By Travis Marsh

Writing on Diversity & Inclusion and how to address bias in the workplace may have been one of the biggest challenges Brent, Susan, and I have faced as co-authors. From a position of privilege, acknowledging privilege is just the first step. As with everything we’ve shared in Lead Together, awareness and discernment are at the heart of all change. But acknowledgment is not enough. We need to broaden our perspectives and be intentional if we want to build organizations that make individuals feel safe, valued and can leverage everyone’s uniqueness and talents.

Some of the companies that we interviewed while writing the book were not satisfied by either the effort or the results of their recruiting process or how they were managing Diversity & Inclusion (D&I). For them, I would like to share a conversation I had recently with Sarah Noyes, a renowned HR professional, founder at Noyes Works, and a dear friend who has not only done a lot of thinking but helped dozens of companies implement best practices. This is how it unfolded:

D&I and HR best practices with Sarah Noyes

How can an organization write a job description that gathers the greatest number of qualified candidates from a diverse pool of people?

— Sarah:

  • First and foremost, you need to be upfront about compensation and benefits. Thankfully, this is a growing trend for organizations and is something that potential candidates deeply appreciate.

  • Removing unnecessary requirements can help you craft a better job description. You can encourage hiring managers to review each requirement and ask, “if an otherwise perfect candidate came along without this particular experience, would we still hire them?” If the answer is yes, then cut it from the list.

  • Acknowledge that some candidates may need accommodations for the interview process. Make it clear on your website or job posting how to request them.

  • Avoid slang and irrelevant terminology. You want to be respectful to candidates whose native language is not English, for instance.

I’d like to connect this last part to something we mentioned in our book, which is paying attention to language. Studies show that some terms appeal more to different groups and genders. A good example of this is Buffer, one of the companies we feature, which was able to increase the number of women developer candidates by simply removing words that resonate more with men.

You have some interesting views on culture, especially cultural fit vs. cultural contribution, which is another topic we explore in the book. Specifically, I’ve heard you talk about the power of “less obvious talents.” What are these, and why do they matter?

— S:

  • Ideally, diversity can increase the fitness of all systems, but for companies to truly innovate, they need to be diverse not only in terms of demographics but in ways of being, thinking, and doing [This is known as “deep-level diversity”]. That is why organizations need to look for candidates that can help them balance out the number of “dreamers,” “blockers,” and “doers” in their workforce [We dived a little deeper into this “dreamer, blocker, doer” framework in our live conversation for Human First Works].

  • While going through the resume and also in the interview, you need to identify a propensity towards curiosity, integrity, a learning mindset, willingness to dissent and do things differently, potential cultural contribution, and creativity, both in the candidate’s professional and personal life.

  • These “less obvious talents” matter because they are the qualities people in organizations need to thrive. They help them solve complex problems and push through adversity, ambiguity, and difficult conversations.

What kind of questions bring out qualities and skills that may make for a high performer, particularly one who doesn’t necessarily meet every job description qualification?

— S:

  • Here are some questions that do a great job of this:

    • Tell me about a time you advocated for the best interests of your employer.

    • Tell me about a time when you came up with a breakthrough idea or saw possibilities that were not obvious to others.

    • Tell me about a time when you needed to function effectively under ambiguous circumstances.

You spend significant time thinking about how to describe organizations. Why is this so important?

— S:

  • You have to be very clear on the value add of the organization for the candidate. A great example of this is a tech startup in the San Francisco Bay Area called Abstract Ops. On their website, they show with intricate detail their statistics, their approach to D&I, and what is like working with them. That level of transparency is not required, but it can certainly attract more people. Featuring this information gives candidates a clear view of compensation and benefits, culture, values, and what their roles would be within the organization.

  • As an external recruiter, I believe it’s paramount to be able to effectively portray the culture. So at every interview, I want the candidate to be excited about the company:

    • If the candidate is not a good fit, it’s still word of mouth for your recruiting efforts!

    • If they are a good fit, you want them to choose your company over other good offers they may have!

What do you think makes someone good at this?

— S:

  • Reading, watching, and listening to everything there is to know.

  • Asking a lot of pointed questions.

  • Finding touchpoints to meet with the team and get to know them.

How does one describe an organization authentically and accurately that may increase the applicant pool that includes a more diverse population?

— S:

  • Publish diversity in hiring statistics on your website or include them in the job posting.

  • Share your approach to racial justice and highlight ways you create an inclusive workplace.

We’re all biased to some extent. When evaluating applicants, how can we address bias?

— S:

  • In addition to requesting resumes, have them answer a series of questions that show their knowledge and how they approach their work.

  • If you’d like a simpler process for candidates, have an intern or administrative assistant edit demographic identifiers from the applications—I haven’t yet found an Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) available in the US that does this for organizations. In 2020, BreezyHR told me it was a priority feature to develop with no estimated timeline.

  • When requesting work products from final candidates, you can have a third party distribute them anonymously to the hiring team.

  • Avoid focusing on employment gaps.

  • Rather than credentials, focus on accomplishments.

When the process moves to “top 2-3” choices, how can the evaluation process be most fair, inclusive, and justifiable?

— S:

  • Create work products that test capabilities:

    • Make sure not to make the work product strategy related. Instead, choose a small deliverable relevant to the role (e.g., outline how one would go about creating a system to _____).

    • Give instructions during a live conversation with the opportunity to ask questions.

    • If asynchronous: strive to provide each candidate the same number of days to produce the work product, which can be logistically challenging given that candidates often interview on different days.

    • Compensate for all time spent on work product and limit to 2-4 hours.

    • Have a third party distribute anonymously to the hiring committee for review.

    • Once hired, consider continuing to vet by including one crucial project the new hire does independent of the team.

  • And limit bias:

    • Review resumes at the beginning of your day. Some research shows that if you do it later in the day, your implicit bias can creep in because your brain is fatigued.

    • There should be co-evaluators at each step.

    • The supervisor should only get involved at the end of the process.

From this exchange, we can conclude that conducting a thorough recruiting process and focusing on deep-level diversity rather than statistics or legal compliances allows organizations to leverage the talent of different groups of people. Diversity & Inclusion can result in higher-quality work, better decision-making, greater team satisfaction, and more equality, but only if these diverse teams are effectively led. Robin Ely and David Thomas wrote in a piece for Harvard Business Review that there are four concrete steps that leaders can take to support individuals and begin changing the system: building trust with their teams, actively working against discrimination and subordination, embracing a wide range of styles and voices, and making cultural differences a resource for learning.

You can watch the whole interview with Sarah on the Human First Works YouTube channel.


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If you need help adopting better recruiting practices and attracting diverse talent, you can contact Sarah through her website, And if you want to have a conversation on other topics related to leadership, self-management, and building a thriving organization, feel free to grab some time on my calendar.

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