I (Olivia Capra) sat down with Lauren Lazo and Brian Angeski from Big Health at the recent ModelExpand Diversity Recruiting Bootcamp to talk about how resource-constrained startups can build diverse and powerful teams.
At KP Ventures 60% of our investment decisions are made by women. We pride ourselves on the commitment we’ve made to bring diverse voices to the same table. Before we pat ourselves on the back, however, we must remember we are a slowly-expanding team with resources at our disposal, the forces are not against us. On the days I avoid Bart and grab a desk at a portfolio company office, I am reminded of the realities our management teams face. They have limited time, limited capital, and a multitude of high-impact decisions that need to be made quickly. We believe great teams are a key determinant in company success, but the process of piecing together a powerful and diverse set of expertise while trying to balance priorities and not burn through capital is tough.
The recent ModelExpand Diversity Recruiting Bootcamp run by Paria Rajai opened my eyes to low-hanging fruit for resource-constrained companies trying to build and foster powerful teams. Better yet, I got to experience the day with Lauren Lazo and Brian Angeski from our portfolio company Big Health. We sat down afterward to talk shop and realized our conversation may be helpful for the broader start-up ecosystem.
Olivia: I’m curious what resonated most with you during the day. I realized that not all companies believe there is a business case behind building a diverse team in those crucial early days. Is business acumen being sacrificed for public image?
Lauren: Absolutely not, let’s start with the numbers. Every 1% increase in gender and racial diversity is correlated with a 3–9% increase in sales revenue (Cedric Herring, Does Diversity Pay? Pg. 217). The benefits of prioritizing diversity and inclusion initiatives go beyond improved financials — from attracting the best talent and lowering attrition to greater innovation.
What resonated with me at ModelExpand was a video of a darker-skinned gentleman trying, and failing, to use a soap dispenser because it did not register his hand. According to Pew Research Center, by 2055 there will be no single racial or ethnic majority in the U.S. Companies need to build teams that are representative of the populations they serve. Without that, they will continue to build teams, products, and soap dispensers catering only to those whose identity mirrors their own. D&I initiatives shouldn’t be a nice-to-have — they should be an integral piece of any company’s strategy.
Brian: It is common to think, in such a competitive market, that most candidates are drawn to high compensation or inflated titles. However, I was surprised to hear that, studies such as Ernst and Young’s Trust in the Workplace — Generation Z Values conclude that “the #1 thing candidates are looking for is equality.” Therefore, if a brand doesn’t have a multicultural strategy, they don’t have a growth strategy.
Olivia: Ok so we agree it is important, but what are low-resource tactics any company can employ from day one? “Messaging” or “signaling” seemed to be the winner at the boot camp. For instance using a tool such as Textio or Gender Decoder to take out bias and appeal to a wider demographic in any public materials (website, job postings). Is messaging that impactful?
Lauren: Yes. At Big Health we are constantly straddling the line between needing to fill roles quickly and building a fully diverse candidate pool. Small improvements to company messaging are easy to implement and subtly demonstrate your commitment to building diverse teams. A few tactics I learned:
- Highlight the unique culture & benefits your company offers (e.g. The percent of working mothers with children has increased 6% in the last decade and caregiver dynamics have largely remained the same. Therefore, highlighting flexibility (control over when/where/how work gets done) can make an impact for many candidates.)
- Edit content to be more inclusive by eliminating fixed words (e.g., high performer, intelligent) and replace them with growth words (e.g., seeks challenges, highly motivated)
- Decrease the number of requirements in a job description. Typically, women only apply to a job if they meet 100% of the requirements, while men apply if they meet 60%.
Brian: Agreed! Also in our first conversation with a candidate, we try to highlight any Diversity & Inclusion initiatives underway! For example, we recently created Employee Resource Groups (ERG’s) and are working on a company-wide unconscious bias training. By weaving these tidbits into conversation we continually communicate the importance of Diversity & Inclusion efforts.
Olivia: Let’s move to everyone’s favorite hobby — interviewing. As the interviewer, many of us have had the experience of preferring a candidate we bonded with or perceive as a good “culture fit”. The risk is that the connection comes from a commonality and can act as an adversary to diversity. How should we think about this?
Brian: This is a hard problem to solve, but I think the more structured the interview process the less likely you are to have biases creep in. Calibration meetings, which is a time for everyone on the interview panel to discuss the evaluation criteria for the role, need to be held before having any candidates enter the interview process. This ensures that each interviewer knows the criteria they are assessing and how the candidate should be measured.
Lauren: Ah, yes the age-old similar-to-me bias. First, don’t be too hard on yourself, according to the research of Daniel Kahneman, we all make decisions based on emotions, intuitions, and biases, whether interviewing or not. To echo Brian, a highly structured interview process can help reduce the negative effects of this and other biases.
When a role opens Brian and I always conduct an intake meeting with the hiring manager to align on:
- Why this role and why now?
- What do we expect strong candidates to have accomplished in 9–12 months?
- What are the most important skills (4–5 max) needed to achieve those goals?
From there, we can create an interview process that assesses the specific skills we outlined and urge the interviewers to ask the same questions in the same order for each candidate (which is discussed during the calibration meeting Brian mentioned). This helps to improve consistency across assessment areas and lessen the opportunity to arrive at a hiring decision based on how much the team likes the candidate. Additionally, It is important to have a diverse interview panel in which discussion is encouraged. This is particularly salient after an onsite interview and provides the space to challenge each other’s biases and uncover blind spots. We know we cannot mitigate bias altogether, but we are constantly iterating our processes in an effort to move the needle towards a company rooted in equity.
Olivia: Thanks both for your time today. I know we are just scratching the surface and I hope as an industry we can keep collaborating and supporting each other to make these changes. From the financing side, KP Ventures is constantly looking to create opportunities for a more diverse set of entrepreneurs to have access to funding. We’d welcome any thoughts or tips from the readers out there, feel free to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
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ModelExpand is a diversity recruiting strategy firm that supports companies through workshops, events and consulting. To learn more, visit ModelExpand.com to sign up for their newsletter and get updates on their next Diversity Recruiting Bootcamp. You can also email contact@modelexpand if you have any questions or would like to learn more.
At Big Health, our purpose is to help millions back to good mental health. We do this by creating digital therapeutics: fully automated yet highly personalized programs that are scalable and clinically proven to work. Our programs harness the intimacy of the human voice and the power of animation to engage and entertain while delivering complex concepts to help our users overcome their unique mental health challenges. To learn more, check out https://www.bighealth.com