• Nonprofit Learning Lab

DIY Your DEI in Recruiting

This is a guest blog and is posted with permission from Suzanne Elliott from Envision Consulting.



Most of us have seen at least one of the many “Do It Yourself” TV shows that, like Pinterest, are meant to inspire and empower the viewer to take on those projects once deemed “for professionals only.”  Chip and JoJo make it all look so easy and effortless (editing down several months’ work into just one hour has that effect) that you run out to your local hardware store and return home with a new set of power tools and a newfound resolve for autonomy. 


But as you look around your house, you’re suddenly struck by how overwhelming the projects seem and how underprepared you feel to tackle them. Where do you start? How do you start?


Those same feelings often arise when we consider another trending acronym that’s permeating our industry. DEI. Most of us agree that creating a more diverse, equitable and inclusive work environment is not only right, it’s also good for both the internal health and the bottom line of an organization.


In fact, studies show that diverse companies perform 33% better than those that are not. However, changing the systemic culture of a company is a lot more daunting than say, re-grouting the kitchen tiles or building a new wet bar from scrap wood. But like any major project, choosing one area to focus on first is the key to setting the wheels of an overhaul, in motion.


But fear not, just like those Property Brothers, we too have some helpful tips that can help you DIY your DEI efforts. How? Keep reading.


1. Define what DEI means to you.


How do you define “success?”  To some, it’s making that wet bar from scrap wood; for others, it’s merely the ability to change a light bulb on their own. The desire for DEI is a lot like the desire to be “successful;” it means different things to different organizations.  But one thing is the same: to make DEI a success, it must first be an intentional priority of leadership.


Create core values around what DEI would look like in your organization and advances your mission and better serves your community. What needs does your organization have, and what kinds of people and qualities create the best fit for fulfilling the roles that meet those needs? Then set the metrics you need and want to hit. 


PRO-TIP: Yes, commitment to DEI starts with leadership, but conversations about the systemic culture of an organization should include all stakeholders, not just the board and CEO.


2. When you’re creating job descriptions, check for bias words and language.


Remember the old riddle about a man and his son who are in a terrible accident and when they get to the ER, the surgeon looks at the boy and exclaims, “I can’t operate on this boy, he’s my son!”? “How can this be?” we were asked, many of us finally having to be told that the doctor was, of course, the boy’s mother.  Despite it being dated, this riddle is a perfect example of how the job of an ER surgeon is one we still most subconsciously assign to men--the same way we often inadvertently think of nurses and teachers as women. And these biases are often perpetuated in the language we use when writing descriptions for the jobs themselves.


For example, “ambitious” is seen as a male word, while “nurturing” is a female word, and applicants of the other gender will often self-select and opt out of jobs that list those words as qualifiers. Think we’re being nit-picky about the power of words? Data shows that job listings with gender-neutral wording get 42% more responses. So, take the time to edit your job descriptions to keep the door for potential candidates wide open.


PRO-TIP: Want more tips on how to remove gender bias from job descriptions? Check out this article from glassdoor.


3. Set up culturally unbiased hiring structures and stick to them.


“She seems cold and mean,” “I feel like I could have a beer with that guy,” “You know how they are…” Most of us are guilty of making snap judgements about people before we get to know them, determinations based on applying cultural normative standards to appearances, temperaments, or photos and profile information we see or read on social media. These biases, often unconscious, can be innocuous observations, but when applied to the hiring process, they can prove toxic to impartiality.


Be aware of unconscious bias and set up a clear interview process, creating an actual system with different layers of interviews and interview questions. Standardize the interview questions so that all candidates are asked the same questions. Organic conversations with off-the-cuff questions may be fine, even helpful, on a date, but studies show they are more likely to allow for implicit bias in an interview setting. Make the process “blind” by enforcing a policy of not looking at people’s LinkedIn pictures and social media profiles, and strip cultural identifiers from resumes before interviews.


PRO-TIP: In a post-interview panel candidate discussion, make sure all interviewers write down their opinions before the discussion to mitigate influence from other interviewers.


4. Remove unnecessary requirements in the job description.


“Must be brilliant, gorgeous, funny, wealthy, play an instrument and sport proficiently, volunteer to help the needy, and love dogs and kids.” In personal ads, having impossibly high standards is likely to turn away great potential love matches who don’t see the point of even trying. The same rules apply when we put unnecessary qualifications in our job descriptions that prematurely rule out qualified staffers and creates needless barriers for many on the employment pathway. 


For example, requiring a Master’s or even bachelor’s degree for a job that can be done by people without those degrees but with job and/or life experience that qualifies them just as much or even more, creates bias. Not everyone can reasonably attain higher education. Remove qualifications that aren’t really necessary to be able to do the job but are more status symbols than actual metrics. “Demonstrated Experience” is fine, but most of the nonprofit sector is guilty of listing unnecessary and arbitrary requirements.


PRO-TIP: Just because it’s “industry standard” doesn’t mean it’s right for your organization. As mom always said, evaluate yourself by your own standards, not someone else’s.   


5. Be willing to train.


There’s a saying: “Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.” Setting your intentions for DEI is the first step for systemic change in any organization, but without action and follow through, it’s really not worth much. Conduct workshops or attend trainings within your organization to help leadership, staff and board members build a shared understanding of systemic inequity and reflect upon and recognize how this injustice affects the organization and the community it serves.


This isn’t a “one and done” situation. Attending a workshop or training doesn’t mean you are now automatically “woke.” Anyone with children can attest to the fact that lessons aren’t learned just because you said it one time; it takes constant reminders and continued communication for it to sink in.  And just like when educating children, you should prepare for a little blow back. Not everyone will be openly receptive to changing the status quo.


PRO-TIP: Want to learn more about the value of diversity? Check out this talk, “Why Diversity Matters,” given by Katherine Phillips, Director of the Center for Leadership at Columbia Business school.


By following these tips for making a more diverse and equitable recruiting process, you’re on your way to an organization renovation that will create a more inclusive work environment for everyone. As for the shiplap in your office? Well, that’s for another blog.

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