Inclusive Hiring Begins With You

I write this letter with a heavy heart as we confront ongoing violence and racism against communities of color, particularly brutality against unarmed young Black men like Daunte Wright.

Writing this letter on inclusive hiring can't even come close to bringing justice for lost lives. But given that data show that the workplace is where Americans interact most often with people of a different race, I believe one of our greatest chances of achieving justice and equity in our society starts in the workplace.

Onward we go, because we must, even with heavy hearts.

So...We’re not hiring diverse people (check out the last letter to learn why).

But to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace, hiring managers (you do not have to be in HR/recruiting to be a hiring manager) must do the hard work to reduce their own personal biases.

I wrote about this for Harvard Business Review in 2019. The TL;DR version is this: We’re hardwired to be drawn to people who are like us. That’s why biases enter hiring decisions….and promotion and pay and….basically, all decisions. It doesn’t matter whether we intended to be biased (and, especially, discriminatory). Instead, we need to focus on the impact of what happens when we make decisions riddled with biases.

To drive meaningful progress on this front, individuals––managers, leaders, even individual contributors––must take personal responsibility to understand their biases. I’ll address institutional (data-backed) policies for inclusive hiring in the next letter.

But I believe change can begin with one person.



Step one: Accept that you have biases.

Reflect on why you might feel drawn to some people over others. Think about the last time you connected with someone who you thought was amazing, but you couldn’t explain why. They just were! And conversely, think about a case where you immediately disliked someone. In both instances, did their race, gender, hometown, educational background, socioeconomic status or other identities match yours? Or were they very different on all measures? It's human nature to be drawn to people like us and reject those we perceive as different. We need to accept we have this bias–affinity bias–and only then can even begin to address it.

Step two: Honestly reflect back on the last few people who you hired.

Did factors such as their race, gender, education or how much you liked them influence you? Add the lens of pandemic hiring and there’s a whole new level to this assessment. Did you maybe make judgments on what their house looked like on Zoom or whether you heard a child in the background? It’s uncomfortable to admit but these biases make all the difference when we choose who to hire. I’m not proud to say that I’ve fallen prey to my own biases in past hiring decisions. Only through careful and consistent awareness of them combined with careful and consistent action to correct them have I been able to make change. I still slip up occasionally when I say things like, "they went to my alma mater, so they're going to be amazing."

Step three: When you’re evaluating a candidate, normalize asking yourself this question. “Where did bias show up in this decision?” It really, really, really helps to articulate it out loud. (Did I write “really” enough times? It helps. I’ve seen it in action.) It also helps disrupt others' biases in action. You can finally ask your peer whether their comment was biased, "I liked her because she smiled a lot. Let's hire her."

Step four: Refuse to begin interviews until you have a strong representation. At least 50% of candidates should reflect the racial and gender diversity of the country you live in. At the very least. Research from Stefanie K. Johnson et. al. shows that if you have just one woman in the hiring process, her chances of being hired are statistically zero. Don’t just tokenize–make it count.

Taking personal responsibility to diversify your hiring pool makes all the difference. Much before you make big policy changes. Because inclusion is leadership. Take it from an underestimated—I didn’t say diverse!—leader.

Do you agree? What’s worked for you?