Lack of Representation in the Workforce — Why?
Brown: There are plenty of candidates of color – and there are aspects of most hiring processes that exclude them – each organization needs to unpack that for themselves. For example, going through the application and interview process, people have to take time off of work at other jobs, they may have to figure out child care, and possibly navigate travel challenges depending on your workplace. In many scenarios, the job offer that comes from all of this effort is not enough to be able to cover their current expenses – not to mention ongoing child care and transportation costs once they get the job. If your processes do not factor in these challenges, the candidate is receiving messages that you are inflexible and unwilling to work with people in their situation – resulting in many women and People of Color self-selecting out of that process.
If you’re trying to diversify your workforce, there should be a reason for it – and that reason needs to be at the center of the hiring process. You can read about our “why” on our website. There is tremendous potential for harm if you start with a premise like “We would like to hire a person of color, but we want the best candidate.” So, the “best candidate” starts from the premise that being a person of color isn’t part of what would make someone the best candidate. Say for example, you have a lot of Spanish speaking employees and you want to hire a Spanish speaking supervisor – the “best” candidate must speak Spanish. Sure it might take more time to find them, but to hire a candidate who didn’t speak Spanish because you felt a sense of urgency sends a clear message that Spanish language skills were not a requirement to be the “best” candidate. This is not “virtue signaling” or excluding white candidates – this is intentionally filling a practical need within your organization.
In many cases, the primary reason candidates are not selected is that they are missing certain skills that the hiring manager thinks are required. This is a particularly difficult problem because you can’t just create a Python developer with 10 years of experience overnight. Furthermore – 10 years ago, getting into Python programming was even more exclusionary than it is today, so you’re almost defaulting to straight, cisgender, white men as your entire candidate pool with this one requirement. We have to recognize that people who have been excluded from these opportunities are going to need more training, development, and coaching than people who have been included in all of these things (explicitly as well as unconsciously) if we hope they will experience the same success in our workplaces (check out the book The Memo for more on this topic). Hiring under-qualified people with underrepresented identities and then expecting them to “figure it out” is a recipe for disaster. We need to invest in developing team members and we need to pay them while they’re building their skills.
Still bias ends up being a factor even when we are working to prevent it. Hiring managers like to connect with candidates – and they connect best with candidates they identify with. White men, who are often the decision makers in these spaces, will often hire other white men and women because that is what is most familiar to us. We have to build hiring processes that compensate for this comfort bias – and a 90-minute training is not sufficient to address it.