Hiring a Diverse Team: key takeaways

Jonathan Ellis
6 min readSep 15, 2020

On September 2, 2020, Sandalphon Capital and midwest.tech hosted a webinar (part of the midwest.tech/connect 2020 programming series) on Hiring for Diversity, featuring moderator Sarah Goldberg (Sourcing Engagement Lead at Objective Paradigm), and panelists Uzo Akotaobi (VP of Human Resources and Inclusion & Diversity at Prologis), Tess Jenkins (Talent Acquisition Partner at LogicGate), and Trevor Jenkins (Director of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion at ActiveCampaign and Founder of Unfiltered Conversations).

We covered key diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) considerations and best practices throughout the talent life cycle from recruiting and hiring to building and leading an inclusive culture for talent to bring their whole selves to work.

The key takeaways are captured below:

What should startups do early on to create diverse and inclusive teams?

Understand that the tech industry today is focused on scalability, not on diversity. The pressure to demonstrate rapid returns drives hiring managers to seek people who remind them of themselves, resulting in homogenous teams. Leadership shapes employees’ perception of the company, so it is integral to put in place inclusive leaders who not only talk the talk but walk the walk.

How do you find and attract diverse talent?

Don’t know where to find diverse talent? Go where the diverse talent are! Check out People of Color in Tech (POCIT), Black Tech Jobs, and diverse platforms for greater exposure to candidates you may not find on traditional hiring platforms such as LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and Indeed. Be intentional in your outreach because diversity is not a check-the-box activity; it is a reflection of your firm’s values and goals.

It is important to create not only a short-term sourcing strategy, but also a mid-term and long-term strategy for hiring diverse talent. Your mid-term recruiting strategy could involve hosting events for diverse candidates, where they can opt in and experience your company’s DEI culture firsthand. Your long-term strategy should involve building long-term relationships with schools and community organizations that empower diverse talent. Pick organizations whose mission aligns with your company’s mission and ask how you can help; do not just ask them for a stack of resumes.

Founders often find themselves having to course-correct and fix leaky ships because they did not spend the time to develop robust diversity hiring practices early on. Chipping away at the short- mid- and long-term strategies in parallel from the very beginning will help you build a firm that reflects a diverse, equitable, and inclusive world you want to see.

How can my team combat bias in hiring?

First, acknowledge that we are all biased and bring that awareness into the hiring process. Design and implement a structured interview process that screens for key competencies, outcomes, and/or values. Building a hiring playbook with competency-based assessments, diverse interviewers from various departments to bring more perspectives to the table, and best practices will help reduce the tendency to hire based on the candidates’ alma mater or referrals, which benefit white men more than any other demographic. A simple way to counter the bias is to spend the first two weeks only considering candidates from schools, bootcamps, or non-traditional programs you may not normally recruit from, before turning to other more traditional talent pools. Take a deeper look at people with non-traditional backgrounds to truly assess whether they have the competencies and intangible qualities (e.g., curiosity, drive, etc.) needed for the role. Your HR team should be empowered to pull down a requisition if leadership will not enact the company’s DEI values.

How do I avoid performative messaging around DEI?

Every company says that DEI is important to them and that they complete Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reporting (which is required for companies with over 100 employees). It’s time to move from performative messaging to compelling messaging. Articulate your people goals along with your business goals. For example, we want our workforce to reflect the U.S. demographic by 2025. Show the diversity in your talent as well as your customers, and highlight what your customers say. Your DEI strategy needs to be supported by the right systems that empower people to adopt DEI practices, which creates a trickle down effect. When your leaders and employees check their biases and complete workshops on conducting compassionate conversations, their newfound knowledge and awareness will impact recruiting practices, client engagement, and various facets of their work.

How can I better measure the results of my firm’s DEI efforts?

First, check out the Global D&I Benchmarks, a tool developed by 95 DEI experts to assess how mature your DEI practices are and build an actionable DEI plan. Second, Project Include recommends the 10–10–5–45 plan; set a goal of building a workforce that is 10% Black, 10% Latin, 5% non-binary, and 45% women, and consider stretching the 5% to 15% LGBTQ. Keep in mind the demographics in your region. For example, if 15% of the engineering talent pool in Chicago are women, your engineering talent pool should consist of 15% women. Third, conduct regular self-identification surveys (e.g., twice a year) to begin tracking diversity trends and gaining workforce insights that impact key business decisions. Fourth, create a DEI dashboard to understand your DEI performance based on key data. For example, tracking the number of diverse candidates who make it through each stage of the interview process can help pinpoint process improvement opportunities where diverse talent drop off. Fifth, conducting a comprehensive DEI report facilitates transparency around your firm’s DEI goals and efforts. Share your benchmarks, successes, shortcomings, and plans to overcome challenges.

How do you create a culture that encourages people to bring their whole selves to work?

We all cover something, whether it’s our diversity, sexual orientation, gender, or faith. This is why it is important to offer training and create spaces where people can share their stories and feel heard as human beings. Check out the book Radical Candor by Kim Scott to learn more about how to balance challenging directly and caring personally as a manager to build a strong culture where we listen to others, challenge our own thinking, and get better as an organization together. When people in your organization express their needs, leaders should see it not as a personal failure, but as an opportunity to enable their team to feel heard and connected with genuine compassion.

How should organizations respond to civil unrest and traditionally “taboo” subjects?

Organizations need to beware of reacting in the moment and mimicking without intentional substance (e.g., companies hopping on the bandwagon to make a statement about Juneteenth). Do not reach out immediately to specific demographics the day after a tragedy, such as George Floyd’s death, and ask them to educate their coworkers. Instead, bring in external resources to lead compassionate conversation workshops, make a statement expressing the firm’s awareness of the situation, and give employees the space to express their thoughts in a safe forum (e.g., Slack) if they wish to. Check in with the entire team so individuals do not feel pressured to put on a facade or contribute if they do not wish to. Remember, words without action mean nothing. Giving people the space they need to express themselves in their own time and on their own terms is critical to building a culture of compassion and empathy.

More information

You can check out the full webinar recording here.

For more about the panelists’ respective companies:

  • Objective Paradigm provides talent acquisition solutions for direct-hire placement, staff augmentation, dedicated recruiting services, and candidate sourcing services to small, medium, and enterprise-level companies that leverage technology and relationship building.
  • Prologis, Inc. is the global leader in logistics real estate with a focus on high-barrier, high-growth markets.
  • LogicGate is a powerful process automation platform that enables organizations to transform mission-critical risk and compliance activities by enhancing controls, increasing flexibility, and reducing risk.
  • ActiveCampaign helps growing businesses meaningfully connect and optimize their customers’ experiences using their SaaS platform to go beyond marketing automation.
  • Unfiltered Conversations is an experience and framework that helps guide organizations through polarizing discussions.

If you are interested in learning more about Objective Paradigm, and how they can help you with your company’s hiring needs, please contact one of their representatives below:

Thank you to our midwest.tech/connect 2020 sponsors — TriNet, Signature Bank, Neal, Gerber, & Eisenberg, Calculated Risk Advisors, Objective Paradigm, and Carta — for your support in making MTC2020 and this webinar possible!

Summary by Julia Wong, MBA Associate Intern at Sandalphon Capital

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Jonathan Ellis

Sandalphon Capital, a Pre-Seed to Series A stage Midwest/Midcontinent-focused early stage VC firm