Following mass protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, many companies are vowing to address racism in their own organizations. The number of postings for new positions in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) has skyrocketed. InHerSight asked Shilena Battan, the former head of people at Cozy, a longtime human resources professional, and a strategic advisor for TechTown in Portland, Oregon, to weigh in on the push to hire for DEI. These are her answers, in her own words. Are you a recruiter with job advice to share? Email our managing editor Beth Castle at email@example.com for consideration.
What's your elevator pitch?
I'm Shilena! I started my career in the fast-paced and dynamic world of human resources in (agency) talent acquisition/recruiting. Undoubtedly, learning to connect with people has shaped how I deliver transparent and scalable people solutions in hypergrowth companies today. My career has spanned nonprofits, start-ups, and enterprise organizations in healthcare, tech, and government. As a professional of color, my work has always had an intentional focus on the advancement and equality of women, minorities, and other diverse representation in our workforces.
Many companies are rushing to hire people to fill DEI positions in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests. What are some trends you've noticed in that hiring process?
The most concerning "trend" I've noticed in the rush to find DEI professionals is limiting and exclusionary job postings/descriptions. By this I mean, a company looking to hire a vice president or chief of diversity professional and asking for 10 to 15+ years' experience. This is exclusionary because one, DEI wasn't a largely prioritized area of focus for companies 10 to 15+ years ago (to be honest, even five years ago), and two, if a company did have a diversity role, it likely wouldn't have been a Black/Indigenous/Person of Color (BIPOC) but rather a career/corporate HR professional who was responsible for a diversity/LGBTQ+ employee resource group (ERG) or other community engagement type of responsibility.
More often than not, a BIPOC is already leading DEI work in their organization/community in an unofficial capacity, and they have the advantage of bringing lived experience to their work. To disqualify their candidacy solely based on years' experience is likely something concocted by out-of-touch HR departments looking to level-set a new DEI leadership role to other VP/chief positions in the organization. To be clear, I am not advocating any company hire based on race; that's illegal. Hiring is a numbers game, and the wider/more diverse your talent pool, the higher the probability is your final/best candidate might be a BIPOC. I'm advocating for realistic, thoughtful, and appropriately crafted job descriptions that don't disqualify professionals based on inflated years' experience requirements.
With DEI positions being so new, what qualifications should hiring managers look for instead, both in terms of hard skills and interpersonal ones, when bringing on new DEI positions?
As I briefly touched on above, companies should be looking for candidates who have experience in their communities, volunteer organizations, employee resource groups, projects, and even lived experiences. This person should also be an excellent communicator, resilient, comfortable partnering with senior leadership, and presenting or speaking publicly. I'd like to emphasize resilience for a moment because if the role is new to an organization, they might receive a lot of pushback (unintentional or intentional) simply because DEI is a sensitive and important area of focus.
Employers are going to be competing to fill DEI roles for a while. What are some practices companies can implement now to start making their workplaces more inclusive?
There are tons of ways to be more inclusive. ("Inclusive" in and of itself is a troubling word because it perpetuates the narrative that non-BIPOC are the gatekeepers to inviting BIPOC in even though they've always belonged.)
Do a thorough analysis of exclusionary language in your job descriptions and employee handbooks (software like Textio is great for this). Understand your workforce demographics at all levels of the organization -- from entry-level staff to senior leadership -- and work toward bringing diverse voices in where you find inequities and gaps. Perform a pay equity audit (I recommend an unbiased third party) to ensure that your employees are being paid equitably among gender, roles, and demographics.
Most importantly, if your company hasn't already, make a public commitment to your employees, clients, customers, and community that DEI is a strategic business initiative that touches all areas of your organization and is considered in all decision-making.
After a new DEI position is filled, what can leadership and even individual contributors do to support that person's efforts?
Respect this person's expertise, experience(s), and professional recommendations. Also, understand that even though this is a paid position, the emotional, physical, and mental labor involved is significant.
Despite the growing importance of DEI over the past few years, this recent push for more inclusive and equitable workplaces has been quite sudden. What are some ways leadership, employees, etc. can help keep that flame lit?
Set clear goals and focus on immediate areas of improvement first while working on larger and stickier projects in parallel to keep the momentum and excitement going. Also, have DEI conversations early and often with other company leaders to keep it on their radars and to ensure you're aligned on strategy and vision.
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