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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

 
 

Activate is planting its roots in Houston with a plan to have its first set of fellows next year. Photo via Getty Images

An organization that directs support to scientists developing impactful technology has decided on Houston for its fifth program.

Activate was founded in Berkeley, California, in 2015 to bridge the gap between the federal and public sectors to deploy capital and resources into the innovators creating transformative products. The nonprofit expanded its programs to Boston and New York before launching a virtual fellowship program — Activate Anywhere, which is for scientists 50 or more miles outside one of the three hubs.

"Our mission is to empower scientists to reinvent the world by bringing their research to market," Aimee Rose, executive managing director of Activate, tells InnovationMap. "There's so much technical talent that we educate in this country every year and so many amazing inventions that happen, that combining the two, which is the sort of inventor/entrepreneur, and giving them the support mechanisms they need to get on their feet and be successful, has the potential to unlock an incredible amount of value for the country, for the environment, and to address other social problems."

This year, Activate is planting seeds in Houston to grow a presence locally and have its first set of fellows in 2024. While Activate is industry agnostic, Rose says a big draw from Houston is the ability to impact the future of energy.

"We're super excited about Houston as an emerging ecosystem for the clean energy transition as being the energy capital of the world, as well as all the other emerging players there are across the landscape in Houston," Rose says. "I think we can move the needle in Houston because of our national footprint."

The first order of business, Rose says, is hiring a managing director for Activate Houston. The job, which is posted online, is suited for an individual who has already developed a hardtech business and has experience and connections within Houston's innovation ecosystem.

"We want to customize the program so that it makes the most sense for the community," Rose says about the position. "So, somebody that has the relationships and the knowledge of the ecosystem to be able to do that and somebody that's kind of a mentor at heart."

The program is for early-stage founders — who have raised less than $2 million in funding — working on high-impact technology. Rose explains that Activate has seen a number of microelectronics and new materials companies go through the program, and, while medical innovation is impactful, Activate doesn't focus on pharmaceutical or therapeutic industries since there are existing pathways for those products.

Ultimately, Activate is seeking innovators whose technologies fall through the cracks of existing innovation infrastructure.

"Not every business fits into the venture capital model in terms of what investors would expect to be eventual outcomes, but these these types of businesses can still have significant impact and make the world a better place," Rose says, explaining how Activate is different from an incubator or accelerator. "As opposed as compared to a traditional incubator, this is a very high touch program. You get a living stipend so you can take a big business technical risk without a personal risk. We give you a lot of hands on support and mentoring."

Each of the programs selects 10 fellows that join the program for two years. The fellows receive a living stipend, connections from Activate's robust network of mentors, and access to a curriculum specific to the program.

Since its inception, Activate has supported 104 companies and around 146 entrepreneurs associated with those companies. With the addition of Houston, Activate will be able to back 50 individuals a year.

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