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Promoting Diversity in Startups: Your 5-Step Hiring Action Plan

June 22, 2020

As the founder of a startup, you know one of the most crucial pieces to your future success is to hire outstanding talent that will get you exactly where you need to be. You’re already well aware that building a powerful dream team doesn’t happen overnight, and your plan to grow this team could very well have been halted due to the global pandemic. Add gut-wrenching racial justice issues that led to nation-wide protests, and you have likely shifted priorities for your 2020 hiring strategy.


Post-COVID, companies will be hiring again, and over 21 million unemployed Americans (last recorded in May) will be looking for a job. You need to prioritize hiring those with diverse skill sets and backgrounds. Various backgrounds and diversity of thought will result in well-rounded decision-making and perspectives. Each unique perspective on how a task should be executed will bring new light to your organization. Think of it as a brainstorming exercise: the best decisions always come from the best parts of a combination of ideas.

Is your #StartupHiring plan proactive or retroactive? Read why it matters in the @IQTalent blog.Click to Tweet

Finding employees that fit in your startup is challenging on its own; to incorporate diversity hiring on top of that can be overwhelming, especially while you’ll be competing with other companies that are sure to ramp up their recruiting at the same time. Promoting diversity in startups — while often challenging, is certainly doable. In this article, our team will provide a framework to follow when bringing in those who contribute to the fate of your current startup, and the future of your stand-out organization.


1. Evaluate Your Current State Of Diversity

Many organizations are reflecting on their diversity initiatives before they go forward. Prior to coming  up with an upgraded plan to ensure a diverse hiring model, look at your current employee base (or the team you had before COVID-19), and ask yourself the following questions:


  1. Where did each of your team members come from? What are their stories?
  2. During the hiring process with these employees, did they have any unique experiences or perspectives that they shared? If so, what made them stand out?
  3. Look at their background in terms of industry and career path. How much knowledge from outside industries can your team provide?
  4. How is your current workforce represented in terms of gender and ethnicity?
  5. Take a closer look at the last few promotions you’ve offered. Are there common themes among all employees that received them? Are your promotions representative of a multitude of backgrounds, or just a select few?
  6. Has anyone left recently? If so, take a look at the commonalities among recently turned over employees. How are their skill sets and experiences defined?


Your answers tell the story about your current state of diversity. And, if you’re a part of the 41% of organizations that say they’re ‘too busy’ to implement diversity hiring, you’ll need to shift gears more than you anticipated. And, whether you’re a large corporation or a small startup, you can expect your current team to ask what your company stands for and how you plan on ramping up diversity hiring in the future. Do you have a detailed explanation for them?


This shift begins with your candidate experience; it should ensure that each candidate feels included from the start of the hiring process. An inclusive strategy will naturally bring in a diverse workforce — feeling empowered to leverage their unique background within the team.

2. Train All Your Employees To Interview Candidates

Diversity goes far beyond the duties of your HR and TA leaders. No matter the employee’s role, they should know exactly how to interact with candidates, interview, and answer candidate questions regarding your values. To keep everyone aligned, your process must be consistent and understood. 


So, where do things often go wrong? Startups tend to lack the internal bandwidth to efficiently and effectively find new hires. Therefore, standard processes or training resources typically aren’t yet available to guide the team in making hiring decisions. Instead (and unknowingly), startup employees rely on their unconscious biases by default when deciding who should and should not join the startup’s team. And most likely, they are probably looking for those similar to themselves, which can stifle innovation.


A classic example of this unconscious bias is failing to hire someone because they ‘just weren’t a good cultural fit.’ While you certainly want to hire people who will fit in and get along with the rest of the team, that alone isn’t enough to say no. If you hire people that are too similar to the rest of your team, your chance of improving hiring diversity is slim.


To mitigate bias and ensure you’re bringing in a fully diverse workforce, try creating internal documents for those involved in hiring to follow and maintain consistency:


  • Questionnaire Guides
  • Interview Kits
  • Interviewing Tips from Successful Thought Leaders (via articles, LinkedIn posts, etc.)
You can expect your team to ask what your company stands for and how you plan on ramping up #diversityhiring in the future. Do you have a detailed explanation for them? Check out @IQTalent’s latest blog post: Click to Tweet

3. Write & Share Content That Embraces Diversity

If a candidate is worried their background is not an exact match to the job description, or that they’re in a minority they fear will not be represented, be sure to make it evident that their concerns are far from the truth. Promote outside sources that speak to various backgrounds and communities on your social channels and within your blog.


Consider having leadership write original content that expresses your value of diversity and lays out their plan to nurture a more diverse workplace. Acknowledge what may have gone wrong in the past and how they’ll combat this issue in the future. Point out the value of leveraging diversity of thought and background for better decision-making, so their statements don’t run the risk of coming off as insincere.


Read more: Women who have changed the world of work


Your ability to encourage diversity doesn’t stop there. Attend local events, initiate fundraisers, and volunteer outings for those of various backgrounds. Let your internal team and those who follow your company on social channels know what organizations you’re donating to and encourage others to join in. A little bit of action goes a long way in terms of your startup’s brand and hiring process.


4. Discover Creative Ways To Celebrate Your Employees’ Differences

Your organization won’t be able to attract diverse talent if you’re not supporting these initiatives internally. We recommend scheduling informal company meetings where each of your employees’ unique differences are discussed and praised. Go beyond their accomplishments in the office; gauge conversations about employees’ most meaningful memories, life-changing travel, music or documentaries that inspire them, and so forth. Having these discussions will make your team more comfortable to embrace and celebrate their unique selves in the workplace.


5. Fill Your Pipeline With Diverse Talent

Unfortunately, many businesses wait for employees to quit before searching for replacements. This reactive process sets them behind competitors on finding the best talent for their newly vacant positions.


Bonus: try our candidate pipeline projection tool!


The best way to ensure you’re equipped with a continually growing and diversified team is to maintain a diverse talent pipeline. Rather than focusing on winning that one perfect candidate, consider the constant need for a diverse pool of people ready to join your startup and fill the gaps in your business. After all, startups can see tumultuous periods of turnover and sudden growth that you weren’t previously prepared to handle, even on top of the drastic workforce changes we saw with COVID-19.


Sourcing and engaging candidates for positions that aren’t open yet can be tricky. IQTalent Partners is the talent pipeline expert, and understands the intangible value of diversity. To get ahead of your competition for a post-COVID hiring surge, you need to nurture passive candidates now. IQTalent Partners is your one-stop source for diverse, qualified passive recruitment. Find out how it works and how you can get started here.


This article was originally published April 2020. It was updated June of 2020.

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