Creating an Inclusive Candidate Experience at Your Startup

Creating an Inclusive Candidate Experience at Your Startup

By Lisa Mikkelsen

With portfolio companies all over the globe and a broad range of services we provide to our entrepreneurs, one might think every startup has unique needs. That’s partly true, but it also seems that every year, a particular theme emerges across our portfolio, regardless of companies’ differences. From my view, leading human capital for Flourish and portfolio services in this area, this year’s theme is diversity and inclusion.

Multiple companies in our portfolio this year have requested best practices for supporting diversity and inclusion in their hiring and talent retention practices. In every geography, we’ve heard entrepreneurs say the same thing: as employers, they want their team to reflect their customers.

That diversity goal takes different shapes in each geography. In Silicon Valley, for example, it might mean hiring more female developers. In Sub-Saharan Africa, it could mean hiring more local talent, when the company’s founders and investors might be expats.

To share these best practices with our portfolio, we developed an Inclusive Candidate Experience program for the 2019 Workshop Series that Flourish hosts in locations around the globe. Here are a few of the approaches we highlight:

Widening the net
In many of our geographies, labor markets are tightening in 2019, especially for technology and marketing talent. In the US, for example, unemployment rates are at their lowest in 50 years and failure to attract talent is a CEO’s primary concern within their companies. In that environment, hiring can be a startup’s biggest obstacle to scale. And it can make prioritizing diversity even more challenging.

Diversity, however, is not a funnel problem. Talented candidates from every background are out there, but you may unintentionally be turning them away.

Ask your fellow leaders how you can reach beyond the types of people you usually hire. You can do a lot just by making small changes to the way you advertise a job posting. Certain words, for example, tend to be excluding to some candidates. Words like software ninja or “rock-star” might resonate with a smaller—typically younger and male—audience. And that will limit your pool of applicants.

When writing a job description, try to be mindful of what qualifications are truly a job requirement, and which are more “nice-to-haves.” About 10 years ago, when Hewlett-Packard analyzed why they didn’t have more women in top management positions, they discovered that women only applied for jobs where they met 100 percent of the qualifications listed. Men, on average, applied for any job where they could meet just 60 percent of the qualifications.

Be specific about what you are looking for, but in a tight labor market, realize when you could be shrinking the net. And while it might seem like boilerplate, adding a diversity statement to a job post can help widen the net. Textio is an incredible tool for highlighting room for improvement in your job postings and general communications. We not only recommend it to our portfolio companies, but we usually help shoulder the cost.

Conducting an inclusive interview
After responding to a job post, candidates have a keen sense of whether they will fit in or stand out. Going into an interview, we all ask ourselves: “Are there going to be people like me?” If candidates sense there won’t, they will typically self-select and not apply.

As you grow, you might have people on your team who could be a support system for candidates from an underrepresented group. Even if these team members work outside the division hiring, inviting them to the interview can provide candidates who share their background with an ally.

This is a delicate balance, because you want to avoid tokenizing your own people as much as new candidates, but you need to start somewhere and putting your team members from underrepresented backgrounds front-and-center can be really impactful.

Building your employer brand
Throughout the hiring process, exercise empathy with all the candidates you interact with—even those who might clearly not meet the qualifications for the role. You never know who a candidate may be connected to. Whether their interview experience is thrilling or terrible, candidates will tell all their friends about it— that word-of-mouth is how your employer brand gets built.

We usually encourage anyone conducting a job search to emphasize relationship over transaction. Think of job candidates as potential customers—and treat them that way.

Working in new ways
When we work with our portfolio companies to create an inclusive candidate experience, we acknowledge these are challenges that cannot be solved overnight. As we build our own team at Flourish, we can empathize that fostering diversity and inclusion is not a quick fix.

That’s why, as we partner with these companies, we believe it’s our role to help them work through these challenges. And yet, we also believe that emphasizing diversity can make you a more innovative company. As you grow to include new ways of thinking and doing things, you’ll see it strengthen your company and your position in the market.

(Explore opportunities with Flourish’s portfolio companies on our jobs board.)

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