Fostering a diverse hiring practice isn’t just morally the right thing to do, it actively makes your business more successful. Global data time and again shows how ethnic, racial, and gender diversities correlate with higher than industry-average earnings.

Hiring managers frequently default to familiarity when looking for candidates, and unconscious and conscious bias is a huge problem many firms aren’t even aware they have.

It’s no secret that the tech indistry is overwhelmingly white and male, but while these companies are seeking familiarity in their candidates, a growing under-populated workforce is searching for representation.

Laura Inostroza, support lead at eSSENTIAL Accessibility explains:

  • How the C-suite can make a difference when it comes to hiring practices
  • Who should be in charge of diversity, equity and inclusion
  • The data should you collect to drive diversity in the workplace

Plus much more.

Q: How can SAS companies ensure that their interview processes are inclusive?

A: First and foremost, you should have a bank of questions and ask those same questions to every candidate. When I came into my role at eSSENTIAL Accessibility, they tailored their interview to whoever the candidate is, and one of my first motions was to say, “no, we need more generic questions, and we need to ask the same of everyone.”

You might have a great rapport with someone, or find some similarities that give you a biased reason why you feel like you should hire them.

You need to give everyone the equal opportunity to speak their strengths, and essentially sell themselves.

Who is in the room is also really important. If someone is interviewing at an organization, and they only see is cis white men in every stage of their interviews, that's going to speak volumes about their organization. It’s important to be  intentional about who is in the room with that candidate, so that they feel like, “okay, maybe there's someone like me in this organization, and I wouldn't be alone.”

I recently spoke to an executive, and she said, “I didn't join this organization because I just didn't want to have to be the only woman at the executive level. I'm exhausted doing that.”

And whether she would’ve been the only woman at an executive level, that's the impression she got from the company.

Q: Who should be in charge of diversity, equity and inclusion?

A: In my last company, I tried to start a diversity, equity, and inclusion committee, it was employee-run, and it was really difficult because it was a side of desk effort, you know, it was volunteer-only. And I truly think an organization isn't going to get off the ground or going to make any moves in diversity and inclusion unless there is someone whose full-time job is focusing on that.

It can be anyone from an underrepresented minority group or an ally, who desperately wants this work to be done in an organization. But having someone whose full-time job is to focus on this, really speak again, speaks volumes, it’s putting your money where your mouth is, if you actually want change, you need to pay someone full-time.

Q: How can the C-suite support that? Is it a case of getting buy-in and spending money?

A: There's nothing wrong with a community-led organization, I've spoken to people who started employee resource groups in their company, and they're happy, because the group had backing from the C-suite to say, “yeah, we'll give your resource groups some funding”, and that at least fosters the belonging aspect of diversity and inclusion, and some of the equity which is to say that might create some mentorship opportunities or just connections throughout the organization.

Allocate some money into your D&I focus the way you would your product or marketing team.

But it has to be a genuine focus because the only way it's going to succeed is if the committee has a voice at an executive level. So whether that’s an executive sponsor who sits in on resource groups or on the DE&U committee, or an actual C-suite exec who’s a member of the committee.

I've seen executive sponsors who didn't necessarily bring the information from the DEI committee back to the C-suite. And so if there's that divide, it feels like “oh, yeah, go play in your corner”, and it’s just appeasing the employees instead of actually trying to make a change.

Q: What impact does this have on innovation?

Laura: Just this week, I attended a conference where Adam Grant spoke. He's a behavioral psychologist, and he was talking about how we're most creative when we talk to our weak ties.

So that’s the people who aren't in our immediate circles because they have different opinions than us and different lived experiences. When we have an idea, and we're blocked, yes, our close friends might be willing to help us unblock it, but our weakest ties might be the ones who have the most revolutionary idea for us to push through that.

This comes into the workspace and the more voices you have in a room, brainstorming, the more creative you're going to be.

One of the things he talked about is innovation that's actually inclusive. There's also tons of studies that talk about how brainstorming in a room creates a bit of groupthink. Nobody's willing to be the one to dispense it publicly, and then you leave the introverts out or the underrepresented minorities who maybe don't feel comfortable disagreeing in person.

So it’s about letting people go away and work on things themselves and then maybe present or just write down their thoughts to say, “hey, this is the idea I had on, can we try this out?”

That's how a company can work diversely on creating together. it's trying out different things and not just sticking to, “oh, well, we used to always just get in the room together and talk it out.”

Be considerate about whose voices were missing from that room the last time we did it, and how can we get them involved next time?

Q: What sort of data should you collect to drive diversity in the workplace?

A: Salary data is important, and through connections with colleagues, I've heard this contentious debate about whether you should ask people to self-identify if they are in an underrepresented group when applying to your company. I'm on this side, partially, because once you have that information, it’s really important to see where that person grows throughout the organization.

One of the things I find most useful in a report is the underrepresented group they belong to, their level of seniority, and the salary they're getting paid, and then you can actually compare, and establish whether you’re paying everyone on that level the same.

You need to ask people how they identify to be able to support those groups. And I know, for a lot of people it is a contentious issue because people might not feel safe self-identifying as a member of an underrepresented group.

Before you can collect data, you do need to cultivate belonging and a sense of safety in your organization. You can do that by explaining the reason you want to use that data, or, again, putting your money where your mouth is, and having someone in the C-suite who cares deeply about diversity and inclusion explain, saying "we're gathering this information, so we can release it to make everything fairer."

I think that would make people more willing to provide that information.

Q: Do you have any advice for startups in the hiring phase?

A: My partner is a Head of People, and she cultivates these networks that aren't just about posting on LinkedIn and posting on job boards, for example, day to day, all the time, you cultivate communities. You can hire a barista into a startup pretty easily.

I'm in customer success, and outside of work sometimes I'll be chatting to a support team, and I'm thinking, “this support person who's helping me is awesome, I should try and find them or ask them if they're looking for a new job.” Be open to that in your regular life; we're all members of communities outside of work.

One of the things my partner uses to recruit is Facebook groups. There’s one called Queers in Toronto, for example, where members are finding people they can speak to. I'm actually a member of the Slack community, ‘Black Professionals in Tech’, which is Toronto-based, and they are helping each other, find roles and letting allies like myself in to post our job openings.

So, essentially, if you're only putting your post up on your website, you're only going to get the same people applying to it who would have applied at the beginning. So to be inclusive from the get-go, you need to make sure your job posting is somewhere where those people might see it.

Q: The pandemic has opened up a lot of remote working possibilities. Do you think this is a positive for inclusion?  

A: I don’t think we talk enough about how the pandemic has opened up accessibility for people with disabilities in the workspace. I think about my previous workplace in an office, and yeah, there was an elevator, but it meant you had to go to the far end of the building to use it, so someone might self-select out of that. But now that person can apply for the job knowing there won't be those accessibility barriers just to get into work, and that might create this open feeling of, yeah, I might not get the job, but I wouldn't have even applied before COVID.

We’ve talked a lot about working mothers and women in the workplace, and I think that's such an important conversation too. Working from home has allowed more women into the workplace. It's allowed more people into the workforce with disabilities who maybe didn't feel comfortable in an open-plan office.

So many of our startups have 50 to 100 people in the same room, and that can be an autistic person's nightmare, so they might self-select to work from home, and that allows them to not feel as disconnected from the rest of the office, which is a huge win.

Q: If you're a jobseeker, how can you tell if a company's inclusive?

A: This is so difficult to see from the outside, because, of course, companies are going to talk a big talk, but my personal tips are to try and get as much information as you possibly can.  

Search the company on LinkedIn, look at the employees, see if you can see any faces like yours.

Try to reach out to networks and ask what their experience with this company was like.

Make sure you're really diligent about asking inclusion questions in your interview process; you're also interviewing that company to see if you want to work there.

I actually saw a list and reposted it on LinkedIn the other day, where someone was sharing some excellent questions about what to ask in an interview.

I personally asked a lot of questions like what are you doing to be a diverse and inclusive company? What are your benefits? What's your maternity leave policy? Am I going to be the only woman? Things like that.

We’ve got to get more comfortable asking those types of questions because these are the reasons we leave jobs. Maybe we didn't interview the company, and it turns out to be a huge surprise that actually, they're really biased, or they don't want to invest in equity. So I'd say interview the company as harshly as they're interviewing you.

Q: How can SaaS companies invest in equity? And why is it important?

A: For a company to be equitable, it needs to raise those who have fewer opportunities. So maybe this is their first role in tech, and no one has explained, “oh, yeah, these are some unspoken implicit rules about your role.”

One thing I've always tried to do as a manager is make those explicit, so things as simple as, “hey, actually, it's normal to sign on 15 minutes before your shift, support calls will start coming in at nine.”

Mentorship is so important to equity, and it may feel like it's a lot to take on a mentor or mentee when you're already so busy, but I think that mentorship goes both ways.

People who mentor junior staff get a lot out of it too. You get the success, a feeling of helping someone else in, and their wins feel like your wins.

One of the slack communities I was talking about has a mentorship meet-up monthly, and they set you up at random with someone who is higher up in their career.

I've kept in touch with mine, ever since, and it's been almost two years now that we've been chatting every month or so. She’s a director at a SaaS company, and we just talk about our experiences and even if she's not in my organization, we have a lot in common and a lot to talk about.

If her organization hadn't given her the opportunity to take the time to mentor someone else outside her organization, I would have lost out on a lot of great mentorships. So I'd say invest in allowing your people to not just produce for your company, but produce other great employees for you.

Looking for more resources on diversity equity and inclusion?

Check out The SaaS Landscape Report.

Through a mix of qualitative and quantitative data, we look at the make-up of the SaaS sector to uncover how - both individually and collectively - we can begin to make a difference.