In recent years, there’s been a renewed focus on addressing social injustice, triggering an examination of systems that create or limit opportunity across the globe. This includes increased attention to diversity, equity & inclusion (DE&I) in the workplace.
With this context in mind, how can companies thoughtfully attract talent from historically marginalized communities and foster environments where this talent will want to stay?
Insight Partners sat down with several CEOs of leading diversity, equity & inclusion organizations – Lucinda Duncalfe, CEO of AboveBoard; Matt Stephenson, CEO of Code2College; John Roussel, CEO of Colorwave; and Mike Slagh, CEO of Shift to discuss key considerations as ScaleUps look to build more representative teams and cultivate more inclusive workplaces.
Here are some of the major takeaways from the discussion.
1) Focus on core competencies, not credentials, in hiring
When companies align on core competencies, they can better challenge outdated and biased screening practices (e.g., screening someone out because they didn’t attend a certain school) and focus on more effective ways to evaluate potential candidates on what is needed to succeed in the role.
Lucinda Duncalfe, CEO of AboveBoard, shares, “Go through the process and ask yourself: ‘What are the requirements for this role? What competencies does someone need?’ Don’t just focus on which places they’ve worked. By aligning on these competencies, it enables you to screen candidates against them.”
Matt Stephenson, CEO of Code2College, emphasized why this is so crucial – particularly at this current moment in time: “We’re all in a situation right now where the tight labor market has forced us to examine legacy screening tactics – such as looking at specific universities for talent – and to open up that aperture and say, ‘We know that we’re missing out on talent.’ And I do hope that we’re using this moment and sort of stretching it out to change policies more broadly.”
2) Remember the E&I
Companies often focus on the “D” of DE&I – specifically, hiring and building more diverse teams – without considering a holistic approach that addresses equity and inclusion as well.
As Duncalfe notes, “They have now turned diversity, equity & inclusion into DE&I, which I think is really unfortunate because they are three different things, three different steps. And when they get bucketed together, we often only think about the first part – diversity – what [people] are.”
Hiring underrepresented talent is only one part of the equation. Companies need to also have strategies around equity and inclusion to ensure all talent not only feels welcome at an organization but also has opportunities for growth.
In fact, John Roussel, CEO of Colorwave, stresses that building an equitable and inclusive environment directly impacts your ability to build more diverse talent pipelines: “At the end of the day, some of the best pipelines are developed by using your people. It’s about maintaining relationships. Once you get someone in the door and you treat them well and you make it an environment where they feel included, they will likely help you develop your pipeline by recruiting other people. It really is about creating an experience and an environment where people feel comfortable, and then those people will help you build and widen the pipeline to bring other people in.”
3) Lead with inquiry
Diversity, equity & inclusion efforts are top of mind for many organizations but what it means can differ from company to company. Leaders need to ask themselves what DE&I should entail for their specific organization.
As Roussel states, “Companies really need to sit down and think about ‘what is our organization’s vision and definition of equity & inclusion?’ A lot of what you see in the marketplace today is following the leader or what’s trendy around DE&I. But until you’ve done the reflection and understood what that means for the organization that you’re building, you’ll never really get it right.”
Additionally, companies should experiment to learn what works and what doesn’t. You don’t need to change everything at once, but as Mike Slagh, CEO of Shift, notes, a test-and-learn approach helps make a real change over time: “An amazing initiative can start with one great hire or one teammate who’s empowered to try something new. So having a little bit of time to experiment and say ‘Hey, this is a pilot; we’re going to try this for 5 to 10 hires and see if it moves the needle,’ is key. Change management happens through these projects.”
4) Embrace the discomfort
Discussing topics related to DE&I might be difficult, but that’s a sign that it’s a place where you need to spend energy.
Stephenson asserts that “If you’re seeking comfort, change cannot happen. If you’re feeling discomfort, that’s a pretty natural thing. It means that you are challenging your own assumptions and belief systems and that’s not a bad thing, because we can all agree that things need to change.”
Slagh added that “Not only can you not change without discomfort, but you can’t grow without discomfort.”
5) Measure your progress
Make sure you have clearly defined what your DE&I goals are as an organization, and make sure you are tracking against those goals.
Stephenson stresses that “Unless you have outlined what representative means for your org and where you would like to make an impact from the outset, it’s going to be difficult to track whether or not you’re doing well here or hold yourself accountable to your organization’s specific goals.”
The path forward
Building and retaining representative teams will not happen without a dedicated effort. It requires thoughtful leadership, purposeful recruiting, inclusive policies, and establishing an environment where people of all backgrounds can flourish. To do this, we need to identify existing biases, examine them, and remove them when appropriate. As Matt Stephenson and Mike Slagh note, change is uncomfortable – but with change comes growth and an opportunity to make an outsized impact on our businesses and society at large.
To learn more about Insight Partner’s DE&I programming and partnerships, please contact DEISupport@InsightPartners.com.
About the Partners
AboveBoard connects senior executives to exclusive leadership roles at today’s leading high-growth companies and organizations. They expand access to career opportunities and resources for underrepresented groups of executives, including Black, Latinx/Hispanic, and women.
Code2College aims to dramatically improve the rate of historically underserved students attending, persisting, and completing STEM undergraduate degree programs and entering STEM careers. Its service delivery method is to provide a tuition-free industry-relevant coding education to underserved HS students during the school year in preparation for a project-based paid internship with a STEM company in the summer.
Colorwave is a nonprofit focused on closing the racial wealth gap by connecting rising professionals of color to leadership opportunities at VC-backed startups.
Shift helps members of the military – past and present – discover careers, acquire new skills, and embark upon new job experiences.