What 2017 taught us about diversity & inclusion

2017 news diversity and inclusion - newspaper on a chair

7 mins, 39 secs read time

Before we get too far into 2018, let’s take a moment to consider the major news stories from 2017 and what they mean for HR and People teams. Last year was a landmark era, as we witnessed people coming forward about sexual harassment in the workplace in droves.

There was no shortage of this type of unsettling news, from:

Most notably, a vast majority of the dialogue revolves around people’s experiences in the workplace. And as a result, HR (not to mention PR and brand reputation) has often been drawn into these conversations as well. There is no shortage of questions the public and investigative media are demanding to know:

  • Has the HR department done enough to protect all employees? Or only those who are in positions of power?
  • Do employees feel safe coming forward with their stories?
  • Do workers shy away from coming forward assuming there will be repercussions in their current job and potentially for the rest of their careers?

These are complex societal issues and it’s easy to feel powerless when reading about them. But there are some concrete actions everyone can take, whether you’re a CEO, executive, HR/People person, or any level of employee.

Forbes contributor and CEO of SheWorx, Lisa Wang, posed the question, “#MeToo… What’s Next?” and invited influential men and women to dole out some much-needed advice on how businesses, brands, and individuals can pick up the torch on the #MeToo movement and turn it into impactful action.

Our very own Greenhouse CEO Daniel Chait was invited to share his thoughts on the matter, saying, “Simply put, hire more women and put women in positions of power. How? Take a more structured approach to hiring, to overcome implicit bias and more evidence-based decisions vs. ‘gut feel.’”

Want to implement some of the practices that Daniel suggests? Here are 5 steps you can take to create a more inclusive work environment for women and people from other under-represented groups.

1. Implement structured hiring

Focus your efforts on your approach to hiring. Everyone is susceptible to unconscious bias, and this can often affect our hiring decisions, leading us to hire people who are like us (but not necessarily better equipped to do the job). A structured approach to hiring means you define the ideal candidate by business objectives of the job, you use a consistent set of questions and criteria to assess candidates on their skills rather than their pedigree or background, and you make hiring decisions based on data and evidence rather than personal preference. By taking this approach, you can reduce bias and increase your chances of hiring people from diverse backgrounds.

2. Proactively source under-represented groups

If you’re truly committed to building a more diverse organization, it’s important to consider the beginning of your pipeline. Sourcing people from under-represented groups is an important part of this strategy. There are a number of ways to do this. You can look for career-changers with transferable skills, work with diversity groups in the community and at universities, and collaborate with your Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to reach their networks.

3. Audit your hiring experience and strive to reduce bias

Earlier I mentioned how unconscious bias can affect the interview process, but there are a number of ways it can affect the entire hiring experience. Consider every point of contact a candidate has with your company, from your job descriptions and images they see on your careers page to the people they meet during the interview process. Did you know that certain terms, like “rockstar” or “ninja” will actually discourage women from applying for a role?

Conducting interviewer training is another important way of reducing bias. You can educate interviewers on unconscious bias, inform them on which questions they should avoid asking, and train them on how to assess candidates for specific skills.

One final area of the hiring experience where you can strive to be more inclusive: salary negotiation. A number of states—including New York, Massachusetts, and California—have begun to outlaw the practice of asking for salary history because this practice has been shown to benefit those whose salaries have historically been larger (in other words not women and under-represented groups). You can even take it a step further and make a policy of paying market rate for roles and banning salary negotiation altogether since this practice tends to benefit strong negotiators rather than strong performers.

4. Measure diversity overall and within leadership

Measuring the diversity of your existing employees and leadership team is an important step to help you understand your company’s baseline diversity. Over the past few years, forward-thinking companies like Slack and Pinterest have begun to measure—and publicly share—their overall composition as well as the composition of their management teams.

If you haven’t done this yet or know it will take more time to get your company to a place where you can collect this data, don’t feel discouraged.

Always doling out sage advice, our CEO Daniel Chait put it this way: Let’s pretend that you were able to run a survey that helped you determine that your team is not as diverse as you’d like. Think about the next steps you’d take in order to become more diverse and inclusive. Now ask yourself why you’re not just doing those things that will promote diversity anyway. We know that diversifying is the right thing to do, so let’s not allow ourselves to get distracted by wanting more data.”

If you notice a lack of diversity among your leadership, you may find it useful to create structured career maps that use similar criteria to what you use in the recruiting process. Clearly define what you’re looking for in managers, directors, and executives and strive to make the promotion process as unbiased as possible. You can also think about how you’ll provide mentorship and development opportunities for women and people from under-represented backgrounds to grow within your organization.

5. Prioritize inclusion

Many of the points we’ve covered so far focus on the hiring side of the equation, but it’s also essential to cultivate an environment where all employees feel included. One of the ways to promote inclusion is through ERGs, which can create a sense of community and support among different groups within your organization. This approach can be especially effective with an executive sponsor who regularly attends meetings and champions causes that the ERG surfaces.

One of the HR buzzwords of 2017 was psychological safety, the sense of trust that people feel in their interpersonal relationships. In a post on the Culture Amp blog, Kate Le Gallez writes, it’s not difficult to see how [psychological safety] could help people feel safe in speaking up about harassment and, vice versa, how its absence could make people fearful of the consequences of reporting an incident.” It’s important for company leadership to think about how they will promote psychological safety in the workplace, and also to create a clear plan of action for reporting and dealing with any incidents that occur. Employees should know that they will be heard and have a clear timeline of what happens after they make a complaint.

Our responsibility to promote inclusion

The events of 2017 showed us that society still has a long way to go in terms of achieving complete equality and inclusion in the workplace. These complex issues will not be resolved overnight. But company leaders and policy-makers have a responsibility to their employees, and there are some clear steps we can all take. And this extends beyond leaders as well.

Whether you’re making the decisions on who gets hired or promoted, choosing how to advertise or source for an open role, or just going about your day-to-day business as an employee, you have the ability to take action in a way that will make your company—and the world around you—a more inclusive and better place to be.

How does your company approach inclusion? Have you made any changes to your policies or practices in light of the news from 2017? Leave your take on the matter in the comments.

Want to continue the conversation with Greenhouse in person? We’re partnering with Paradigm to host a half-day Anti-Bias training at Greenhouse OPEN in New York on April 2. You can learn more and register to attend here.

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.