by Felicity Hassan and Arjan Schütte
I believe in the strategic advantage that a diverse leadership team can bring to a fast-growing and innovative business. This is one of the reasons why we make diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) a priority in our hiring and funding practices. While we are not perfect, we have researched and laid out a set of principles that we believe remove a lot of bias from our process, and we want to share the benefits of this approach to encourage others to do the same (definitely not telling you what you should do here). We are also aware that this is a rapidly evolving field and are always open to new suggestions.
Where representation matters, we make sure that we are giving ourselves and those we partner with a true opportunity to select a diverse hire. As a result, for all critical and senior roles, we ask to interview at least two but ideally 30% of candidates that would not fit the typical demographic for the position we are hiring. The practice of having at least one diverse candidate in your shortlist, also known as the Rooney Rule, remains the approach for many organizations today, but has been shown to lead to tokenism. The drive for at least 30% representation in the shortlist ensures that a group that might otherwise be considered “underrepresented” receives an equitable assessment.
We are aware that women and communities of color can be more self-deprecating in their achievements, having learned in their careers that they tend to progress on proven results rather than potential. Creating a role description with a less masculine and competitive tone can go a long way to attracting a broader pool. It is important to ensure that a role description clearly lays out the objectives of both the organization and the role in a way that also reflects your brand and culture, and to do so in a way that appeals to all. That being said, in a tight market, you should also be aware that the diverse candidates you are looking for may need to be sought out and may not be making applications.
The interview process is another window where bias can creep back in, even with the best intentions, so creating a plan from day one to ensure consistency of approach for all applicants will mitigate that. We suggest using uniform and structured interviews and a variety of question styles such as behavioral and competency based. For example, “Can you share an example of when you had to take on leadership of a team”, “Tell me about a big decision you made recently?”
A pre-brief also ensures that all interviewers are aware of their focus, removes duplication and replaces textbook responses with experiential examples that will offer a far better guide to their thought process and how they might perform on your team. This approach moves beyond the dated concept of “blind resumes” and looks instead to a demonstration of results over the comfort of impressive schools or a shiny brand name company.
Maintaining a dashboard of your diversity metrics can feel daunting but is really the only way to make sure that lack of diversity never becomes a problem. Air released this dashboard publicly with examples of what they keep track of (through an anonymized survey). The earlier you address a problem, the easier it is to address. The larger you become with a lack of diverse employees, the harder it becomes to address.