All Are Welcome

Adding Diversity to the Workplace Means Removing Barriers

Excerpted from “All Are Welcome: How to Build a Real Workplace Culture of Inclusion that Delivers Results” by Cynthia Owyoung, pp. 93-97 (McGraw Hill, February 2022).

Your company says it wants to add diversity to its workforce, but wanting something to happen doesn’t necessarily make it happen. To build an inclusive team, your organization needs to examine each piece of the hiring process from end to end with the intent of removing as many barriers to inclusion as possible. Hiring managers especially need to do more “perspective taking” and view the hiring process through the lens of people not like themselves, in order to identify areas where bias may be preventing people with diverse backgrounds from joining your company.

So how exactly do you hire inclusively? In addition to sourcing candidates from diverse pipelines and deploying recruiting strategies to get them to consider your firm, here are five things within your control that you can modify in your hiring process to support attracting and hiring underrepresented candidates.

  1. Write a succinct and unbiased job description

If you want a diverse set of candidates to apply for open positions, you have to be very intentional about what you put into the job descriptions. Are you thinking about things like whether your language is unintentionally appealing to one group over another, or whether the qualifications you list are truly requirements?

Many times, we include preferences like industry experience or educational backgrounds, but we present them as requirements. If they are truly optional, state that explicitly. Too many job requirements, for example, may mean that fewer women will apply because they don’t meet 100 percent of them. Remember that men will frequently apply for a job if they meet only 60 percent of the job qualifications. Words like “ninja” or “rock star” may also turn women off and prevent them from applying.

Similarly, be aware that when you include phrases like “fast-paced environment” or “join our tribe,” it can feel exclusionary or offensive to some, in this case people with disabilities or indigenous peoples, respectively. You need to take the perspective of the underrepresented candidate pool you want to attract and make sure that you are speaking to them in a way that they can see themselves in the roles you want to hire. Do some research and try to get input from others where you can.

How Your Startup Can Implement Effective Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Practices

  1. Source beyond your usual networks

The next step after drafting your job description is to figure out how to get a diverse pool of candidates to apply. It usually takes a lot more than putting your job description up on your website. You need to intentionally reach out beyond your usual networks and post the job to groups that are geared toward underrepresented communities. Cultivating a diverse network; asking for referrals to amazing, underrepresented talent; and spreading the word that you want a diverse set of candidates to apply will all help you attract a more diverse pipeline of applicants.

It’s also important to build long-term relationships with organizations dedicated to increasing the number of people from underrepresented backgrounds in your industry. Your company must build credibility with marginalized communities for people from those communities to want to apply. Think beyond conference sponsorships and recruiting events to community efforts like volunteering and philanthropy, or more formalized partnerships designed to develop a broader pipeline of talent into your firm, such as apprenticeship or boot camp programs for underrepresented groups (URGs) that specifically train for the skills in demand for your industry.

  1. Design a structured and consistent interview process

Let’s assume you’ve attracted a diverse candidate pool. If you want to increase the chances of one of those candidates accepting the job, it’s essential that you’ve clearly defined your hiring criteria and developed a structured and thoughtful interview process. I can’t stress enough how defining your hiring criteria early on will help you avoid more bias later.

Gathering your interview team together before you talk to candidates and coming up with a plan on who will be focused on what kinds of skill sets and questions, as well as agreeing on what a great answer looks like versus a merely good answer, will help people evaluate candidates more consistently across the board. It will also make your interview process better in general so you’ll have more confidence in your ability to hire great talent, period.

Stay focused on asking questions that are relevant to the requirements of the role. It’s important that those questions are standardized for each candidate, so interviewers are not judging candidates based solely on whether or not they would want to have a beer with them afterward. To that point, make the interview team as diverse as possible so that the people you’re interviewing can see themselves at your firm.

Ensure that you are accommodating people with different needs and abilities, such as asking if they need any accommodations or offering to send questions out ahead of time for candidates who might not speak fluent English or need more time to process. Often, companies look for “culture fit,” which can result in “more of the same” as opposed to increasing the diversity of your teams. Instead, craft interview questions that focus on who might be a “culture add,” building your culture toward the inclusive environment you want it to be.

  1. Evaluate candidates with concrete feedback

Objectivity is an important part of the evaluation process. It’s a good practice for the interview team to write notes during and immediately after the interview and then assign an objective rating. You also have to be really clear about not just writing down your impressions but actually citing concrete examples of why you have those impressions.

Too often, it’s only the impressions with no reasoning to back them up that get written down and read. This can lead to snap judgments based on perceptions that may come from unconscious bias. It’s important to train hiring managers on how to identify bias in the interview feedback so that they can make the hiring yes or no decision more effectively and not just based on something that felt “off.”

Some companies have instituted a hiring committee composed of people from diverse backgrounds who have a good track record of hiring successful candidates to the firm. The hiring committee is tasked with evaluating feedback based on consistent criteria that is not dependent on a particular function or role, which is helpful for objectivity and the ability to maintain consistency in the quality of hires across the organization.

Tackle Recruitment Bias to Hire the Best Team

  1. Give candidates a sense of belonging

So you’ve decided that you want to extend an offer to a person from an underrepresented background. How do you ensure that they accept it? It’s absolutely essential that you are humble and recognize that this person has the power to choose. You must demonstrate that you have an inclusive culture and that they will feel a sense of belonging once they join the team.

Share your company’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, and describe the efforts underway to support it, referring especially to any employee resource groups that people might be interested in joining. Be prepared to answer honestly any questions the candidate may have about your company’s diversity numbers and opportunities to grow into leadership positions.

Offer to have them meet with others to talk about DEIB and the company’s culture if they’d like to hear more directly about the experiences of people from underrepresented groups.

Highlight benefits and policies that you know are important to the candidate. If you’ve been intentional about being inclusive throughout your entire hiring process, it will be an easy decision for underrepresented candidates to choose you over a competitor.

Creating and executing an inclusive hiring process involves a great deal of intentionality and consistency. But the benefits of doing so far outweigh the effort involved. Focusing on inclusion will ensure that you have created a hiring process that is good for everyone, not just any one group, and it will bring in a diverse talent pool that will contribute to business success.

“All Are Welcome” can be purchased below via

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