Strategies and Tactics for Supporting Diversity in Hiring
What is performative diversity? Performative diversity is when an organization advocates and affirms a commitment to DEI but takes no practical actions towards achieving it.
Moving past affirmations and into action requires thoughtful, proactive, and concrete steps to foster a workplace that genuinely values a broadly diverse workforce. One of the most critical processes to examine and improve is your hiring practices, policies, and approach. The way your organization approaches hiring the Executive Director sets the tone for DEI in the rest of the organization. It also sends a message about how serious your Board is about equity.
As you begin to navigate your upcoming leadership transition, here is a list of some practices your organization can adopt that builds towards a more equitable, transparent, and human-centric hiring process.
PLANNING & PREPARATION
1. Write an Inclusive and Transparent Position Profile
2. Build a Diverse Search Committee
One of the best defenses against bias in hiring is to bring together a search committee that represents diverse backgrounds, beliefs, and identities. Additionally, bringing in an outside recruiter with experience in the nonprofit space can help.
For more information on how Valtas can help in this area, take a look at their executive search services.
3. Training for your Board & Staff
If you are committed to racial equity in your organization, everyone participating in the hiring process needs to understand how to navigate the power dynamics and recognize when they are being affected by personal bias. Schedule training or require reading that covers nondiscrimination laws, elimination of bias in hiring, and best practices for search committees. If you work with a Search Consultant, they should be able to guide you in this learning.
4. Be Transparent About the Process
Give candidates a complete picture of what the interview process will look like, including how many rounds there will be, who will be a part of each stage, what might be expected, and your target offer date. By making the process more visible, candidates will know what to expect and how to best prepare.
5. Communicate Directly and Transparently
The hiring process can feel like a black hole for candidates. If you’ve determined not to move a candidate forward, don’t wait until the end of the process to inform them. If your committee needs to take another week to review materials, send out an update. Making a commitment to transparent and direct communication reflects respect for everyone's time.
DESIGNING THE SEARCH
6. Right-Size the Process
When there are too many rounds of interviews, both the candidate and interviewers experience fatigue. It shouldn’t take you more than 3-4 interview rounds to determine the candidate you want to move forward. Google calls this “The Rule of Four” and explains it in this way:
Google’s research found that after the fourth interview, interviewers had 86% confidence in the candidate. Afterward, confidence rose by less than 1% with each additional interview. Furthermore, 94% of the time, the hiring decision remained the same whether the candidates were interviewed four times or 12 times.
7. Right Size the Group
Tied to right-sizing the process, is right-sizing the group. You should target having around 3-5 people sit on an interview panel. If there are too few people involved in decision making, the process is more susceptible to bias and limits the candidates experience of the organization. On the other hand, having too many people sit on your interview panel is both unnecessary and unpleasant. You run the risk of intimidating the candidate and coming off as unapproachable and self-important. A key part to streamlining hiring and creating a positive experience for your candidates is to delegate decision making to your Search Committee.
8. Eliminate Absolutes in Screening
Automatic deal breakers and absolutes can inadvertently perpetuate inequality. To name a few:
9. Create & Use a Rubric/Scorecard
Tied to the previous point, rubrics or scorecards are tools your search committee creates to provide objective criteria for assessing candidates. They should highlight specific skills you are looking for in a candidate and notes on what qualifies as a high and low score. Creating your scorecard collaboratively will also develop a shared understanding on the search committee for what you're looking for in a qualified candidate and helps mitigate bias.
10. Standardize Interview Questions
Women and BIPOC folks are more than three times as likely to be given awkward or illegal questions in an interview process. By establishing a fixed set of interview questions to ask each candidate, you will provide an equal experience to each candidate, minimize bias, and receive comparable information for evaluation.
11. Share Interview Questions Ahead of Time
Giving candidates advance access to the questions you will ask will be of real benefit to both the search committee and the candidate. Rarely will there be a challenge that your organization will face that won't be able to afford people at least some time to think through solutions. Give candidates the same grace and time to bring their best selves forward. Furthermore, providing questions in advance also ensures you are creating space for neurodivergent candidates to compete.
12. Account for Accessibility Needs
Prepare for and offer accessibility accommodations to interviewees. A few examples might be having audio captioning, flexible or off-hours interview slots in evenings and weekends, or inviting candidates to bring notes.
13. Pay People for their Labor
Though I know this is still controversial, consider paying people for their time to interview (at least for your last round). This is a key step towards reaching a more diverse candidate pool. Not everyone can afford to take off hours and hours of time to interview. Additionally, many executive recruitment processes ask folks to complete a complex assignment or present a strategic vision. This is real labor that benefits the organization and requires time beyond the bounds of the interview and regular preparation.
Above all, understand the difference between a culture fit and a culture add. Looking for a culture “fit” ends up being code for 'just like me.’ These feelings about “fit” are code for folks who have the same communication style, appearance, background, or identity, and less often have to do about the actual skill or experience of the candidate. Instead, you want to be looking for a culture add – folks who will expand the diversity on your team.
These are simple and effective measures your organization can take that will help move you from public affirmations and feel-good statements to actually living and operationalizing your commitments to DEI. Most don’t have any cost to change or implement and can be done today!
About the Author
Caitlin Pontrella – Senior Associate, Valtas Group
Caitlin (They/She) is an executive director and change agent with over a decade of leadership experience serving the nonprofit and public sector. They have guided organizations through all life stages including startup, rapid growth, multi-state expansion, m&a, leadership transition, major crisis, and transformation. They believe in sharing leadership and empowering teams with the confidence and resources to make democratic decisions and actively participate in organizational growth. They further prioritize disrupting and altering practices, structures, and politics that prevent inclusion and belonging, and have helped historically cis, het, white-led organizations move from performative cultural awareness and affirmations to the operationalization of their values through day-to-day action and structural changes. Caitlin’s life work centers around a desire for all people to live into the fullest measure of humanity, which drives their professional and volunteer work in the arts, recreation, and community health.
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