IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

Building a Diverse Workforce

From recruitment to interviewing and hiring, organizations that prioritize diversity need to be intentional in their pursuit and hold themselves accountable. By Colleen Frye
Reader ROI: 
AWARENESS of potential unconscious bias in your recruiting and hiring process is the first step toward building a diverse team.
BE INTENTIONAL with job description language and interview questions to convey inclusiveness and focus on skills.
TAP nontraditional sources, use objective evaluations to make employment decisions, and hold hiring teams accountable to goals.

INCREASING THE DIVERSITY OF YOUR WORKFORCE requires making that a priority in your hiring process, from start to finish. That includes establishing it as a company-wide goal and being deliberate in how you write job descriptions, where you seek applicants, how you interview and welcome candidates, the way you make hiring decisions, and what strategies you put in place for developing those new hires.

Before any of that, however, spend a little time looking for unacknowledged preconceptions that might sabotage your good intentions. “It's really important to start with a look in the mirror,” says Amy Kardel, vice president, strategic workforce relationships at industry organization CompTIA, attorney, and co-founder of Clever Ducks, a managed services provider in San Luis Obispo, Calif. A self-proclaimed child of “hippie parents” who grew up in California in the late 60s and graduated from UC Berkeley, Kardel says she was unaware she had biases until she attended unconscious bias training while studying for the California bar exam. (See p. 25 for Kardel’s “10 Tips for Finding and Hiring a Diverse Team.)

Lila Kelly

Thinking frankly about your current hiring process is another good place to start when developing a diverse workforce, says Lila Kelly, principal of Lila Kelly Associates, a diversity and HR consultancy, and, which works with organizations to build competencies for recruiting, interviewing, hiring, and retaining a diverse workforce.

Business owners who maintain they simply hire the best people for the job and don’t need to change anything should “just look at what their current workforce looks like,” she suggests.” If it’s homogeneous rather than reflective of the community or larger society, “acknowledging that there might be some unconscious bias” is the first step.

The Job Description

If your goal is diversity, being intentional about it is key. That starts with considering the words you use (or don’t use) in a job description. To avoid descriptions that may convey a lack of inclusivity or cultural insensitivity, Kelly recommends practical, objective wording, such as “minimum two years’ experience with Cisco networks,” rather than subjective words like “independent,” “self-starter,” and “ambitious” that don’t necessarily reflect the skills, knowledge, and abilities required to get the job done. More importantly, she adds, the latter words may “go against somebody's culture” in which, say, humility and teamwork are stressed.

If you’re unsure, augmented writing platforms like Textio, which uses data science to reveal hidden biases in language and suggest alternatives, can help, says Charles Eaton, president of Creating IT Futures, the charitable arm of CompTIA that creates pathways to IT careers for people who lack opportunity or are underrepresented.

Kardel also recommends stressing tasks over tools. “The more specific we get, we're just going to filter people out, and we're also going to turn people off who may know plenty about help desk but don't know [your specific] tool stack.”

If your skills requirements line up with certifications, include them, suggests Eaton. “Certifications are a way for people who lack the usual networks and experience to be able to enter the field, so you don't want to eliminate someone who might have a CompTIA or Microsoft or Cisco certification.”

The Recruitment Process

Expanding your recruiting process beyond your usual go-to’s such as job platforms like LinkedIn and referrals from people you know is the next step. Sources for talent include IT boot camps, apprenticeship and mentoring programs, community colleges, and nonprofit organizations focused on helping women and people of color advance in the workforce.

IT-Ready, for instance, part of CompTIA’s Tech Academy, is an eight-week boot camp that trains adults with no IT background to work on a help desk. Candidates go through a rigorous assessment process, says Lisa Fasold, senior director of marketing and communications at Creating IT Futures, who is also an IT-Ready graduate with a CompTIA A+ certification. Fasold says about 60% of alums are people of color, and “typically our graduates stay for at least two years in their jobs,” which is the length of time CompTIA tracks them presently.

Nonprofits like Year Up and Upwardly Global were sources of four employees for Chicago-based MSP MXOtech, says CEO and founder Joanna Sobran. An immigrant who came to this country from Poland as a child, Sobran makes diversity and inclusion a priority for her company. To help ensure success, Sobran pairs her senior-level staff with these junior-level hires for mentoring and training.  

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