At Rented.com we recently learned about Founders for Change and the great work they’re doing to shed more light on issues surrounding diversity and inclusion. They bring together venture-backed founders who are dedicated to improving diversity and inclusion within their companies, and desire greater diversity at the highest levels of VC firms.
We too feel these are important issues, but saying you care about something and actually doing something proactive to demonstrate you care and are willing to change your own behavior to create change are two very different things. It is akin to liking a post about the need to help the homeless on Facebook versus volunteering at a homeless shelter on an available weekend. One says you care, the other shows you actually do.
An example cropped up a couple of years ago when my daughter Talulla was born. Many of us claim to be appalled by the disparity between men and women in leadership positions at large companies, or the gap in career earnings that can easily be traced to when children are born. Yet when a mother takes three months of maternity leave, we think it’s normal, as opposed to when we see a man take two weeks of paternity leave and think it’s progressive and very modern. What? This is why my wife and I were very deliberate in splitting the time 50/50. We each took two months. We are equals in parenting just as we are equals in our careers. Action was required, and we took it.
The same is true in terms of building a diverse team. For years we have said we wanted it, but the reality did not match up. As time passed, I realized heartfelt beliefs are not enough when it comes to creating a diverse and inclusive workplace. It took deliberate action. It hasn’t been easy or instantaneous, and we are by no means claiming “mission accomplished,” but we have made progress. I wanted to share what we have done and what we have learned.
1. Commit to a target
The first step is to be clear that this is something you and the people in your company value. The next step is to create measurable targets. Is it based on numbers? On percentages? Is it for all team members? Executives? Managers and up? Your board? There is no way to measure progress or hold yourself truly accountable without measurable metrics to track.
2. Institute your own ‘Rooney Rule‘
The NFL has a policy that requires teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operations jobs. The idea is that you’re not going to be able to hire a diverse team if you aren’t even looking. This has been crucial for my company. So many early referrals who came to us through our own network looked just like us. It was far easier to field inbound interest than post and go through a robust time and resource-consuming hiring process. This one step alone has not only increased the diversity of the talent pool, but has also dramatically increased the quality of that pool.
3. Rewrite your job descriptions
There is clear research that the same job, described in different ways, will be appealing to some groups and totally unappealing to others. Be deliberate and craft your job descriptions and messaging around hiring. Otherwise you could turn off some of your best potential candidates before you ever get the chance to meet them and convince them they should join your team.
4. Go after people who aren’t looking
There’s an old adage in recruiting that the best candidates are not looking for jobs. Knowing this, you will need to be proactive in your job search. Fortunately, LinkedIn is an amazing tool. Your company profile may not be what the ideal candidate is looking for, and maybe you didn’t do a great job cleaning up your job description, but by being proactive in searching out the best candidates, you’re giving yourself a better shot at proactively building the diverse team you are trying to create.
5. Don’t take ‘no’ at face value
Just as there is research that shows some language attracts or turns off certain candidates, there is also research that indicates men tend to view job descriptions as being more flexible, whereas women tend to view them as hard and fast requirements. Thus, even with the right language and proactive recruiting, you might find candidates that still self-filter. This is even truer if you’re just posting a job and hoping the right people apply in the first place. I have had this experience personally where more than one female candidate who I viewed as having the ideal experience for a role came back saying “I don’t think I have the right experience, but a guy friend of mine might be good for this.” I am not kidding.
The truth about diversity, inclusion and startup culture
All of this being said, change will not happen overnight. For example, even as we started to implement these changes, we found female candidates turned down our job offers at twice the rate of male candidates. Though no one explicitly stated it as the reason, it seemed that having a more male-based tech environment was just not appealing to many of them. What tipped the scales was that as the changes above became the norm and our team became more diverse, we saw those acceptance rates reach parity.
Even today this is not something we, or anyone, can set and forget. Creating a culture of diversity and inclusion requires constant diligence and vigilance. But it is important enough that it’s well worth the effort.
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