BACKED People & Culture Series

DE&I in hiring is a process, not a policy

How to build a fair & inclusive recruitment strategy from scratch

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Perhaps let’s not ask these guys

Your person ‘specification’ is way too specific

Women will self-select out of a process at advertisement stage unless they believe they’re 100% qualified. Men, however, will throw their hat in when they meet only 60% of the criteria. Imagine all the missed talent! Think of all the mediocre dudes currently working in some talented woman’s dream job, all because the ad said a second European language was “desirable, but not essential”! When workshopping the JD, you need to be very clear on what the role actually requires. Keep interrogating the list of qualities and qualifications you deem necessary. Why will the successful candidate need a degree? What’s the difference between 2.5 and 3 years’ experience? Do they even have to work from one of your offices?

If items on the person spec don’t stand up to detailed questioning, kill them. They’re holding you back, along with some outstanding potential applicants.

It’s important to note here that I believe hiring for potential is always a smart move for a number of reasons, but it’s also one of the most inclusive things you can do in your hiring process. There are innumerable obstacles to talented people from underestimated and disadvantaged demographics gaining a foothold in their desired professions and industries, so if you insist on a certain amount of experience, at a particular set of companies — or on industry-specific experience — you’re ensuring that, more often than not, the moneyed white men will rise to the top. Hiring for transferable skills and a growth mindset, thinking laterally about transferable skills from nontraditional industries & backgrounds, doesn’t just save you money and minimise turnover; it diversifies your pipeline by default.

The Old Boys’ (and Girls’) Network is too good at serving itself

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard that “the best people are already in your network”. Who is the “you” that this speaks to? It’s one thing to agree that a recommended candidate is recommended with good reason, another to assume that because an applicant came through someone’s contacts from the Big 4, or the Magic Circle, or the Ivy League alumni network, they’re automatically a better match to your role than inbound ad response from people who haven’t had the good fortune to meet one of your friends.

If you’re a white Princeton grad from Goldman Sachs, who’s going to recommend you the Black whizzkid who dropped out of school at 16 and taught themselves to code?

At Backed, as with other employers, I noticed these systems in action and was struck by how harmless it all looked: a coffee here, a drink there, just to keep an eye on “rising talent”. But this was not the only talent out there; and it was only “rising” because influential people had recognised and nurtured it. It’s all so normal. It was clear that no-one participating had made any conscious decision to keep the doors coded and the funnel narrow, but when I raised it, it was agreed that these practices did give a certain kind of person an unfair advantage — and that by extension, it put others at a considerable disadvantage. To counter this, I enshrined the following into procedure:

  1. A live vacancy is a published vacancy. A job is not live until the job description and application link are published. Our networks are alerted to a new role’s existence only at the same time as or after publication of the job description/advertisement.
  2. No informal ‘interviews’ — and if an upcoming role does end up being discussed in a meeting, the JD is rushed to publication.

Speaking of job ads…

Keep it impersonal

Even with the best of intentions, we are all absolutely full of biases. Unconscious biases don’t make you evil or even special, but it is important to keep them from creeping in at the top of the funnel. The best way to achieve this is to anonymise inbound ad response. Perhaps you worry that an applicant’s English will be poor because you can’t pronounce the name on their CV; maybe someone named Ruth bullied you at school. Almost certainly you won’t be thinking about these things consciously as you toss a resume onto the virtual slush pile, but these totally irrational first impressions cloud your judgment and stop good people getting through.

Even the most stunning list of accomplishments hits murky waters if, in the darkest recesses of someone’s brain, the notion lingers that an applicant’s surname rhymes with “arsehole”.

Disclaimer: we haven’t been doing this for long, but Applied, Blendoor and Pinpoint will all do the job for you with varying bells and whistles.

Your language is putting good people off

Do you have a hardcore, work-hard, play-hard environment? Do you only hire ‘ninjas’ and ‘rock stars’? If so — firstly please consider instead looking for somebody competent with an unproblematic social media presence, and remember that 2007 was a long time ago. More importantly, these terms are all commonly coded as masculine — and they’re some of the more obvious ones. To avoid unconsciously putting people off before they’re past the first paragraph, we run job ads through the Gender Decoder and tweak accordingly. Because we’re fun people who like a good time, we keep tweaking until it’s 50/50 masculine/feminine.

You can’t afford to wait for the talent to come to you

Unless you’re a household name, in which case I’m flattered you’re reading this, diverse talent doesn’t know that you’re a cool employer, not like all the other employers.

You’re probably not as good a judge as you think you are

I cannot overstate the life-changing value of a really high-quality unconscious bias training programme. It has to be approached in good faith, and it isn’t a cure-all; but done well, it should equip you to handle your biases during your recruitment process. We received bespoke instruction from Abadesi, CEO of the in-demand Hustle Crew, who tailored her materials towards our goals and sent us off with a practical list of actions that has permanently altered and improved our recruitment practices.

You can’t eliminate your biases, but you can use them to keep yourself honest.

Also, where possible, we try to have a woman present and asking questions (note-taking doesn’t count) at every first-round interview. Putting a woman in a position of authority from the get-go shows interviewees of all genders that women are listened to and taken seriously. It’s also useful, in my experience, for weeding out candidates with weird lowkey sexist behaviours.

Written by

People practitioner, hiring specialist, dog enthusiast. Manager, Firm Operations at Backed VC since 2018.

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