Inovia Sessions: Intentional Diversity

Intentionality. There’s no question anymore that diversity is important. It’s on the agenda though many of us are still grappling with the how-to, and what does it actually mean? What are ideas and practices that can be put in place?

This topic applies to all organizations, but perhaps even more so for those on the journey from tech startup to tech champion. We know that we’re in a highly competitive talent market when it comes to recruitment for tech and that we’re in that same highly competitive talent market when it comes to retention. There’s a need to align with a workforce that has either just joined or will soon be joining these organizations. What we’d like to achieve today is to leave our participants with some intentional ideas and actions that can be implemented in organizations.

During this episode of Inovia Sessions, Partner and Chief Talent Officer Krista Skalde sat down with guests Colleen Moorehead, Osler’s Chief Client Officer, and Lisa Zombor, Certn’s Director of People and Culture, for a conversation about intentionality in diversity.

Decoding D, E and I: Inclusion First

Lisa Zombor:

When we think about hiring for diversity, if we don’t have an environment of belonging already established, it makes the transition really difficult. Instead of focusing on diversity in terms of equitable opportunities and inclusion, I started thinking about creating that inclusion first to make our workplace a place of belonging for everyone.

At Certn, we looked at changing the language in our job descriptions and how we looked at growth opportunities. We set up guidelines on how to be more inclusive in meetings. We looked at compensation and did some analysis to identify gaps.

In a past organization, we had focused a lot on diversity and we figured we would do the inclusion part later; it had an in-and-out effect and people left. To avoid that, I found it really valuable to raise the awareness of inclusion and the intentionality behind it in the organization as the first step, and then we turn our attention to hiring to create more diverse teams.

I’ve realized that time is the most valuable thing we have, and if we can create environments where people feel like it’s worth dedicating most of their time to an organization and building success together, it’s a win.

Intentional Culture

Colleen Moorehead:

I think one of the fantastic things about starting a company is that you can choose the culture. You can intentionally choose how you build your culture and you can think about it because you’re not inheriting an existing one.

At E-Trade, we celebrated diversity by having quarterly lunches where a quarter of the population would make food from their culture to share with the team, and it created fellowship. That was really helpful and it was really fun. Something that I’m doing now at Osler that is a randomizer, is that leadership has two virtual coffees a month with the team members. What I hear from the team is that it is meaningful for them to have this connection. Efforts like this demonstrate intentionality and help make your culture one of inclusiveness.

Krista Skalde:

I think that intentionality also breaks down that perception of hierarchy, even if in reality there is still that hierarchy.

Diversity and Recruitment

Krista Skalde:

A couple of things that I’ve seen over the past few years have to do with acknowledging our unconscious biases. Being intentional about self-awareness, organizational awareness of unconscious bias and then a decision to park it when looking at profiles.

A great example is where people bring what they think are their unconscious biases to the table prior to kicking off any recruitment process. Whatever your interview panel is going to be, it can’t be kicked off until folks in the room have that conversation and recognize “these are what I think my intentional biases are.” That sharing helps participants keep it in check throughout the process.

I’ve also recently seen a lot of companies start exploring non-traditional profiles from those typically sourced. There are a number of organizations today that are re-skilling, particularly for tech roles, and are looking at immigrant talent, whether that be remote or by way of bringing talent to Canada, through immigration policies and practices. We need to tap into these non-traditional profiles of high quality and high caliber talent.

Lisa Zombor:

When you’re thinking about a role and what you need, we’re programmed to look at traditional profiles. “I am looking for five years of experience and someone who has done this before”. The question I often ask is, why? Do we really need someone who has done this for many years before in this exact capacity? Or do we actually need qualities, like empathetic leadership, relationship building and good business acumen? These are skills that you can find in multiple professions and in multiple profiles. So we should try to think about what the needs of the role really are, what the behaviors are that we’ll need to see from someone, and then try to find some transferable experiences.

There’s also a lot of focus on referrals. Everyone should try an exercise, The Circle of Trust: it’s an exercise to help you visualize who you reach out to for advice or mentorship. Most of u
s will find that in our circles of trust, they are very much like ourselves. So when we refer folks in organizations, it’s often people that we know, that we work with, or friends or family. They typically look and think like us.

I ran an exercise at Certn teaching basic Linkedin searches using keywords and then how to reach out to profiles with interesting backgrounds. This allowed us to boost the referral program based on skills and value add, versus familiarity.

Colleen Moorehead:

I agree with everything Lisa has said, especially the idea of traits versus experience which is a very important thing to keep in mind. In terms of practical suggestions, when I ask people in my network for a referral on a role, I specifically ask them for a diverse candidate. I actually use those words intentionally to make them push harder and think about it. We also need to recognize how much likeability plays a role in the interview process.

I’ll leave with something that Lisa mentioned, the importance of providing real slates to choose from. When you select from a population of one, that’s not a selection, so really push your team. That’s where diversity in people shows up and that’s when you can intentionally have a conversation and confront the reality that maybe none of the people on your slate are diverse; you can create learning moments without hostility.

Equity — Opportunity and Pay

Krista Skalde:

I think one of the more obvious areas we can focus on when addressing equity is pay equity.

Lisa Zombor:

I think this is definitely one of the best things you can do for your organization, to really build trust that you are an equitable employer. I think that compensation is something where there is still a huge gap. Women in tech and Canada are still getting paid 66 cents to the dollar.

Being such a smaller organization when I joined, Certn didn’t have very informed compensation ranges. We now report on different diversity components: gender, sexual orientation, race, and we’re going to continue to add to that list. So I would say that even if you don’t have a lot of data, just start with what you have but commit to continue gathering the data over time and explain to your team why you’re doing this and how it’s going to help reach pay equity.

When we were reporting on gender information, we looked at our gender diversity across the company, we were at about 60/40 representation, which we thought was not that bad but with room to improve. Then we looked at our representation, we looked at the average pay of men and women in our organization to see what the difference of average pay was, then pushed it one step forward and divided our organization into three tiers: entry level roles, intermediate roles, and the most senior roles that are the highest paid. We looked at the representation of gender diversity or any other component of diversity. Then we looked at the average difference and that’s really where we noticed our issue was. The more the job was a hyping role, the least representation of gender diversity we had, and the biggest gap in terms of pay.

After we had this data, we corrected it immediately. This is something that my team and I review on a regular basis because it does creep up on you with unconscious biased decision-making.

Colleen Moorehead:

A thing that Lisa touched on, but I feel it’s an important point to reiterate. Equal access to opportunity is one of the things inside our companies we really have to focus on. When I was on the board at Solium, we looked at people in the revenue channel and we consciously asked, do we have females in the revenue channel? Those roles have a tendency to be compensated higher so you really have to think about how you’re building up your organization and have that as a goal in recruitment. Then development and compensation follow because equal access to opportunity means I get the same ability to earn the same money as the rainmakers.

I think that’s an extremely important point. The regular cadence around the check. I thought it was interesting the CEO at Salesforce said it costs him $6 million a year to re-true up compensation. That’s an annual hit to his cost of goods sold in order to reconcile mistakes that are made throughout the year.

Bias in Funding

Colleen Moorehead:

I believe women are underweighted in the founder market. I want to help get funds to them at an early stage. I founded the Judy Project, 20 years ago, to prepare women for the top of the house jobs in complex organizations.

I’m wearing my hat as an advisor in a venture fund, but there is a real difference in the way companies are funded — female founders versus male founders. I’ve made correcting that part of my heartfelt commitment and there’s excellent research, out of Harvard, on female founders being asked preventative questions and males being asked promotional questions and the impact on funding; your desire to fund is going to be based on how well you think someone will do.

I think intentionality around how we put out money and how we fund organizations is very important. 60% of startups with one to 20 employees, don’t have a female on their board and 58% don’t have a female in the leadership team. I think that’s a strong statistic. So I think we need to continue to think about that. That’s something everyone can do, men and women. I think both men and women can exercise intentionality about how we fund companies and how we support founders in organizations. That will in itself make the organizations more inclusive.

I guess the last point is to continue to be mindful, as you look out into the universe, that there are more male founders who have been successful and will be funded repeatedly.

When we think about career progression internally in organizations, what opportunities are we creating to allow for promotion or progression within an organization? Let’s not make conclusions for that female….it’s not for us to decide.

Diversity Leadership in Organizations

Krista Ska

From my perspective, oftentimes we hear that diversity is an “HR thing’’. Making it a little more all-inclusive as a topic and an “everybody” thing in an organization is critical, but it really demands sponsorship from senior leaders.

Another thing that often strikes me, is diversity isn’t something you do. It’s really about embedding it in the culture, and into practices, so it becomes part of the DNA of an organization as opposed to a quarterly event.

Lisa Zombor:

I’m also mindful to not put the onus of diversity education and awareness on the people that come from diverse backgrounds. As a female leader, I am often the one sharing resources and helping my peers learn about this and increase their awareness around the topic. I also find myself on a lot of the panels to interview diverse candidates. Those are all things I’m doing as Director of People and Culture, but also because I am a woman leader, and I am part of the LGBTQ plus community.

Individually, we should treat this like any other learning opportunity. Take the initiative and don’t just rely on others to send you resources and educate you; it’s not the responsibility of others to do that for you.

Something I’d love to leave you with. I often see leaders asking for other opinions and for someone to challenge what’s been said, then not getting any feedback. I think that you have to ask for it directly. If you’re not getting challenged or people are not raising their hands to share a different perspective, maybe you need to intentionally ask for opposing opinions: “this is what I think, but I want to hear why we shouldn’t do this”, or “I want to hear why this might not be a good opinion”. If you’re just asking if there’s another opinion, or if anybody else wants to add anything, then they won’t because for many reasons, culturally, or just by experience, it hasn’t ended well.