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Houston expert: How to attract and recruit a diverse workforce for your startup

Creating a thriving culture for diversity, equity, and inclusion requires intentional focus and allotment of time and resources. Photo via Getty Images

The recent and long overdue awakening to systematic racism in the United States has brought with it a focused attempt to create more equitable opportunities in the workforce. Organizations are investing time reviewing their historical selection and performance data, creating new strategies for attracting applicants from historically underrepresented groups, and investing resources to ensure ongoing support and inclusion for all members of their community.

Startups in the early stages of bringing in personnel and crafting organizational culture have the advantage of building from a blank slate, and can benefit from implementing recruitment and selection strategies shown to help increase diversity.

Internal review

Prior to developing any strategic recruitment plan, companies must first perform an in-depth internal review of company culture, values, and future plans for growth and evolution. Defining these organizational attributes will help the company better understand the types of individuals who will thrive in the environment so that it can 1) accurately market the company and 2) maximize person-organization fit (P-O fit). P-O fit describes the extent to which an individual’s competencies, values, and preferences are compatible with the organization’s core values and offerings and has been linked to higher job satisfaction, job performance, and organizational commitment along with decreased turnover. Carving out the company’s current and desired culture, values, and goals for growth can serve as a starting point for accurately marketing the company to prospective applicants, understanding what applicant attributes and values will be the best fit for the company, and creating outreach and screening methods accordingly.

Information sharing

After an organization has performed a thorough internal exploration, it can then begin to share relevant information with prospective applicants. By and large, much of this information is gleaned by applicants through organizational websites. Indeed, organizational websites are often the main source of information for applicants and can provide a positive first impression and communicate its culture to leverage P-O fit. Research also suggests that companies cannot go wrong by sharing too much information about the organization on their website and through social media.

Companies can also ensure that the information provided on their websites and on social media pages demonstrate pictorial diversity, as including pictures of minorities has been shown to increase organizational attraction among Latinos and Blacks. Including video testimonials from any incumbent employees who reflect the diversity the organization is trying to attract can also enhance employer attractiveness. Finally, organizations seeking to increase diversity – but with little baseline diversity – should be honest about their current diversity climate with prospective applicants. Being transparent about current diversity figures, along with goals for future growth and specific strategies taken to enhance the diversity climate, can be a successful strategy as well. It is much better for an organization to provide an accurate snapshot of the current milieu so that informed decisions can be made, as inflated and inaccurate expectations among new entrants can result in job dissatisfaction and turnover.

Targeted recruitment

Companies seeking to increase the demographic diversity of applicants can also engage in targeted recruitment by focused advertisement and promotion at schools who graduate large number of underrepresented minorities. For example, partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), such as Prairie View A&M University, Texas Southern University, and St. Phillip’s College, can ensure broad reach. Creating virtual visit days, providing lectures to students, and other educational outreach programs with these institutions can broaden awareness and interest.

Selection

Organizations must continue to ensure equitable opportunities for all even after receiving applications from a diverse group. Shortlisting applicants based on certain pieces of information in the application can be at odds with efforts to create a diverse workforce. For example, reliance on standardized examination scores, such as SAT and ACT, can negatively impact underrepresented minority applicants. Letters of recommendation are also often frequently relied upon in selection, despite their discriminatory origin and evidence showing differences across genders and socioeconomic groups. Finally, use of unstructured interviews can also increase susceptibility to biases against minority groups. Thus, companies should only incorporate screening tools and processes that will not disadvantage applicants from different backgrounds.

Other selection methods can help programs achieve their diversity goals. For example, inclusion of structured interviews can ensure interviewers avoid common interviewing mistakes and providing unbiased ratings.Often, small details can have a large impact on hiring decisions. For example, applicants with accents and ethnic names are often disadvantaged during interviews, receiving less favorable interview ratings. Similarly, overweight candidates receive significantly lower performance ratings in interviews, compared to average weight candidates. Finally, studies have shown an overall bias against pregnant women in interview settings. Fortunately, these studies have also shown that structured interviews reduce these biases. Thus, standardizing which questions are asked and training interviewers to avoid inappropriate and potentially illegal questions is critical.

In conclusion, companies seeking to enhance the diversity of their workforce must consider their practices and policies in recruitment and selection. Unfortunately, there are no “quick fixes.” Creating a thriving culture for diversity, equity, and inclusion requires intentional focus and allotment of time and resources.

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Aimee Gardner is the co-founder of SurgWise, a tech-enabled consulting firm for hiring surgeons, and associate dean at Baylor College of Medicine.

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Building Houston

 
 

EAVESDROPPING AT THE HOUSTON INNOVATION AWARDS GALA

Houston's DEI Champions share obstacles they are overcoming promoting equitable innovation

These five individuals are up for the DEI Champion award this week. Here's what challenges they are facing promoting an equitable innovation ecosystem. Photos courtesy

As one of the most diverse cities in the world, Houston's business and innovation community has a unique opportunity to prioritize not just its diverse population, but also to make sure the city has equitable and inclusive opportunities.

Five Houstonians have been named finalists in the DEI Champion category for the Houston Innovation Awards Gala, which will be held on November 9. They shared some of the challenges they are facing as they fight to make sure Houston has an equitable innovation ecosystem.

"I have always been the only Black women in all of my engineering roles, and I worked so hard to get there and quite often feel so uncomfortable in this space. So, individuals who question my name don't always understand the important of someone expressing that I see you to an individual can mean. However, this is a challenge I am willing to face because I am changing people lives and these lives I am changing will impact the world."

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— Kara Branch, founder and CEO of Black Girls Do Engineer Corp. "Although I believed in myself and that girls that look like me needed that representation and someone to mentor them and expose them to S.T.E.M., I had no one to do this for me, so I had to do this for girls in my community," she says. "I have faced some people who fight me about my name, but my name had to be my name because I needed to let Black girls know I was talking to them."

"You can’t expect to make an impact, big or small, if you’re not willing to meet people where they are. One challenge we’ve seen when it comes to talking about and implementing DEI programs within the organization is that not everyone has the same understanding of what diversity, equity, and inclusion is."

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Arianne Dowdell, vice president and chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer for Houston Methodist. "Another challenge we see is that sometimes people expect to see change immediately," she continues. "This is a journey not a race, and if done right, it’s something that will continue to evolve and grow."

"Nobody wants to be tagged as difficult or uncomfortable to be with. A lot of bystanders will also make a calculated risk when witnessing bias, what is in it for me? Many will turn a blind eye if there are other interests at play."

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— Juliana Garaizar, head of Houston incubator for Greentown Labs and lead investor for Portfolia. Garaizar explains that she sees people afraid of facing the repercussions that come with speaking up or standing up to bias and harassment.

"Sustainable funding. We have the talent, the access to mentors and STEM education/activities and preparation workshops and certifications. But not having the capital to hire and effectively manage this growth has been very challenging to where we've had to say know to expansion (girls in need) and and increase in girls within our yearlong and skill-building programs."

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— Loretta Williams Gurnell, founder of SUPERGirls SHINE Foundation. She continues, "However, because we are serious in creating a diverse and sustained pipeline for more underserved girls (women) in STEM, we heavily rely on organizations that are like-minded in practices and core values to partner with and provide our services and opportunities to their girls and vice versus. It builds community and sustainability for all who are involved."

"The problems we face are so daunting and overwhelming that it can be hard to know where to start. ... At some point I realized that you just have to start somewhere, and you have to go deep in one area." 

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— Rob Schapiro, director of Microsoft's Energy Acceleration Program. "Only 27 percent of STEM workers are women. A mere 2 percent of venture capital money goes to women and far less to black women. The average wealth of the top 5 percent of White American households is seven times more than the average of the top 5 percent of Black households. These kinds of statistics can paralyze you into inaction," he explains. "It is great to be an ally to all, but you can have more impact if you focus your attention and efforts on a specific area. What is challenging still is that you will want to do more and spread your efforts, but you have to stay disciplined. One person cannot fix everything. But, using your privilege and your network you can influence many others and through them make a huge impact."

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