of the company’s brand and marketing.
When you understand your people, including their desires and needs, you can tailor the environment to them. You’ll be able to set your organization up for success because you understand the people who form the company.
To successfully build a diverse workforce, you also want to make sure it’s an inclusive workforce. To make that happen, it’s necessary to establish an environment and culture where employees are heard and valued. You want to set up a place where feedback from employees can be proactively brought to the leadership team, whether that’s through surveys or one-on-one talking. That way, employees feel like they can voice their concerns or feedback whenever they’re comfortable, and can do so via different methods.
Candidates are often interviewing companies more than companies are interviewing candidates. So by capturing your employees’ perspective, you can better tell your company’s story and invite diverse candidates to join your team.
Rethink how you do interviews.
When it comes to interviewing new employees, it’s really important to include your current employees in the process. If you’re trying to build a more diverse tech team, then you need to diversify your interview panel to start.
Candidates who are interviewing want to know what it’s like to work at the company. Hearing from the employees, as opposed to just the leaders, provides the opportunity to hear from the most relevant voice and helps craft an accurate perspective.
What are ways that startup leaders can create an environment where diverse team members can develop and grow?
It’s great to bring in diverse team members. But if you don’t have the structure or environment to keep diverse talent and develop that talent, then those efforts are wasted.
I often find that there’s an assumption, sometimes unconsciously, that diverse talent equals junior talent. That’s just not true.
It may just mean that a company needs to shift the way they hire their leaders.
Employees are often placed in management roles by default. The decision is made from what I call a “rush to solve” bias. The logic goes, “You’re the most experienced person, so we need you to fill this.” The decision is made based on convenience and speed, rather than focusing on developing diverse leaders.
A huge aspect of creating a good environment for diverse employees is to be aware of the pressures that minorities often feel. For me as a black woman, I sometimes put the weight of the world on my shoulders, just sort of by default. I don’t ask for help because I might be viewed as incapable.
This can frequently be an underlying pressure that minority people experience. Because of that, it’s important for leaders to create an environment where employees know it’s okay to make mistakes and grow.
This is especially important in the startup space where teams are often operating in ambiguity and gray areas. All you can do is take things one day at a time and de-risk as much as possible. If a founder creates an environment of “ship it fast” and mentality of “we don’t care if it’s broken, we just want to try and experiment,” then they just need to make employees know there’s permission to not do things perfectly.
Some employees may be coming from a past workplace where they were targeted or fired because they did move fast but made a mistake in the process. It means you have to create a culture where you verbalize that the priority is to “ship it fast” and also maintain that stance when honest mistakes do occur, by building resiliency around those mistakes.
If you aren’t already consciously inclusive or learning what it means to effectively ally, then you won’t be able to successfully build and maintain a diverse team.
At the end of the day, companies need to define who they are before they can be successful in those efforts. They should be asking: What are our operating philosophies and values? And what does it mean to be a leader in our organization? What will leaders be held accountable for?
If you genuinely value a team with diverse ideas and backgrounds, then you need to start there.