How to Proactively Demonstrate Your Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion

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We at recently learned about Founders for Change and the great work they’re doing to shed more light on issues surrounding diversity and inclusion. 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 your weekend off. 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 being clear that this is something you and the people in your company value. The next step is putting measurable targets against that. 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 targets to track.
  2. Institute Your Own Version of the 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 pool we end up seeing, 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 in crafting 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 for this. 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 showing some language attracts or turns off certain candidates, there is also research showing that 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.

All of this being said, change will not happen overnight. For example, even as we began implementing the changes above, we found female candidates were turning 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.

A version of this post originally appeared here.