When I have stuff to do, I have to write it down. Whether it’s a bunch of small, unrelated chores or a big project with lots of moving parts – if I don’t think it through and record it, things will be missed.
How is this relevant to improving our hiring processes? Same principles. Without recording, we think things through less, we understand less, we improve less, and are generally less likely to get things done, especially consistently over time.
My co-workers and I talked about how we’d like to hire differently. For longer than I’d like to admit.
Nothing actually happened until we started explicitly discussing what we were doing, what we wanted to change and how we were going to go about it. While recording all of it, which evolved into our actual processes and policy.
This enabled us to much better understand ways in which we assumed we were all on the same page, but were actually miles apart in understanding or reaching consensus. Not to mention what was extremely important to us versus what was just habitual.
Once we started using the process, we could tell what worked, what didn’t, and what wasn’t bad but could be improved.
I’m going to get into some ways we can build better processes for more diverse and inclusive hiring. This is an ongoing process, for every hire, forever, though, not something that is one-and-done. (The result of that is called tokenization.)
It may help to think of it in terms of working to interrupt bias in hiring and managing teams, rather than assuming we'll achieve bias elimination right away. Bias is so systematic and ingrained everywhere that we’re not even aware of it much of the time.
We’re also not going to address issues facing often marginalized people already working within organizations this time. That is a whole other set of columns. (However, some excellent Do/Don’t information in this Medium piece by Dynasti Hunt.)
Ideally you want someone involved in the hiring process who’s not a member of your team, like an HR person. They can listen to and comment on hiring discussions and proposals, ask questions about what they are or aren’t hearing, and can do things such as obfuscate identifying information on resumes. (Software can do this as well.)
When interviewing, create a standard set of questions that all candidates will be asked. Make sure those questions relate specifically to knowledge and skills needed for the role. This is good practice to get consistent impressions of candidates anyway, but will help prevent introducing lines of questioning that can introduce or exacerbate bias.
When we started working on our hiring procedures, we explicitly decided that at least half of interview candidates had to be people of colour for our next hire. This was not at all difficult to achieve, and we actually had candidates who were two-thirds people of colour and two-thirds female-identified.
It may very well feel weird to establish specifics like that. That’s fine. Sit with it for a while. Why does it make us uncomfortable? It might feel like the team is saying, “We’re not going to hire white people.”
We’re not saying that. We are simply trying to undo the long-running and well-ingrained status quo of not hiring people who don’t look like us, usually for reasons that have sounded perfectly justifiable.
Multiple – different – people need to contribute to drafting job postings. Get input and feedback on writing style and word choices. Does the job title make you sound like a startup full of recent grads, or a multinational corporation? Do the adjectives sound masculine or feminine? Does your work environment sound collaborative or cutthroat? There are software tools to help analyze copy this way as well.
In the actual interviews, even during the more casual interactions, be careful with icebreaker questions and chit chat. Not everyone shares your or your coworkers’ background, culture, interests or socio-economic bracket. Which is fine, since those things are unlikely to be relevant to the role.
Seemingly innocuous topics can seed a negative impression with regards to cultural “fit,” as discussed in the last column. (I do not play Animal Crossing. I’m a corporate outcast…)
Group interviewing can help balance out biases as well. My team likes to start off with one-on-one first-round interviews, using that list of standard questions. Several team members split those up, then share notes and the answers to the questions with everyone else.
From there we make second-round interview selections, and do our best to ensure three team members are present at each interview, in addition to the candidate. Again, we have another standard list of questions, and select a primary facilitator. Everyone present makes notes for the whole team to review.
Being a remote company, we’ve always used video chat for interviews. I think it’s a bit less intimidating than sitting across a conference room table from several people, though I should actually ask. Of course, even with just a phone screen, hearing people talk can trigger biases, too.
Once the team is ready to make an offer, do the work to ensure you’re not perpetuating income inequality. A one-salary policy is certainly nice to negate that issue, but it’s not for every team.
Perhaps get input from several team members who are qualified to weigh in on what they’d include in the offer, and see where gaps and disparities come up. Try an exercise and ask them about what offers they’d make to two different candidates. Check online resources and salary calculators to ensure the range is reasonable.
Generally, this would be a really good point to have an HR person involved, but also be aware that plenty of HR people have helped perpetuate income inequality, too. Breaking down this system isn’t any one person’s job; it takes everyone working together.
When it comes time for performance reviews, similarly to interviewing, the criteria and commentary need to be discussed, critiqued and standardized. Why? This Medium article by Tiffani Ashley Bell outlines good examples:
Have you looked at the tone and the content of your Black employees’ performance reviews? Are you sure they were evaluated on their work performance and not their performance of culture fit? Code switching is a mental tax on Black people in the workplace that sometimes isn’t refunded when reviews come around. And this constant stress negatively compounds over the long term. So, are Black employees’ reviews peppered with comments on their demeanor and how they make other people feel? Are you aware of how that affects their compensation and promotions? Are they getting promotions? Are you in touch with people who can help determine these things and monitor them going forward?
I’d be willing to bet that these considerations have never occurred to a lot of people. How do you refund the mental tax from code switching if you don’t even know what it is or recognize when someone has to do it to “fit” in our companies? (More information here on what code switching is and how it manifests in workplaces.)
We won’t fix everything perfectly. Not the first time, or the 100th. We might end up with amazing hiring processes and still be poor at mentorship or reviewing performance. We may not even be able to get “diverse people” to apply to our job postings.
All that is on us. Discuss it, work on it, fix it, do better. And bloody well write it down.
M-Theory is an opinion column by Melanie Baker. Opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Communitech. Melle can be reached on Twitter at @melle or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.