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Bursts of Color - Guest Interview: Rachel Williams on Diversity 101

Bursts of Color - Guest Interview: Rachel Williams on Diversity 101
By Geoff Donaker • Issue #62 • View online
Last week I met four bright co-founders working on a new company together. Given that they were school-friends, it’s not surprising that they had age, gender, ethnicity and many interests in common.
This is a natural way for teams to form. It also tends to self-perpetuate: before we know it, those 4 co-founders expand to a team of 10 and then 20 from the same in-groups… at which point it gets hard to attract candidates who don’t look and feel the same. I’ve previously written how this happened to me: our demographic mix at 1000 people was the same as it had been for the first 20.

If our small team of friends does want to begin diversifying before they get too far along, how should they get started? To help answer this question, I asked an expert: Rachel Williams, who has led Equity, Inclusion and Diversity programs at Alphabet, StubHub and Yelp.
Rachel, sharing her wisdom via Zoom
Rachel, sharing her wisdom via Zoom
If we want a diverse team, where should we start?
RW: Look at your Zoom room in the next company meeting. If everyone looks the same, lift your head up from the regular work and make it a priority to start changing this. We’re all tribal, so start by acknowledging that you are too.
Do a little workforce planning. Startups never want to do this… but are there some roles coming in 6-12 months where you can look ahead a little? These can be great places to add diversity.
How can I find candidates beyond my current network?
RW: Always be recruiting. Take networking coffees, lunches or Zooms with future candidates. Give yourself a weekly goal for these that’s more than you think, like 5 coffees a week.
Reach out to diverse candidates from your alma mater. By connecting with fellow alumni, you have a shared experience and eliminate your own biases about quality (since we all think our alma mater is great). It’s also less weird than say, reaching out cold to someone at an HBCU if you don’t have a connection.
When posting new roles, put on your marketing hat and make sure to write job ads rather than boring job descriptions. Avoid clique-y language like “rockstar” and “ninja” that may be off-putting. Get help from the gender decoder if needed.
Should we do anything differently in interviews?
RW: Be thoughtful about your interview panel and make sure all participants know why you are interviewing this person from outside the current group. Otherwise your interviewers may be unwelcoming and waste everyone’s time.
If your current team all looks the same (e.g. you’re going to have 5 men interview the prospective first woman), consider adding an outside friend or advisor to the interview panel.
Watch out for culture interviews. If you’re going to do them, train the team to look for “culture adds” who complement the current team, rather than “culture fits,” which lead to more of the same.
After we hire a new teammate, how can we include them?
RW: When each new teammate joins, make sure to ask in your first 1:1 what kind of support they want. They will usually tell you. And then ask “What can I do for you?” in future 1:1s.
Leverage your own connections to help the new hire build their network, both within and outside your company.
Actively pull the new teammate in to group projects and discussions; provide constant invitations for them to speak up.
Here’s another write up on 12 inclusive hiring practices that may be useful.
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Geoff Donaker

Bursts of Color is a newsletter for start-up leaders who work with Burst Capital. It's meant to include products, people and ideas that I think are interesting and maybe relevant for you.

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