What We’re Up To

Why We Need Inclusive Hiring

Tammy Phan

October 10th, 2019

Why We Need Inclusive Hiring

Before soy, almond, cashew, oat and even hemp became the various milks du jour of the late 2010s, there was the humble dairy cow’s milk. I spent a portion of my childhood guzzling the good stuff in an attempt to recreate the milk mustaches from the ‎California Milk Processor Board’s highly successful “Got Milk?” ads. My bedroom was covered with glossy sheets ripped from magazines of my favorite celebrities donning their very own mustaches (stars, they’re just like us!).

The very best campaigns can not only convince children and adults alike to drink their weight in two percent, they’re often inspiring, can help change narratives, or are simplyclever. Other times, an ad’s tone can miss the mark completely. Remember when Dove made bottles shaped like women’s bodies? Or when Pepsi trivialized the Black Lives Matter movement? And Forbes recently apologized for its list of Top 100 US Innovators, which included just one woman, admitting, “we blew it.”

How did all these things go from conception all the way to actualization, undoubtedly going past many different people for review and approval? What did these companies miss?

The answer is simple and important, yet difficult to get right: Have the right people in the room. Through inclusive hiring, companies can begin to build teams that are diverse in gender, race, social classes, ways of thinking and more, bringing much-needed multiple perspectives to the work at hand. Having a diverse team helps shed light on gap areas, mitigates the effects of unconscious bias, creates a more inclusive environment for all staff, and allows teams to produce their best work. 

And, not only is inclusive hiring the right thing to do, it’s also the best case for business. Studies have shown that diverse companies tend to be more successful and have greater financial returns than less diverse companies

The first step is to create a hiring process that limits unconscious biases. Unconscious, or implicit, biases are subtle, quick, judgments in favor or against certain groups of people that individuals form-based social stereotypes, done involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control. 

Here are just some ways to hire inclusively:

Competency Models

In competency-based models, hiring teams first determine the must-have attributes that are important for the role, and how important each attribute is, before any interviews begin. Then, teams objectively assess candidates based on their responses to behavioral questions. At BerlinRosen, we do this at the beginning of every search, when writing our job descriptions, to help limit unconscious bias. It also creates a fair evaluation process for candidates throughout the process.

After all, your team may determine that management experience is a core part of a senior-level role, then will interview someone who seems perfect. She nailed her phone interview and submitted an excellent trial project. She gets along well with the team. She’s funny! She hits every other competency, except she’s never managed, formally or informally, which is essential to the role, and there’s no way around it. She may be a match for the team someday, but not this role at this time. Competency models help ensure that we limit our bias and focus on making the right hires for the right reasons.

Some examples of competencies we may use at BerlinRosen (in this case, for an Associate Account Executive role for our Issue Advocacy team)  include

  • Experience: 1-2+ years of internship or work experience, preferably in public relations, public affairs, media relations, journalism, political campaigns or a related field
  • Multi-tasks easily: Has the ability to handle multiple assignments at once, work quickly and meet deadlines in a fast-paced environment while paying close attention to details.
  • Skills: Strong written and oral communications
  • Technical fluency with tools such as Word, Excel, and Powerpoint
  • Understands news and has a strong news sense and knowledge of the media
  • Understands organizing and advocacy communications, including social media campaigning and local, state, or national politics

Incorporate behavior-based questions into your interview process to determine if a candidate possesses these attributes, and to help you understand how they would make decisions in future, similar situations. Behavior-based questions ask candidates what they have done, and not what they would do. If you’re assessing teamwork, for example, you’ll get a lot more by asking, “What’s a challenging experience that you’ve had with a coworker and how did you work through it, if at all?” than “Do you typically get along with your coworkers?” or “How would you work through a difficult relationship with a coworker?” The latter will always get you an ideal response, though it may not be what the candidate did previously or will do reliably in the future.

More examples of behavior-based questions include:

  • Communication: Tell me about a time that you had to share a large amount of information or complicated idea with a group of people. How did you do it and what difficulties did you face? Would you do anything differently next time?
  • News sense: What’s a recent news topic that you had to get familiar with? How did you go about learning more about it?
  • Multi-tasks easily: Tell me about a time that you had to juggle multiple, competing priorities in a short time frame. What were the different deliverables or projects you were managing, and how did you divide your time?

Pro tip: Help set candidates up for success and take the guesswork out of things by explicitly naming your core competencies in your job description.

Trial Project

Trial projects or work sample tests are the best predictors of a new hire’s performance. Trial projects assess a candidate’s hard skills through a task that relates to the core part(s) of the role, including project management, writing ability, coding, sourcing, etc. For many of BR’s own positions across different divisions and experience levels, candidates take a writing test specific to the role, and we use a rubric to determine the quality of the submission.

Consider what’s important to the role and create the assignment around that, and be sure to only judge based on that criteria. For example, if you’re looking for someone who can create big ideas and their work will be copyedited by someone else, you may be losing out on an ideal hire by marking them down for an errant typo or two.

Additionally, ensure that your take-home project is realistic though will never be misinterpreted as free work by candidates, which can further increase disparity (unless, of course, you’re going to pay them for it). For example, to test a potential recruiter’s sourcing ability, ask them to find candidates for a given role in a region that your company isn’t located, or a role that you wouldn’t actually hire for often.

Pro tip: Consider, as we did this year at BR, implementing a recruitment process that promotes equity without attribution to individual candidates. Now, our hiring managers review writing test submissions without knowing the authors, which reduces bias and provides a more fair assessment of the actual work.

Inclusive Benefits

Maternity leave in the US has greatly evolved in the last decade. Once considered a rarity, to keep up with the demand for talent, many workplaces now offer paid maternity leave. However, paid paternity leave has been slow to catch up. If you offer more paid maternity than paternity leave, consider reworking your leave policy to include, like we do at BR, parental leave. 

Parental leave offers the same time off for all new parents, regardless of gender, after a birth or adoption. (Be sure to check your state’s laws; in some places, this is inclusive and legally compliant.)

This not only gives all of your staff members the chance to bond with their new child, it helps show the value of all parents and shifts the narrative that anyone, not just women, can be caregivers. 

Pro tip: Ask the people who know their needs best. Solicit your staff, in working groups, through surveys, or in preexisting affinity groups, which benefits would make the biggest impact. Work from there to create a benefits package that speaks to what your employees value.

Final Thoughts

We’ve only scratched the surface of inclusive hiring. There are many more ways to make your workplace and its interview process more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. (More to come: structured hiring, unconscious bias in job descriptions, and more!) While it undoubtedly takes a lot of time and effort, it’s more than worth it to invest in building a diverse team team and ensuring that the right people not only join, they feel supported, accepted, and stay.