By Edith Buhs, Principal

Creating a race equitable workplace has become an elevated priority. In our work, we’ve heard many times that our clients want to take action, but aren’t sure how. Equity in the Center’s recent report “Awake to Work to Work: Building a Race Equity Culture” describes a cycle of change – awake, work, work – as organizations transform from a white dominant culture to a race equity culture. Awake, the first stage, focuses on building a workforce of individuals from different race backgrounds. In nonprofits, this is not a small task.  While about 40% of the American workforce is non-white, only 18% of nonprofit staffers are. In smaller and midsize organizations it is common for hiring to be largely unstructured, or even completely ad hoc, which makes hiring new staff who feel similar to the interviewers and existing staff nearly inevitable. Plus, nonprofits can’t retain and promote staffers of diverse backgrounds if they don’t get hired in the first place. So, getting “awake” in your hiring is a good place to start. Below are a few approaches we recently used with a client that you can adopt and adapt. Try them out, talk to your peers, reach out to colleagues in other organizations. Let us know what you learn and how you make changes that matter.

Write a better Job Description

  • Textio’s great Word Nerd blog guided the language we used and the posting length. Their research shows long listings have a drop off in applicants. Aim for the sweet spot of 300-700 words.
  • We named how diversity, equity and inclusion figures into the responsibilities and qualifications of the role, i.e. “execute a strategy that generates a high quality and diverse workforce. . . develop and institute diversity and inclusion initiatives . . . cultivate a safe, fulfilling and respectful work environment free from discrimination and harassment that promotes the wellbeing of staff.” Not hiring for a talent role? Here’s what it sounds like for a foundation policy position: “Ensure the policy agenda reflects and advances the Foundation’s commitment . . .  to reducing racial and ethnic disparities.” Or, for a manager in a youth leadership nonprofit: “Demonstrated ability to work with diverse teams of young adults, which includes experience coaching young people and working with diverse populations.”
  • We expanded the EEOC statement: “We are an equal opportunity employer that values diversity of all kinds. We encourage candidates from all backgrounds to apply for this opportunity. It is our policy to ensure that all individuals are treated equally without regard to age, color, disability, gender, marital status, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, expression, gender identity or veteranstatus, and that all are given every opportunity to succeed.”

Reduce Your Implicit Bias in Screening

As a small team without an applicant tracking system or automated screening, we did it “by hand.” Our team worked to counterbalance our implicit bias by:

  • Using a spreadsheet to track candidates and to be sure we were looking at every application and communicating with each person after every round.
  • Using two reviewers with different identity characteristics.  In our case, this meant different racial, age and geographic backgrounds.
  • Reviewing applications in large batches.
  • Instead of sorting resumes into simple yes, no and maybe piles, we compared applications against the minimum qualifications in the posting and then held those candidates against the highest priority abilities to find ones to phone screen;
  • Testing our ratings with each other by asking why we scored two candidates differently, checking that candidates with similar scores really did seem similar, and ensuring that our ratings were backed by data.
  • This wasn’t a highly scientific process (few in the nonprofit world are. Google is a different story) so when candidates from diverse (non white-normative) backgrounds were just outside our cutoff, we tipped them into the next pool on the guess that, despite our efforts in a biased world, their match to the role may have been underestimated. We’d look to the next round of vetting to get a better view.

Structure Your Interviews

Research shows that unstructured interviews (asking off the cuff questions, letting a conversation unfold organically) are terrible at selecting top candidates, in spite of the fact that interviewers prefer them (no prep, no directions, no design to follow – what’s not to like?). The bad news is that unstructured interviews are more likely to allow implicit bias to sway results. Iris Bohnet’s work, How to Take the Bias Out of Interviews, informed our approach. We rooted out opportunities for “I just liked her” or “I didn’t get a good feel from him” to seep into the selection process by honing in on the competencies needed for success in the role. Using our Inquiry Design tool (download sample here), we predesigned questions for each layer of interviewing (phone screen, first in-person interview and finalist round) to explore a deeper layer of data in each round. All candidates were asked the same questions in every round, interviewers took detailed notes and then compared and tested their assessments in debrief meetings.

No Stony Faces and Bad Cops

We believe that each person’s true capabilities and potential match with the job comes through more if stress and anxiety are minimized. Interviews are nerve racking, especially for the introverts among us and those with time constraints in their on-the-job and off-the-job schedules. We aimed to put candidates at ease by connecting personally at the beginning of interviews and smiling a lot. We appreciated their interest in the role. We told them what to expect in each type of interview and gave a clear point of contact for questions. We shared expected next steps and updated candidates when our timeline slowed down. With a nod to Vu Le about salary cloaking, for candidates who advanced from the phone screen, we shared the salary range to find mismatches in salary requirements early on and value everyone’s time. Further on this spectrum, some employers are fully transparent about salary ranges in postings and tell candidates what topics or even questions to expect in interviews. (Note too that the client is based in New York which, like Massachusetts, forbids asking about salary history during job interviewing. This regulation is spreading, so look for it to come to your city or state!)

We believe these are good practices for every hiring process. A little upfront investment in the way you hire one or two people can create the tools, training and pool of interviewers you need to make every hire better. These are early and essential pieces of creating a workplace that is more diverse, inclusive and equitable. Let us know if you’d like to upgrade your hiring with doable, practical steps like these. To explore another piece of the puzzle, look for our next blog post on training interviewers.