Jenny Xia Spradling is co-CEO of Free willa social enterprise that offers free estate planning tools that help make charitable giving easier.
My co-founder and I started FreeWill, partly to move $1 trillion to nonprofits, but also because we couldn’t find the right workplace. It seemed that many companies with a social mission did not offer career growth, meritocracy, or high standards of performance for their employees, and many purely for-profit companies felt soulless, political, or narrow-minded.
We aspired to build a place where honesty, kindness, courage and open-mindedness were built into the foundation of the company – somewhere for high-achieving idealists like us. It turns out that these fundamental qualities are the foundation for a company that values diversity, fairness and inclusion. In turn, having a diverse, equitable and inclusive organization has helped us achieve our business goals – a philosophy that: is now data backed.
Over the past five years, we’ve grown from two to 200 people, made a lot of mistakes and have a few tips to share. After establishing the company’s mission, vision, and values, the next step in creating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive corporate culture is to develop appropriate recruiting practices. Here are five ways to go about it.
1. Start any recruitment process with anti-bias training.
Everyone naturally brings biases into everything they do. While many workplaces have implemented anti-bias training, few companies make anti-bias training a direct part of their hiring process. My company ensures that every recruiting team has a hiring leader and a hiring manager, as well as a multi-functional group of colleagues who would work closely with the new employee.
After first making sure that this team represents a diverse group, it’s important to train and support that group to make sure everyone checks their preconceptions at the door. As part of this process, you’ll help your interviewers determine what to look for: which skills (not just experience, but qualities like a growth mindset) are most essential to your position. They should tailor their questions to those characteristics.
2. Give candidates assignments.
Effective interviewing is a skill any candidate can learn. But that skill may not mean success in the role you fill. This can introduce bias and subjectivity: interviewers may tend to prefer a candidate who interviews and presents well, but lacks the skills required for the role.
Ask candidates to complete a short assignment designed to teach skills. This gives more insight than just looking at a person’s portfolio, which can include work with different levels of managerial oversight. It is important that the assignment is assessed anonymously where possible. Otherwise, it’s easier to pick a job from a candidate whose interviews went well.
I have seen from experience that the results of anonymous assessment often do not correlate with success in the traditional interview setting. This has resulted in us hiring candidates who may not have been hired through a more traditional process, including (but not limited to) neurodiverse candidates who possess many of the skills needed to thrive in the position, but who may struggle have had in traditional interviews.
3. Consider a non-negotiation policy.
This is a best practice around pay equality. Point. There are so many reasons why more companies should introduce non-negotiation policies as part of their hiring processes. Women and people of color tend to value such policies the most, we’ve found.
Negotiation, like interviewing, is a skill that benefits some and disadvantages others. Negotiation opens the door to all kinds of social prejudices. By basing pay on external factors, systemic deficiencies can invade your workplace before an employee has worked a day.
Also, many people do not like to negotiate. Few are experienced negotiators, and many do so simply out of fear of missing out. There is a huge power and information gap between candidates and companies, as companies have much more experience in negotiating, giving them the upper hand. Transparency in reward ranges is quickly becoming the norm in some states, and one day non-negotiation may follow.
4. Be open to adjusting your recruiting process.
At my company, the hiring manager and hiring managers monitor the hiring process as it progresses to make sure it’s as inclusive as possible. For example, if they notice that the candidate pool isn’t very diverse, they might do an outreach push to increase the pool’s diversity or review the job description to see if there’s anything that might exclude a group of candidates we don’t have . mean to exclude. Or, if they notice that candidates from underrepresented groups drop out disproportionately halfway through, they can try to collect candidate feedback to understand why people are leaving the process.
In a company of 200, there can be 100 different roles. It’s important to be open to improving your hiring process for any role and to recognize that a hiring process that works for one role may not work for another.
5. Realize that hiring is just the beginning.
Once you’ve successfully expanded your talent pool and extended an offer, the work really begins. To get every employee off to a good start, consider a structured onboarding process that is uniform across the company. By ensuring all new hires receive the same information, meeting colleagues across the company, and armed with a vision of what success looks like, you increase the likelihood that all employees develop mentoring relationships early on and are positioned in your culture to succeed in your culture .
At my company, we send a series of 10 quick lectures (about a page each) the week before each new hire starts, to create shared language about some of the principles that matter most to us: growth mindset, radical candor, and how prejudice occur in the workplace.
Here’s the bottom line.
Creating a workplace that is diverse, equitable and inclusive takes time and attention. Recruitment is one key element, and retention is another. Making sure your hiring process is airtight and based on the best information you can find is a good start.