Since 2018, Leverage to lead has added Leadership Coaches/Facilitators, and heads of Talent Management, HR, and Finance. Hiring has been, without a doubt, a major growth area for us. Because it’s not exactly a piece of our DEI work, we haven’t shared much about this four-year journey of expansion. But, looking back now, we see that the story of our evolution from solo entrepreneur to a company with multiple departments, actually mirrors what many of our clients are going through, and struggling with. So today, we’re sharing with you how we’ve developed and changed our hiring practices, and how these changes have led us to some big DEI lessons of our own.
Getting Outside the Network
Nick Obando, our newest team member, joined Leverage to Lead in June, and everything about his hiring and onboarding was different from our past practices. Foremost, Nick is the first candidate chosen from among an outside pool of applicants, and not hired directly from an internal connection. It was our Head of HR, Kim, who pushed us to change this practice. To be truly equitable and inclusive, Kim advised, we had to conduct a wide external search. It’s hard to let go of using your trusted network to vouch for a hire, but we needed to put our trust in the hiring process that Kim had developed for us.
Our new hiring process included leveraging networking platforms like LinkedIn to promote the job opening, gain interest, and extend our reach. In the end, we received over 80 applications from an incredibly diverse pool of backgrounds, experiences, and skill sets.
Yes, screening that big a pool requires time and energy. Yes, it’s easier and faster to just hire someone you know or someone whose name was put forward by someone you know. But, here’s what we learned in the screening: what it meant to be truly aligned with our organization’s values. These applicants forced us to ask ourselves who we were and not just who we wanted. This was the beginning of our first revelation—that a thoughtful, intentional, values-based hiring process brings clarity to the role we’re filling and all our roles too.
Holding Ourselves Accountable
Kim, our head of HR, and Aubrey, our head of Talent Management, completed the initial candidate screening. They also handled our team’s demands to hire quickly, to hire now. We were operating out of a sense of urgency, which almost always results in moving too fast, skipping vital steps, and overlooking the ways our biases were influencing the process.
Thankfully, instead of accelerating the process in any way, Kim refused to give into our impatience and sacrifice the equity of our process. She asked us to take time to reflect on our values. Were our values, which we labored over in our own values excavation exercise, actively directing the way we recruit, screen, and advance candidates? And then she listened to our answers. She pushed us to see that if we really value being in relationship, then we cannot see hiring as simply transactional—one employee out and another one in. We were dealing with humans, with team dynamics, with emotions, values, and biases. It was infuriating, detrimental to our schedule, and the very thing we push our clients to do. Sometimes your own medicine is hard to swallow.
Uncovering Our Biases
Put simply, we all needed interview training. Not only to ensure that we conducted interviews equitably, but to confront our unconscious biases. Hiring biases aren’t just discriminations against candidates with certain qualities or identity markers, they can also be unstated preferences for qualities or identity markers too.
For MJ, a bias against white female candidates surfaced. Jennifer named one of her biases as the assumption that because the new Leadership Coach would replace Quise, the hire should be a Latinx woman. Jennifer also articulated that her seeking a male hire was, in part, driven by diversity, but also a gender bias that a male candidate would be less engaged in emotional processing—a part of DEI work Jennifer is working on trying to avoid less. Quise and Dione debated whether they should prioritize candidates with business development skills or people skills. The entire team reckoned with an age bias that presumed who was going to be adept at working with the various technologies needed to do the job.
Uncovering biases don’t make them disappear, but they make us more transparent in our hiring discussions. An equitable hiring process requires that we question and challenge our preferences, name our biases, and include all of this in the decision-making.
In truth, sometimes the biggest challenge to equity and inclusion is the inability to make decisions. Leaders strive for “consensus,” which we put in quotation marks because they really just want easy agreement. Easy agreement is a byproduct of urgency. Easy agreement frees leaders from being accountable for a decision (everyone else wanted it!) and it lets them avoid the hard and time-consuming conversations that bring about actual consensus. The result is decision paralysis, and just as often, rushed and token hiring.
Transparency and Negotiation
We really learned about the value of open negotiation in 2021, when Aubrey joined our team. Over a months-long series of conversations, Jennifer and Aubrey discussed what they each needed to do their best work. Jennifer described her vision for the role and Aubrey described hers. They each shared how the role could feel like a good fit, like it was setting Aubrey up for success. Each side gave up some measure of control and each side took a risk on the other. It wouldn’t be unfair to say that each side hired the other.
When we finally made the job offer to our newest hire, we understood the need for transparency on both sides. We were clear from the beginning about the salary. We laid out our needs and wants. And our candidate was completely transparent about theirs.
And because we were hiring for the long-term, for value add, and as an investment in the person and our organization, negotiation was easier than expected. In the long run, could we let go of our urgency and give the candidate a later start date? Yes. Could we take the time to revisit our health insurance offering to better fit the candidate’s needs? Yes, and we discovered that making this accommodation couldn’t have been simpler and greatly expanded our understanding of this benefit area.
Our willingness to provide what the candidate needed and wanted wasn’t a “loss” because negotiation isn’t a competition over who will concede and who will do with less. It’s striving to meet everyone’s needs in the best, most humane, most value-centric way possible, while maintaining necessary boundaries and setting everyone up for success.
- Hiring well, with an equitable and inclusive process takes time. We would have loved to complete this hire a month sooner than we actually did. But the time was an investment in and commitment to our values. We simply had to practice what we preach.
- Hiring well requires a willingness to have your resistance challenged. No one on our team was prepared for how demanding the hiring process would be, in terms of time commitment, personal reflection, and emotional energy. We resisted Kim’s insistence on sticking with the process and we were in danger of falling back on our socialization and our biases. We are grateful Kim didn’t stand for our resistance and that our team rose to the challenges and responsibilities of hiring.
- We are all subject to white supremacy culture and biases. We battled urgency, impatience, individualism, and all manner of personal biases.
- We needed to lean into honest and courageous conversations.
- We needed to trust and return to our values.
We are thrilled to have Nick Obando join our team as a Leadership Coach and Facilitator. We’re deeply impressed with Nick’s experience, skillset, dedication, and thoughtfulness. We can’t wait for you all to get to know him better, and for all the exciting places Nick will take Leverage to Lead.