To create truly equitable working environments, companies need to actively engage employees in shaping corporate policies.
By Anthony Holloway
People around the globe are living through a moment of collective reflection. Across the workforce, a record number of employees are leaving their jobs to rethink where, how, and why they work. For employers, it is a critical time to reflect on why these shifts are taking place and how internal processes must evolve to meet the expectations and changing priorities of top talent. High among them are diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives.
A recent survey from Gartner of 550 HR leaders found that one of the top five priorities for employees in 2022 is DEI. While there are many discussions about the need for stronger DEI programs, employers must also ask who should be responsible for these efforts to ensure their success?
To drive more equitable processes across talent recruitment, retention, and ongoing company development, organizations should establish an employee-led approach. In 2020, Woebot Health created the “DEI Squad,” a group of volunteers that helped shape inclusive policies within the organization. This committee also added a layer of accountability to help turn intentions into actions.
Woebot Health also executed the following practices to ensure a diverse and equitable culture and work environment.
1. Foster an inclusive hiring process. Finding the right talent for any company is a time and labor-intensive process. In order to increase the percentage of diverse talent at the top of its recruiting funnel, Woebot Health implemented an objective four-point hiring scale: strong hire, hire, no hire, strong no hire. Making a “hire” or “no hire” decision upfront means starting with the end in mind, which ultimately saves countless hours of deliberation. This process doubled the speed at which hiring decisions were made, maintaining a 90% candidate offer acceptance rate, all while the company operated in a 100% hybrid environment.
2. Create a culture where all employees feel valued and thrive. Instilling a sense of belonging across teams while working remotely can be a challenge. Finding a solution starts with understanding the needs of employees, gathering data through internal discussions and surveys, and using this information to inform the development of future policies. The “DEI Squad” volunteers each participate in ongoing planning for company initiatives, including the chance to spearhead individual projects to improve the experiences of their teams. Projects range from shaping internal policies and ensuring flexibility in a fully-remote environment, to external opportunities like fundraisers and group activities, all with the goal of supporting connection, belonging, and inclusivity as teams transition to a new way of work during the pandemic.
Once volunteers join the squad, they also can take a one-hour course with DEI expert Jennifer Kim. This session provides additional understanding of each individual’s moral obligations to DEI as well as how it is key to accomplishing more in the connected world. Encouraging people to take individual ownership of learning and project design -focused on the issues that inspire them -sets up a strong foundation for each program, ensuring accountability and dedication to its future success.
3. Embed DEI into company DNA. The values of DEI must extend not only to employees, but to company offerings too. At Woebot Health, team members work inclusively by using ethnographies that study cross-sections of people to better understand where there may be population differences and more specifically, marginalized populations. With this understanding, they test and qualitatively get feedback to then evaluate performance in quantitative ways. Taking this proactive approach ensures anything that isn’t working in terms of DEI can promptly be fixed to build a better experience over time.
Companies must also go to great lengths to ensure any potential studies or surveys are conducted with representative samples of people. For example, Woebot Health recruits and interviews demographically diverse people to understand their experiences and then acknowledges where different issues may arise.
Stand-alone DEI initiatives are not enough to effectively impact the long-standing disparities people of color have faced historically as members of the workforce. Instead, they must be embedded into each step of the employee experience, empowering teams to share their collective ideas and encouraging executive leadership to drive policies that create a more equitable and inclusive workplace over time. By taking an ongoing, participatory approach to DEI, companies have an opportunity to not only instill these values into their everyday work, but provide the value and purpose so many employees seek in their roles today.
Anthony Holloway is the senior manager of talent acquisition at Woebot Health.