An education in data-driven diversity, equity and inclusion at DonorsChoose

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7 mins, 39 secs read time

DonorsChoose helps underfunded educators get the tools their students need to succeed. Educational equity is one of the organization’s guiding principles – the classrooms that need the most resources are often the classrooms with the most students of color. Steve To, Director of Equity & Experience at DonorsChoose, puts it this way: “DonorsChoose exists as an organization to help drive equity in education, a problem that fundamentally rests on centuries of racial injustice.”

But DonorsChoose isn’t just dedicated to promoting equity in the classroom. Creating inclusive hiring practices is a top priority for the people and talent team at DonorsChoose. We caught up with Austin Galoob, Manager of People & Talent at DonorsChoose – and several other members of the DonorsChoose team – to learn about the tools and tactics they use to promote DE&I.

Equity for educators – and employees

Rooted in the crowdfunding model, DonorsChoose makes it easy to raise money and awareness for classrooms in need. Since launching in 2000, educators using the DonorsChoose platform have raised more than $1 billion and reached over 40 million students in classrooms across the US.

Mirroring the company’s external mission of promoting educational equity, the people and talent team at DonorsChoose is committed to promoting DE&I in their hiring practices. Director of People Mary Holtzhauser says, “Equity is the root of our mission, and we think not just about equity in the mission-driven sense as it pertains to education, but in terms of what it means to be a group of people doing that work. In that sense, there’s a clear connection to hiring.”

During Austin’s four years with DonorsChoose, the company has taken a creative, cross-functional approach to DE&I. A diversity council with members from several departments meets regularly to discuss topics like creating norms for pronoun usage and developing a curriculum for new interviewers and managers.

Steve says that DonorsChoose’s organizational statement of DE&I “is rooted in our mission and drives everything we do.” Here’s the full statement:

At DonorsChoose, we are committed to seeking equity throughout the nation’s classrooms and within our organization. We recognize that our individual experiences are informed by our many identities. We seek to celebrate and empower a diverse, connected, and inclusive community of students, teachers, donors, partners, volunteers, and staff. We believe that achieving educational equity requires ingenuity, flexibility, and continuous learning. Together as a community, we can transform our nation’s classrooms.

When it comes to tools and tactics, Austin’s team breaks down bias with structured interviews, anonymized take-home tests, intentional nudges during candidate review and strong reporting to measure their impact.

But this wasn’t always the case. When Austin first joined DonorsChoose, the hiring process was unstructured and data was hard to come by. How did DonorsChoose transform their approach to DE&I? We asked Austin for a little history lesson.

Challenge: Data that just doesn’t make the grade

It all started with a sense that something was wrong. “There was some frustration around a lack of diversity in a couple of hiring pools,” says Austin. But with their previous ATS, there was no easy way to collect the data they needed. The people and talent team might notice that a pool of candidates was skewed in one direction, but they didn’t have the ability to gather this information in their previous ATS at that time.

Instead, they had to manually piece together a report from multiple sources, which could slow down the pipeline and lead to frustrated candidates and hiring managers. Austin says, “That was one of the main reasons that we really pushed for the move to Greenhouse – the ability to access more reporting and to streamline a lot of our processes.”

Solution: Custom demographic reporting helps DonorsChoose do their DE&I homework

Since launching the Greenhouse DE&I feature set, DonorsChoose now uses custom demographic reporting to guide their hiring processes and decisions. Instead of relying on estimates or anecdotes, the people and talent team can pull reports on pipeline, sourcing and candidate surveys by demographic. These reports provide a clear snapshot of the hiring process, giving a high-level overview of who’s in their pipeline and which sources are bringing the most diverse candidates. As a result, the people and talent team now has the language and tools to communicate an accurate assessment to hiring managers and leaders.

Results: Structured hiring processes that reduce bias in real time

DonorsChoose’s people and talent team can now access candidate data whenever they need it – no headache-inducing manual reports required. And the results so far have been impressive: “Since turning on custom demographic reporting, we’ve seen that 58% of the candidates who have made it to the face-to face interview stage have identified as people of color,” says Austin. Being able to easily access data also empowers the talent team to participate in conversations with hiring managers and leaders since they’re no longer relying on estimates or anecdotes.

Greenhouse’s custom demographic reporting has shown us that our bias mitigation measures are working in terms of seeing more representation in our pipeline.
–Austin Galoob, Manager of People & Talent at DonorsChoose

The ease of pulling custom demographic reports in Greenhouse means the people and talent team is more agile than ever. Austin says, “We can make calls in real time when we need to pause because there isn’t representation in our pipeline or when we recognize that there are parts of our pipeline that are unconsciously biased against a certain population.”

Mary believes their updated approach to hiring benefits everyone at the organization – not just candidates. She says, “Hiring is also a forced stopping point for you to evaluate how intentional you’re being in structuring a role. You have to ask questions about growth, success, and responsibility. And then you need to represent those answers clearly to candidates and to other employees at the organization. Equity is just as much about employee development and growth as it is ensuring a fair assessment process.”

Nudges remind interviewers to avoid snap decisions

When assessing candidates, the nudges from Greenhouse DE&I help hiring teams stay accountable and limit bias. “We’ve seen them use the nudges to really dig deeper into why they're giving a certain score or a certain rating,” says Austin. This means hiring managers have more data than a simple thumbs up or thumbs down and know when to follow up with an interviewer if they’re worried about bias affecting their rating.

Anonymized take-home tests level the playing field for candidates

Take-home tests have always been part of the DonorsChoose application, but with Greenhouse these tests can be anonymized so there’s no biographical information attached. Austin says anonymizing the tests has leveled the playing field for candidates. Whether someone is an internal candidate, a referral or completely unknown to the hiring team, they’ll be assessed against the same criteria. This approach has already changed the way the talent and people team thinks about applications: “We've been able to see how the skills-based assessment pushes some candidates over the edge and proves that resumes and cover letters are not the be-all and end-all. They're not the only way to assess a candidate's fit for a role.”

Structured interviewing keeps everyone accountable

Austin believes they owe a lot of their progress to creating a structured interviewing plan right at the beginning of the hiring process. With Greenhouse scorecards and interview kits, hiring managers and talent team members have conversations to define exactly what’s needed for a role and the skills and attributes that will make a successful candidate. This is critical, Austin says, “so we are not molding our process around people who come into it and the process is fair for everyone.” Structured hiring means everyone is playing by the same rules: “It also helps us make sure we’re holding each other accountable to the same skills and the same attributes.” Mary believes the structured approach reflects the organization’s core values: “We value transparency and clear communication – and we’ve worked hard to incorporate that into our hiring process.”

What’s next for DonorsChoose?

Austin says the talent and people team is still working on defining their goals. One benchmark they’re considering is to maintain a candidate pool of at least 50% people who identify as an underrepresented minority at any given stage.

In addition to their diversity council’s ongoing work, DonorsChoose recently formed an equity council. This new council is focused on defining racial equity at the organization, for both internal practices and education, and also in terms of their external work of seeking racial equity in classrooms and working with vendors, partners and donors.

DonorsChoose also plans to continue various efforts that are already under way such as promoting employee resource groups, holding weekly People team office hours to address DE&I topics and offering Fellowship and Internship programs to high-achieving students from underrepresented backgrounds.

Greenhouse is proud to partner with DonorsChoose on their DE&I journey and we look forward to seeing what they accomplish next.

Learn more about how to create an inclusive hiring process by watching this DE&I webinar with Paradigm and Greenhouse Inclusion Strategist Gary Davis.

Watch now
Melissa Suzuno

Melissa Suzuno

is a freelance writer and former Content Marketing Manager at Greenhouse. Melissa previously built out the content marketing programs at Parklet (an onboarding and employee experience solution) and AfterCollege (a job search resource for recent grads), so she's made it a bit of a habit to help people get excited about and invested in their work. Find Melissa on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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