Diversity in hiring is more than just a buzzword. It is more than a philosophy or a concept or a trend, too. It’s about real people and real companies, it’s about improving the quality of lives, businesses and society in the long run.
In the Nordic countries, workplace diversity and inclusion has reached the headlines over the past year: In Denmark, applicants with Middle-Eastern names send over 50% more job applications to land a job compared to their Danish peers, while Sweden allegedly has one of the highest discrimination rates against nonwhite applicants.
In Finland 48% of applicants report experiences of age-based discrimination and in Norway governmental organizations are testing anonymized hiring processes precisely to eliminate the possibility of conscious or unconscious discrimination. Moreover, the Nordic female startup employee earns on average a whopping 10 000 euro less than the male equivalent.
This poses the question: what can we do to become more aware of inclusion and diversity? To find answers, we joined forces with Develop Diverse - a young startup whose vision is to normalize diversity using AI. For that purpose, they built a software tool that analyzes and neutralizes social stereotypic content and biases across companies’ communication channels. Their first tool is for ensuring inclusive wording in job descriptions, so companies can expand their talent pool while building diverse teams. In the following the founder and CEO of Develop Diverse, Jenifer Clausell-Tormos will guide you through 11 bite-sized steps you can take to make your hiring practices more inclusive.
One of the most important factors start-ups rely on for their success and growth is innovation. And one of the most common mistakes start-up founders commit that results in slowing down innovation is in hiring - they tend to attract and choose new team members that are like themselves. If you're a start-up founder or CEO, you're familiar with the concept that is referred to as the chasm, the line that will decide whether your business goes under or thrives.
You also know that you can only bridge that if you're motivated, hard-working and adaptable. However, predictably a homogeneous group will not be very adaptable because they have similar life experiences, see the world in a similar light and will be slower at examining problems from multiple points of view.
On the other hand, in a diverse team of people with different life experiences, cultural backgrounds and upbringings will bring more insights and will be more creative in finding solutions. Diversity is key to innovation and so inclusion is key to growth.
Stop hiring people that fit into your existing culture, and start hiring people that will expand your world view instead. This is one way to shape your culture to ensure all team members feel included, respected and empowered.
Be ready to adopt a mind-set for making conscious efforts to include as many people as possible. Diversity comes in many forms from gender, ethnicity, age, disability, LGBTQ+, religion and much more. Embracing diversity and capitalizing on people’s differences will bring you innovation, better ways to solve challenges, higher productivity, higher employee engagement and retention, and ultimately higher profitability.
Inclusion is about learning something new every single day! It’s really quite magical if you come at it from a place of awe and enthusiasm. Learning new things shouldn’t make you focus on the things you feel you’ve been doing wrong until now. Instead, celebrate the new knowledge that has been shared with you!
In addition to listening to the people you work with, spend time reading and learning about the experience of underrepresented communities at work. Among the books we recommend: What Works by Iris Bohnet.
Diversity and inclusion are not about being “politically correct” or “not offending” people. It must come from a place of a genuine wish to learn new things about your fellow humans. You can be genuine by being vulnerable and compassionate. This will help you connect with your colleagues and perceive their skills and strengths as they are.
Everyone makes mistakes. It’s in the nature of the thing. If someone points out something hurtful you said, instead of debating whether or not they should be offended, try and listen to their point of view. If someone is hurt enough to voice their discomfort, there is usually a good reason for it. Listening and learning is a great personality trait that builds trust.
Don’t tell people you “don’t see colour” or that you think everybody is the same regardless of their gender, age, nationality, ability or sexual orientation. One’s identity is one’s most personal possession and celebrating the differences between our stories is one of the best ways to respect other people’s identities.
At the end of the day, we are still talking about individuals. How much one wants to disclose about their identity is deeply personal. Two people from the same group of people will react differently in the same situation, so don’t expect people to react in certain ways based on your own experiences or assumptions.
Be aware that language is powerful and the use of certain words will discourage or even exclude certain groups of people, not because of their skills or competencies but because of everything else. You want to ensure that the way you communicate with your team is inclusive and minds every single one of them.
When you write a job ad and describe the perfect candidate. Why use Guru, Ninja, Rockstar, Super Hero and Wizard when you only want a person who is talented and has the right skills and experience? Buzzwords, even though they seem cool and seem to give you a certain status, just make you look like any other company. We tend to forget that what actually defines our personality and makes us attractive is our vision, mission and the values that define the DNA of our company.
Of course, we all want to be inclusive as the benefits are widely known and proven in multiple studies. But wanting to build a diverse and inclusive culture is not the same as actually doing it. It can be tough to determine where to start and it can be time-consuming to learn about techniques and methods out there. You have to find the best tools that will help you do the work.
For most of us, this might be the most important tip of the day. Our brains are hard-wired to make unconscious decisions. Over 99.9% of the information we receive daily, we process unconsciously. These automatic processes mean that yes, we are all biased. Unfortunately, our biases impact our professional decisions, especially in hiring.
One of the most common ways is affinity bias - favouring the ones that are like ourselves. This plays in closely with the concept of “culture fit”. Ask yourself, how many times you hired someone because you could see yourself getting along with them based on similarities you have.
Another bias that might influence us without us noticing it is counter-stereotypic bias. We tend to judge people less favourably when they behave in ways that does not conform to the boxes society has put them in. In hiring this often means expecting a woman to be sweet and friendly and men to be bold and aggressive. When in doubt, try changing the person’s gender or skin colour in your mind and examine honestly if that makes a change in the adjectives you use to describe them or your feelings about their behaviour.
To avoid these bias, a simple solution is to structure your interviews by following these simple rules:
There is no right when it comes to implementing more diverse and inclusive practices. The most important thing is that you are curious to keep learning about yourself and the people around you and are not afraid to make mistakes along the way.
For further readings, we highly recommend for instance Buffer's extensive guide on inclusive language for tech and a super insightful list of inclusive language principles for hiring by Nehemiah Green. Another must-read for every recruiting founder is the meaningfulness of diversity for workplaces by World Economic Forum outlining why the future of work is reliant on our ability to innovation through inclusion. The cover image of this blog post is from Vice's inclusive stock photo directory also recommended for any marketeer.
Jenifer Clausell-Tormos holds a PhD in tech platform development and has more than 10 years of professional experience. Her drive for normalizing diversity has expanded her research focus on psycholinguistics & social stereotypes, and this brought her to found Develop Diverse.