Diversity & Inclusion in People Operations: FormHero’s Story Part 1

Olha Sorokivska

Diversity & Inclusion in People Operations: FormHero’s Story Part 1

In March I attended the Venture Out Conference with my colleague from our Development Team Christin Milloy and we brought back takeaways and ideas around Diversity & Inclusion. We were so inspired by this event that we decided to blog about our experiences and have grouped our takeaways into two categories: Supporting Diversity & Inclusion in the Workplace, and Diversity & Inclusion in Product Design. In Part 1 of this series, I will focus on Diversity & Inclusion in the Workplace and Christin will focus on Product Design in Part 2.

Let’s start off with defining what Diversity & Inclusion means.

You’ve probably noticed that Diversity & Inclusion is top of mind for many leaders and organizations today. There have been many articles, conversations, discussions, events, and movements all aimed toward a goal of hacking the issue to change how we view diversity, inclusion & belonging in all aspects of our lives; including our workplace.

Venture Out is an annual conference, held in Toronto, centering discussions on Diversity and Inclusion, primarily focused on queer/ LGBTQA+. However, Diversity and Inclusion doesn’t stop there. It also encompasses grounds of race, religion, mental health, educational background, disability, diversity of thought and experiences or any other ground. And Inclusion is getting these pieces to work well together.  

When creating a Culture of Diversity and Inclusion, we know there is no one-size-fits-all plan, no single perfect way to do it. Customizing and personalizing our approaches to each specific culture when leading, engaging or communicating is essential if we want to make diversity initiatives work and make sure that people feel included. We all have a unique story to tell, and that starts from the very beginning of the employee lifecycle — The Recruitment Process.

One way companies can attract a more diverse pool of qualified candidates is to partner with organizations that are invested in creating diverse professional communities.

For example, at Venture Out we came across an organization called HireUp that connects companies with underrepresented talent pools such as LGBTQ+, persons with disabilities, visible minorities or any other groups who face barriers to work.  Companies can also leverage programs like Global Skills Hub, or alternative schools like HackerYou, conferences like Venture Out, the Startup Open House event, and Women in Tech Sales to name a few.  We believe talent can be found anywhere and a person’s passion and drive for technology doesn’t necessarily have to come out of the computer science department.

At FormHero we always look for creative ways to find new talent, and we’ve experienced the benefits first hand. We were able to hire three amazing candidates at recent Startup Open House, who do not have a traditional computer science background and two of them are women from HackerYou Bootcamp program. Moreover, all three demonstrated strong performance from the start and were quickly promoted to other roles within their first 6 months.

Improving the candidate experience during the screening and interview process also plays a crucial part.

Reflecting inclusiveness in the initial phone interview can be a good way to get started. Have a clear understanding of who you want to hire to help you disregard unnecessary criteria that can promote bias and check how you can leverage your recruitment software for that purpose— And perhaps most importantly, make sure your interviewers are as diverse as possible.

During the interview process, remember to take these simple but very important steps that can help make interviews more welcoming and stress-free. Consider the past employment experiences of LGBTQA+ people for example: Many have faced discrimination, mistreatment, and exclusion, and may definitely be on their guard as a result. This really heightens anxiety in the already nerve-wracking experience of a job interview. If you face a nervous interviewee, always remember that interview anxiety does not automatically mean someone is a bad candidate. Some people who are terrified of interviews have little to no problems in everyday work life, and do fantastic work. Having LGBTQA+ life experience (or being any visible minority, for that matter), means there is a much higher likelihood a candidate has suffered bad traumatic employment experiences through no fault of their own which dramatically increases job interview anxiety. Be mindful of this when making judgments based on demeanor, and do what you can to put diverse applicants at ease.

Actively demonstrate that you strive to be an inclusive and welcoming company for diverse employees like LGBTQA+, women, people with disabilities, etc. Mention this explicitly to every candidate, not just the ones who may appear to belong to a certain diversity group. Every candidate should be made aware of this going in, and anyone who reacts negatively to Diversity and Inclusion topics or initiatives is demonstrating they are probably not a good fit for your company's culture and values.

To put candidates further at ease, remember to include the locations of gender-neutral restrooms in the candidate tour (candidate might have to use a restroom and every candidate wants to know that gender-appropriate restroom options exist for them).

Using pronouns properly can also make a big difference.

We should not make assumptions on gender when we meet candidates and we can put candidates at ease by introducing ourselves with our preferred pronoun. Having interviewers introduce themselves with pronouns makes a huge difference. Doing so will instantly communicate that pronouns are respected in your workplace, and this single simple act can be the most important factor in putting a trans or non-binary candidate at ease in the interview process. Ask what pronoun your candidate is using. FormHero has started using pronouns for internal bios. That way everyone has the option to freely express themselves.  

Another takeaway we want to highlight is Coming Out Professionally.

According to BCG Global Diversity Survey 2018, approximately half of LGBTQ employees are still “in the closet” at work, so making efforts to create an inclusive day-to-day experience is key for this group as well.

While working as openly LGBTQA+ is getting easier in most places, it’s hard to predict how colleagues are going to react to the news if they’re not expecting it. Fearing rejection or a dramatic reaction in return can be a real roadblock to happiness and productivity— But so can the stress of staying closeted. Some would prefer to share during the interview process if there’s an appropriate opportunity. In any case, it’s important to accept and respect the identities of our co-workers.  

Some other diversity initiatives include tweaking the onboarding process to find more ways to learn about new employees’ unique perspectives and strengths.

As part of our onboarding process, we ask new members to share ten unique facts about themselves. This gives us an opportunity to learn more about their personalities, their experiences, their family, hobbies, or anything else they choose to share. It’s a great way to get to know them!

Consider reframing how you view your diversity targets, organize employee-led diversity groups, interviews, and collaborative sessions with your teams. Venture Out inspired us to create a Diversity & Inclusion Squad to start brainstorming more ideas and projects around Diversity & Inclusion as FormHero continues growing. Companies of any size can (and should!) have an inclusion group for employees to join.

Initiatives like these can help prioritize diversity & inclusion in your company’s culture. But you do not have to do everything at once. In fact, it’s definitely not a good strategy as Diversity and Inclusion is something that will not change overnight.  

It’s often the small behavioral tweaks that really make the environment more inclusive.  A good start would be to create a space for open dialogue. And that’s what we did. We presented our key takeaways from the Venture Out Conference to the whole company and started a conversation and showed that we can talk about these things openly.

It may seem uncomfortable at first, but that is actually a very crucial step to creating not only a diverse but also a vulnerable culture. As a research professor at the University of Houston, Brené Brown said in her talk “If there is no vulnerability, there is no creativity and if there is no tolerance for failure there’s no innovation. If you are not willing to build a vulnerable culture, you cannot create.”

We aim to recognize our individual needs and cultivate an environment where people can express their individuality, never be afraid to make mistakes. Where their ideas are heard and respected, they have support from each other and can partner with other subject-matter experts if the internal experience is lacking. That is also what Diversity & Inclusion is about, the positive transformative impact these behaviors and the culture of open dialogue has had on our company. And while, yes, employees at all levels need to do their part, Diversity & Inclusion must be championed at the very top. We are greatly supported by our leaders Ryan Kimber and Art Harrison, who strongly believe that diversity only strengthens our culture.

Organizations that want to succeed in this competitive environment need to make Diversity and Inclusion a priority in everything they do. All in all, it should be embedded in their culture’s DNA: That’s what we are working towards at FormHero.


Tagged With: Culture, Diversity

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