4 Ways You Could Be Sabotaging Your Diversity Efforts According to Yelp, Coursera, and Grand Rounds

June 8, 2016

A lack of diversity is an issue that tech companies have a hard time hacking.

“Over the past couple of years... major tech companies have started releasing their diversity numbers,” said The Wall Street Journal’s, Georgia Wells, at Lever’s Talent Innovation Summit in San Francisco, where she was moderating a panel on Diversity and Inclusion. “And over the past couple of years, not much has happened with them.”

Numbers released by companies such as Apple, Facebook and Google show that women, African Americans, and Hispanics remain underrepresented in their workforce, despite the companies’ stated commitments to increasing diversity.

“What's happening here?" Wells asked her panel of recruiting all-stars: Rachel Williams,Yelp’s Head of Diversity and Inclusion; Betty Tsan, Coursera’s Director of Talent; and Alex Lebovic, Grand Rounds’ Head of Talent.

What followed was a lively discussion about the panel’s diversity experiences — the good, the bad, and the ineffective. And, here are the five things they’ve found definitely don’t work when you’re trying to bring diversity to your organization, plus some tips on what you should do instead.

1. Having a recruiting team that’s not diverse

As Yelp’s Rachel Williams pointed out during the panel discussion, it’s hard to ask a recruiting team to bring in a diverse group of employees when the recruiters themselves are far from a diverse group.

Rachel recalled a time when an all-white recruiting team she worked with wanted to go to Howard University, a historically African-American college. “It didn't work out,” she said.

Do this instead: “Any company that is looking to hire diversity should start with their own recruiting team,” Rachel said. But there are other solutions, too.

When Yelp wants to reach out to communities not well represented among its recruiters, Rachel said she turns to Yelp’s Employee Resource Groups. These are formed by Yelp employees to support their shared causes or interests. Rachel said these groups lend a big boost to her campus outreach efforts.

“The African-American [Employee Resource] Group knows exactly where the African Americans are on campus and they are more than excited to go out and do the recruiting,” she said. “The LGBT group, they know where these folks are on campus and they're more than happy to go on behalf of the recruiting team. That's one of the ways we’ve gotten around the ‘We don’t have any black people on the recruiting team to send to the black school [problem]’ — to actually leverage real employees that are excited… to go represent the company.

2. Over-focusing on quotas/numbers

When you’re an organization determined to diversify your workforce, it might be easy to become too numbers-focused: “We have too much of Demographic X, so let’s try to hire a specific number of Demographic Y to balance it out.”

“I think that’s something where, if you’re not too educated in this space, you tend to focus on,” Coursera’s Betty Tsan said about such self-imposed quotas. That kind of mentality is great if you want to just check off boxes, but not so great if you truly care about promoting diversity.

“People with the best intentions will say to me, ‘This person would be a great diversity hire,’” Betty said. “No one wants to be called a diversity hire. They don’t want to be that number.”

Do this instead: Rather than focusing on numbers, Betty said it’s important to have an organization-wide commitment to diversity that goes beyond just your recruiting efforts. “Make sure your intentions are authentic,” Betty said, “and that you have a culture and an environment that actually supports, embraces and celebrates someone who is a different background. Otherwise, the problem you’re going to have is retention.”

3. Rejecting candidates based on “culture fit”

You see this frequently: applicants being judged on how compatible they are with a company’s culture. Candidates who are found lacking are rejected under the vague, catch-all claim that they’re “not a good culture fit.”

Such a vague standard makes it easy for hiring managers to reject candidates for the most arbitrary reasons. Alex Lebovic of Grand Rounds, recalled one incident when a colleague used the “bad culture fit” excuse to give the thumbs-down to a well-qualified woman who’d come in for an interview. When Alex pressed the interviewer to further explain the culture incompatibility that doomed the candidate, Alex says the explanation was, “‘[The candidate] just kept playing with her hair.’”

Allowing recruiters to weed out candidates because of such vague, arbitrary reasons might make it hard to find a more diverse crop of recruits. After all, how are you going to find people different from those who already are at your company, if you judge applicants on how similar they are to your current employees?

Do this instead: Alex said her company no longer judges on the term “culture fit.” “I stood up in front of the company and told them that ‘culture fit’ was a swear word [in interview feedback],” she said. Now, her colleagues have to specify exactly why a candidate would or would not match the company’s culture. “We’ve moved towards thinking about culture amplification and how people are going to be value adds for what we do in our own decisions,” she said.

Requiring that level of specificity could help neutralize any biases that might lead to quick and unfair judgments against a candidate. The “culture fit” ban has already had an effect at Alex’s company. “Last year we actually hired more women than men in engineering,” she said

4. Being afraid to ask your minority employees to help

At the Q-and-A section of the panel discussion, a recruiter for a majority-white organization admitted to feeling awkward asking her company’s few minority employees to refer other minority candidates.

“I didn’t want them to feel targeted or that their value [to the company] rested more in their racial group,” she said.

Do this instead: Ask anyway. “First of all,” Rachel told the recruiter, “they're probably waiting for you to come [ask them for help] because I’m sure they want more people who look like them around the office. I used to spend a lot of my first couple of weeks on a new job like, ‘Where's [the other] black girl at?’”  

Rachel said recruiters shouldn’t assume minority employees will be offended if you ask for their help with minority outreach. “Don’t immediately come in with your own bias,” she said. “I’m sure they're just waiting for you to ask. Just say, ‘We want more people that are like you.’ They’re going to be open to that."

Betty added: “You can say, ‘I know that you’re involved in certain community groups. I’d love to with you on this.’ Coming from a place that’s really authentic and really genuine and just describe what you mean. The more you stew about how to actually say it, the more time that's wasted. Just be bold and get out there.”

You can listen to the entire panel discussion here.

*Image by Alex S. MacLean

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