Building intersectionality into your hiring strategy

And why this underrepresented talent might just be the people your company needs most.

As a native New Yorker, I’ve found the last four years in the San Francisco Bay Area to have been quite interesting. I’ve had the opportunity to learn about different cultures, try new food, and meet some amazing people. However, in some cases, my experiences have been worse than at home. I’ve also been called the N-word on the street. My partner and I have been called “pansies” on our way to dinner. And, because of my AfroLatinx features, I often have to explain to other Latinxs why I speak Spanish.

I am a Latino man of African descent and I am gay—three times your average dose of underrepresentation. As I move through spaces, even those meant to create a sense of community and belonging for me, I still find myself combating racism, homophobia, and sometimes xenophobia at the same time. Unfortunately, my experiences are not rare. There are also many others who have it much worse than me.

This is why addressing “intersectionality” is important. But what does that actually mean?

It means understanding that there are groups of people who experience multiple forms of discrimination—often simultaneously—because they belong to different oppressed communities. As we collectively examine ourselves in the conversation around equity and inclusion, I often hear that people who are part of multiple oppressed race, gender, and (sometimes) sexual orientation identity groups, feel excluded.

Conversations about women tend to leave out women of color. Discussions about LGBTQ+ people tend to leave out people of color. And the discourse on Latinx people often leave out millions of Afro-Latinxs. This exclusion continues across all of the nuanced spectrums of identity—race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, disability, and gender.

People like me find ourselves judged by our accents or colloquialisms. We aren’t considered for jobs because of our names. We aren’t put on the fliers. We aren’t always invited to speak up. People at the intersection of these identities are often left out of the conversation and even more importantly, the hiring process.

If you do not “see” someone or acknowledge their existence, how will they be hired? Without having the power or privilege that other groups have, they cannot play a significant role in the power dynamics of employment.

If you’re a job seeker who is impacted by intersectionality, this article might help you identify employers who operate with you in mind. If you’re an employer or an inclusion manager, this post might have some tips to help your company hire the most underrepresented people.

Intersectionality is an asset

As the conversation around inclusion and intersectionality comes more into the mainstream, I often hear about intersectional identities being a disadvantage. But through this process, I’ve learned that there is power in being at these intersections.

Start-ups talk a lot about grit or resilience as important cultural values to have in a fast-paced, innovative work environment. When you’ve persevered despite setbacks and “isms” that are often out of your control for most of your life, intersectionality often gifts you with resilience for different situations. You learn the resolve to work through problems and find new, creative ways to solve them. We aren’t always precious or fearful in a state of uncertainty. That’s our home turf: a space to be unique and creative.

Also, having multiple identities allow you to connect and relate to many different kinds of people on an authentic, personal level. That’s really powerful. It builds empathy and emotional intelligence that helps drive collaboration and build consensus. It becomes a skill that helps you learn how to navigate complicated systems and dynamics. And, as you’ll see with this very program, that is how to get great work done.

Hiring with intersectionality in mind

The most important prerequisite for the success of any inclusion program is full investment from the very top—your founders and the C-Suite. I was hired at Abstract to build our Recruitment and Inclusion program because the team wanted my expertise in bringing intersectionality to the recruiting process. As a company committed to building an inclusive product and team, we know that we cannot deliver on our mission without including underrepresented people. Research continues to prove why: Companies that have stronger ethnic and racial diversity are 35% more likely to yield higher results. Those that have gender diversity are 15% more likely to outperform the industry average. Still women of color in tech, for instance, are still working to have proper representation.

Beyond being good for business outcomes, at Abstract we believe that including underrepresented people in employment—expanding job opportunities to driven, talented people who are so often overlooked—is an act of social justice. This is not about charity or lowering standards, as I so often hear. This is about looking at education through a wider lens than a four-year degree. It’s about considering transferable experience and skills as having measurable value. And it’s looking at emotional intelligence—a highly valued professional skill that most people at these intersections learned as they navigated their way to the interview chair in front of you.

If you’ve never created a program with these intersections in mind, this work might sound complicated or overwhelming. But when you look at the program in stages, it’s easier to manage. Here are the steps we took to ensure our inclusion program was built from a place of integrity:

  • Facts. We started by collecting demographic data at both the company and team level, first focused on gender, then gender by ethnicity. When it came to ethnic focus, we noted any gaps, particularly for women-identifying people of color as well as other LGBTQIA+. We also started to collect demographic data of all job applicants to get a better sense of where they were more or least likely to land roles. Then, we interviewed hiring managers to better understand their challenges when it comes to recruiting these populations.
  • Communication. We presented this data to our founders, all team leads, and the rest of the company. We were doing exceedingly well with women, who represented 60% of senior leadership and 33% of the company at the time. However, women of color only represented 4% of the company. We needed to do better there. Our people want to be inclusive, but they need the data to know where to focus and bring their teams into balance.
  • Training. We then began to address the explicit and implicit biases that create those blinds spots. To support our hiring managers and interviewers, we standardized our recruitment process and led training to reduce opportunities for bias to creep in while assessing candidates. During candidate debriefs and application reviews, we also began to contextualize the blockers that underrepresented people in tech experience. This helped us build new ways of thinking around our talent goals. For example:
    • What are the transferable skills we should look for in people seeking to gain access to the tech industry?
    • How might we identify the knowledge and mindsets we need from team members outside of traditional career paths?

This opens us up to inclusion but also recognizing the brilliant talent that others may overlook. The next question becomes: how could we think of our unique value proposition for all those talented people already in tech?

  • Brand. As a startup that builds systems for designers, our product had the most visibility in the design community. But we also needed to build a team of software engineers, sales and marketing professionals, and product managers. In a nutshell: we needed to broaden our pipeline beyond design. We worked on creating our employer identity: our purpose and differentiators to help speak to underrepresented people through our Careers Page, content and strategic partnerships. We began hosting events supporting AfroTech, Lesbians Who Tech, Tech Intersections Conference, and other events for people of color of all genders. Our goal is to build authentic relationships with communities by creating spaces where they can come together and meet our employees, to whom they might relate. This is all in service of opening ourselves up to the conversation and community building.

With commitment, results will follow

Guess what? Our strategy has been incredibly successful. Job application submissions have more than tripled. Candidates are increasingly referring to inclusion as their reason for applying in their applications and interviews.

And, in just 8 months of focused effort, we’ve tripled our population of women of color to represent almost 20% of employees—huge strides for a company our size. All other employee demographics for representation of women (43%), African American and Latinx people (29%) have increased by nearly 10%. LGBTQ+ people continue to represent 14% of the company. Our new employees are bringing in more perspectives on how to improve our hiring and onboarding processes.

As expected, we’re getting new insights on how to improve and market our product, better serve customers and engage employees.

If you’re passionate about doing the best work of your life—building a world-class product and inclusive team, check out our Careers Page. We would love to hear from you.

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