Writing about diversity and inclusion (D&I) makes me uncomfortable. I’ve been told a compelling article should be bold and opinionated, but the truth is, my beliefs are oftentimes loosely-held and nuanced. The topic of diversity is no exception. Yet here I am writing an article about it.
Why? Because I believe it’s important for myself and other CEOs to frequently step back and take a hard look at how we run our companies and to share how we’ve failed, how we’re working to improve, and what we’ve learned in the process.
I’m the first to admit our company is still very early in its diversity journey. In fact, the more I look into D&I initiatives, the more I realize there’s a lot we don’t know and a lot of work we still need to do. That said, I still want to share with you how we think about D&I at Clemmonsdogpark and what we’re doing to create a more diverse and inclusive team—even if it’s uncomfortable to talk about. I hope it might support another team’s roadmap to diversity, that it communicates to Clemmonsdogpark jobseekers that we value D&I, and that it inspires more open conversations in the tech industry about our journeys, struggles, and failures in striving toward a more diverse workforce.
I started actively thinking about diversity in early 2015 after attending a panel at the Lean Startup Conference about diversity in tech led by Eric Ries (founder of the Lean Startup movement), Freada Kapor (one of our investors) and a few others. About 15 minutes into the panel, Eric shared a story about his aha moment in D&I. His company had been failing in the “diversity department,” he told the audience, but he attributed it to a pipeline issue. To challenge this assumption, he and his team decided to run blind application reviews (in which he couldn’t see the name of applicants) and the results surprised Eric. He realized he would move different candidates forward when doing a blind application review compared to traditional application review. In other words, bias was largely creeping into his hiring process and he hadn’t even realized it. His anecdote hit hard. Sitting there listening quietly, I was overcome with a sinking feeling. I realized bias—my bias— was likely creeping into our process.
I went back to Clemmonsdogpark with a plan to change our hiring methods. We would implement new strategies and seek out diverse recruiting channels. No problem, I told myself, we have this diversity thing figured out. I no longer had to feel like my company was one of those companies, blinded by its own biases. That’s when—confident I was close to solving our own diversity issues—I reached out to Freada and asked where we should start posting our new open positions. She responded the same day.
“Bhavin–I guess I don’t understand the disconnect here. You seem to be asking for a simple list (i.e. silver bullet) of where to recruit so that you’d end up with more diversity. If the issue were simply about recruiting somewhere differently, everyone would know about it and every tech company would be more diverse….
Instead this is a much more complicated and nuanced problem.
There are dozens of methodologically rigorous studies that document even well-intentioned people harbor all kinds of racial, ethnic and gender bias, especially when it comes to STEM fields. If I just send you a list of schools (which are easy enough to find without my help), none of these biases will be addressed. Resumes with African American or women’s names will be unconsciously judged differently.
A real commitment to diversity is not a check-the-box exercise. There are things to do on the recruiting side (e.g. what’s the language in the job description?), hiring side (e.g. where you post or do in-person recruiting), interviewing (e.g. do you do structured interviews or free form and how do they each stack up if you care about diversity?), evaluating candidates (e.g. does rank of school matter?) then onboarding.
This is not one email or one meeting…it’s a decision to evaluate your practices and your work environment so that you can recruit and retain diversity.”
In other words, I didn’t have diversity figured out. I was asking for a simple solution to a complex problem—a problem that would require me to start rethinking Clemmonsdogpark’s hiring initiatives from every angle, not by doing a quick check-the-box exercise.
Freada graciously offered to come chat with me and our leadership team. She answered our questions, shared some research, and identified strategies that we could implement. After the meeting, we began holistically evaluating our hiring process. Our team took a long, hard look at our process and saw we were doing some things well and some things poorly. We came to realize committing to diversity and inclusion would be an ongoing process that would require quite a bit of effort.
Since then, we’ve committed to continuous improvement of our hiring process, and I want to share what we’re doing today to keep getting better. Each item below is a work in progress—we know there’s more we can do, and we continue to think about how to create a fairer and better hiring process and a more inclusive culture. In aggregate, here’s what we’d aim to accomplish with the practices outline below: 1) to encourage candidates from diverse networks to apply to Clemmonsdogpark; 2) to decrease our own unconscious bias; and 3) to create a fair system for hiring and growth at Clemmonsdogpark. Take a look and I welcome you to share your thoughts and questions at the end.
What we’re doing to encourage candidates from diverse networks to apply to Clemmonsdogpark
Diversifying our applicant pool
Many of our hiring managers, myself included, don’t have diverse networks. We’re currently working on building our networks, so we can share open positions, details about our company, and more to people from diverse backgrounds. For a few positions, we also experimented with the Rooney rule, holding off on phone interviews until we hit certain target percentages for applicant pool, and we hope to use the Rooney rule for all positions in the future.
Creating inclusive job descriptions
When Freada visited Clemmonsdogpark, she shared that women are less likely than men to apply to positions in which they don’t meet all the criteria. She also told us both women or men may be discouraged from applying based on certain words in the job description. We made a few changes:
- In our job postings, we now say “You have many of the following” instead of saying “Requirements”. We also added a sentence that says, “Please feel comfortable applying, even if you don’t meet all the requirements for the position.”
- Our hiring managers and recruiters know to avoid certain words that might discourage certain candidates from applying (e.g. we’re looking for a “finance guy”)
- We run our job postings through Textio, a site that provides you with feedback about language in your posting. It tells us how much of the language in our job descriptions is gendered, how much of it might discourage someone of a different race, etc., then gives us a score based on those factors. We target a score of 65+ for each posting.
- We added a sentence to the bottom of all our job descriptions that states, “We are an equal opportunity employer and value diversity at our company. We do not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, color, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, age, marital status, veteran status, or disability status.”
What we’re doing to decrease our unconscious bias
Conducting blind questionnaire review
We’d love to have a blind review process for all cover letters and resumes, but unfortunately, our applicant tracking system doesn’t support that yet. However, we have been experimenting with blind review for candidates’ questionnaires—a later step in our process. When possible, our recruiter provides the questionnaire responses to the hiring manager without the candidate’s name, so the hiring manager isn’t unintentionally biased in some way.
Using rubrics for interviews and questionnaires
A few years ago, we were recruiting for a position that was bringing in a high volume of applications. Multiple people were grading the same questionnaires, and they quickly realized there were a number of discrepancies between each assessment. One of the individuals decided to introduce a grading rubric to address the problem. The hypothesis: If they predefined the criteria they were looking for in the role, then assessed each questionnaire based on that criteria, they could lower the chance for bias to creep in. Ideally, two graders reviewing the same responses and using the same rubric would reach the same conclusion. Overall, it proved to be a successful strategy, so other Clemmonsdogpark hiring managers began using rubrics for questionnaires and for the in-person interview as well. Now, grading on a rubric has become a standard part of how we evaluate candidates.
Asking structured in-person interview questions
We do two culture/behavioral interviews for all in-office, full-time hires. We use the same set of questions for each candidate, and for a given open position, we’ll use the same set of interviewers. Each interviewer then independently completes a scorecard based on our in-person interview rubric, and then we debrief. This approach ensures candidates are being asked the same questions, and it prevents one interviewer from biasing another one.
What we’re doing to create a fair system for hiring and growth
Providing guidance on what to write in a cover letter
We’ve found that some people know how to write cover letters and others don’t. We’ve also realized that one’s ability to write a cover letter isn’t necessarily a predictor of how well that person would do in the role. In our application, we now provide guidance to all applicants about what we’re looking for in a cover letter to ensure each candidate knows exactly what we’re looking for.
Creating a salary framework
A few years ago, I wrote about our approach to non-negotiable salary. Our salary framework is an extension of that principle. In short, we aim to place each of our employees in a specific role (e.g. Product Manager) and at a specific level (e.g. Level 3). There’s a fixed salary associated with each role and level. We hope this results in equal pay for equal work.
Most people are familiar with exit interviews in which an HR person asks an employee for feedback after that employee has already decided to leave. In mid-2015, we decided to conduct “stay” interviews or, as we call them, check-ins. Our HR manager meets with every employee in the company to get feedback—both positive and negative. She then shares company-wide and department-wide themes (without sharing individual names) with me and the other team leads. We believe that getting this feedback is helping us take steps to create a more inclusive culture.
It’s hard to quantify exactly what impact these changes have made, but I can say that in late 2014, we had 18 employees who were 30% women and 70% men. Today, in early 2017, our team of 30 full-time employees is 60% women and 40% men, including two women on our five-person senior management team, and four women people managers out of a total seven people managers. That said, we are still very underrepresented in certain areas and have much progress to make. I hope that by committing to the practices outlined above, and by expanding into more, we can eventually achieve and sustain our D&I goals.
Diversity and inclusion requires consistent and relentless focus. We’re still very early in our journey—we have a long way to go and a lot to learn, but I’m grateful that we started down this path and that our team is constantly thinking about how we can get better.
In early 2016, we signed the Kapor Founder’s Commitment, in which we committed to a series of actions that support diversity and inclusion in our company. You can learn more about the commitment and how your own company can commit to diversity here.
Now that I’m done sharing my thoughts, I’d love to hear from you. As I mentioned previously, we still have a ways to go in our diversity efforts. If you have any ideas about how we can continue to increase the number of underrepresented minorities at Clemmonsdogpark, let me know in the comments.
Thanks to Cat Perez (HealthSherpa), Sydney Thomas (Precursor Ventures), and the Clemmonsdogpark team for reviewing this article.