Building Equity, Inclusion, Diversity, and Belonging into your Corporate DNA
Equity, inclusion, diversity, and belonging should never take a backseat in your startup, especially a climate focused one. Navigating how to tangibly implement these values, however, can be tough when they often feel abstract.
We talked to Tiffany Foo about how to shift the culture around EIDB in your company. Tiffany has spent much of her career in talent and culture, and is currently provides advising in HR, Operations, and more at El3mental.
You might have heard the acronym DEIB/J before– this stands for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging/Justice. It’s used to collectively describe the efforts to make these values a part of the operational foundations within a community or an organization. Often, people get stuck on the first letter- diversity. While this is important, it may be more effective to reorder the acronym to EIDB. Starting with a foundation of equity first, creates a foundation for all the following letters. A company without a culture of equity can’t lead to diversity or a more inclusive workplace.
So, start with the E. Build equity into your systems, mission, vision, and how you execute in order to have tangible outcomes for creating an inclusive workplace and diverse team.
Another thing to keep in mind is that changing the culture of your company around EIDB can take a long time, especially if these factors haven’t been incorporated from the start. There’s no one action that can immediately change the composition or culture of your organization. EIDB is a long game– it takes multiple years and requires ongoing effort. It can be inconvenient, slow, and requires a lot of intent, which can create friction where otherwise startups seek efficiency and “moving fast”.
EIDB is like a speed bump – it has incredible value in keeping you and those around you safe, but it forces you to slow down and pause, assess your surrounding environment, and then proceed forward with more intentional awareness about your actions.
Hiring through an EIDB lens can be tricky– you may be looking to expand your hiring to non-white/non-male employees, but that’s obviously not something your can advertise on your job description.
Flip your mindset here: you’re not preventing canonical applicants from getting through the process by focusing on equitable hiring. Slow down the hiring process, and include additional filter questions to emphasize your commitment to equity. In addition to all the technical capacities you’re assessing for at each stage of the interview, equally weight questions tied to demonstrated allyship in action, an inclusion mindset, cultural/ intersectional fluency, resilience, etc. For example, ask candidates how they think about inclusion in the workplace, how they’ve shown up for their team in moments of social crisis, what they’ve tangibly implemented in terms of creating a more equitable workplace, etc. These kinds of questions make the process more inherently balanced.
Make sure you ask for specific historical examples of how the candidate has supported EIDB efforts in previous roles – if you interview with hypotheticals, it’s easy for any interviewee to respond favorably. Asking for examples and specifics (How did you build a diverse team? Why was this a priority for you? How did you navigate the process?) is a great way to avoid hiring people who are just telling you what you want to hear. Also, if a large focus of their interview involves them talking about equity, their credentials should show that– a reference from an underrepresented team member, physical proof of a project they worked on, etc.
Additionally, you can encourage equity in hiring by redistributing referral bonuses. Inclusion efforts often become the responsibility of the recruiter– while they should drive the process, creating a more inclusive culture is the responsibility of everyone on your team. Historically, people recommend others that look like them– in background, education, and others. To disrupt this tendency, consider created tiered referral bonuses. All referrals can receive a bonus, but given the current representation within your organization, identify certain candidate profiles that would provide better representation of the communities you are working to serve. For example, you could have a higher percentage bonus for a candidate who matches your target demographics, and drop the percentage for other (still qualified) candidates. This way, you’re supporting everyone on your team in putting an inclusive lens on their referrals in an effort to fill your pipeline– and still rewarding everyone in some amount.
To ensure that hiring managers are taking inclusion efforts seriously, you can bake these goals into their OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). For example, you can set annual or quarterly goals for diversifying or retaining diverse talent. When an EIDB goal carries the same performance weight as launching a product on time or under budget, you’re tying a core value to tangible business outcomes in ways your managers and broader team can easily understand.
Creating an equity informed culture
Simply put, if you do not center around EIDB values, they will always end up being secondary. It should be an intentional part of your consideration in every decision you make as a startup, large or small. Think about how you treat technical debt within your company– the same concept can apply to cultural debt. When building a culture, a smaller company will have an easier time overcoming small amounts of debt, as your system may only consist of a few people. As more infrastructure and precedent is set, it becomes a much larger task to dismantle and correct a homogenous workplace with practices and policies that serve a homogenous majority.
To tangibly set up a culture of equity, there are several tactics you can use. For example, many companies don't implement an anonymous inclusion survey until they're much bigger team-wise. This critical tool allows you to understand gap closing opportunities. Most assume that you should wait until you have hundreds of employees to do a survey like this, but in reality, it’s never too early. Take this a step further and find ways to publicize your efforts and survey results, obviously keeping in mind the privacy and safety of your employees. This will create additional accountability for you to keep improving your EIDB efforts, and set an example for your peers as well.
When looking for resources to help jumpstart your EIDB efforts, know that a lot of free online resources may not be your best bet. EIDB is not going to be magically solved with a 7 bullet list of best practices. Equity is a touchy topic, and corporations who are sponsoring content are often unwilling to double down on things that may be controversial or carry political risk.
Quality resources will cost you, and that’s ok. Many folks in the EIDB space are from historically underrepresented communities and should not be expected to provide free labor to all of those who seek an EIDB education. If you’re really committed to allyship, buy in. Pay an expert to help you create a baseline strategy with your top initiatives or recommendations. Be ready to make mistakes and correct as you learn from them– it’s better than not trying at all, and with an expert to consult and guide you, you’ll have a much greater chance of success in your efforts.
Finally, keep in mind that your work with EIDB is never really over. It’s a moving target– you may achieve gender parity in your organization, for example, but there’s always somewhere deeper to shift your lens of equity to. When you commit to EIDB values, you’re committing for the rest of your organization’s life and beyond. Intersectionality is incredibly complex, and there will always be new learning on how to make an environment more equitable, so there is always room for improvement. It’s an ongoing process that will allow you opportunities to continue developing a culture of equity and inclusion far down the line.
Tiffany Foo is a People & Culture Strategist at El3mental, providing consulting and advising in HR, People Operations, Culture Crafting, and more. She was previously the Senior Director of Talent at Kapor Capital, as well as Head of People and Culture at LendStreet Financial. She received her BA in East Asian Studies from Oberlin College and her MA in Integral Psychology from John F. Kennedy University.