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Hiring, lip service and inclusion

Posted by Raffaele Di Meo on

I’ve spent my life not fitting into any group, and then when it comes to work, they want me to be a cultural fit, whatever that means.

I am queer, working class, and a migrant. When it comes to work, I rarely find people like me in the same room, especially now that I am in a leadership position. Too often, I am the only queer person in the room and the only one that speaks English as a second language.

Most companies that discuss cultural fit also discuss the value of diverse teams, which makes no sense.

Inclusive design is not a checklist of principles. It’s about designing with a diverse team from the start so that many perspectives are considered, and many barriers are removed before they even exist.

This definition, which I find particularly compelling, is from Kat Holmes’s book ‘Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design’. It resonates with me because it underscores the pivotal role of inclusive teams in driving inclusive design practices.

Creating a diverse team is pivotal, and I understand it’s not easy. I recently hired four designers, doubling the team I manage! It has been a herculean effort, but I learned a lot from this process.

That’s why I have decided to write down a few things I have worked on as part of the hiring process to ensure it was more inclusive and to help me create a diverse team.

I have decided to link the work from Sin Wai Kin, which made a great impact on me when I first saw it at the Hayward Gallery in London. Their works disrupt the way we see the world.

Stop lip service

Many businesses pay lip service to diversity and inclusion, saying the right words to attract candidates but not taking action. I think this is even worse than companies that don’t say anything at all. It’s crucial for companies to not only talk the talk but also provide clear and concrete action towards the value your company portrays. Genuine efforts and initiatives must be implemented to create a truly inclusive environment for all employees.

That’s why, to be truly inclusive, you should avoid talking about ‘culture fit’ and look for candidates that match your culture. The main reason is that this opens the door for confirmation bias. It’s easy to be more receptive to people who say things you like, do things you do, and so on. However, you will either get someone who hides their true self to ‘fit in’, or you will hire someone who is just the same as everyone else you already have in the company, and this doesn’t build diverse teams.

So, to embrace diversity and be inclusive, you must start from the hiring process.

The importance of language

Another important element when talking about inclusive practice is language. We have words; we use them; let’s make them count.

Changing our language is crucial in making a positive impact, especially when discussing inclusion. How we communicate and the terminology we use can have ripple effects on people’s perceptions and understanding. By being mindful of our language, we can promote inclusivity and equality.

At Doddle, we created a DEBI committee (Diversity, Equity, Belonging, and Inclusion), which helped shift the language we used in the hiring process, guide our efforts in creating a more diverse team, and make people feel they belong.

From equality to equity

One way to promote inclusivity is by shifting from the term equality to equity. While equality focuses on treating everyone the same, equity recognises that different individuals may require different support to reach the same level of opportunity and access.

From disadvantaged to underserved

To address the larger societal, education and governmental issues contributing to structural problems, I consciously replaced the term “disadvantaged” with “underserved.” This shift is intended to reframe the conversation surrounding marginalised communities by acknowledging the lack of resources and support available to people and emphasising the need to address these disparities. Doing so shifts the focus from individuals to the surrounding structures.

Embracing neurodiversity

Embracing the term “neurodivergent” encourages recognition and acceptance of neurological differences. Language that respects and acknowledges diverse neurological experiences can contribute to a more inclusive and understanding team.

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How inclusive language can make for a more equitable workplace | The Drum

Great article from The Drum
The power of words: how inclusive language can make for a more equitable workplace

Creating a more inclusive hiring process

Making the hiring process more inclusive is not a simple task, especially when you are part of a large organisation. I have been fortunate to work in a dynamic startup with a fantastic HR team that championed inclusive practices and was happy to make changes fast. They were also incredibly receptive to the needs of the design industry, which made creating a hiring process super easy and enjoyable.

I understand that not everyone is in this position, but I truly think that starting the conversation is just half the battle, so it’s worth starting.

One thing that I have been doing for a while is working with organisations that support people from underserved backgrounds in getting into tech, which we all know is mainly rich, white, and male folks. I have worked with The AgencyAD Academy, and, more recently, with the Prince’s Trust. They run a UX Bootcamp, and it has been great seeing a fantastic quality programme and student group.

This helped me connect with different realities and understand more about issues in the design industry around diversity and inclusion.

Blind screening

We enabled a feature in our recruitment system that allowed us to hide candidates’ names and surnames to eliminate unconscious bias.

Sometimes, we don’t realise that we make assumptions about people simply based on where they have worked, studied, and their given names.

So, getting rid of some of this information has supported our conscious effort to be fairer and more inclusive.

I have to say that software out there do not work as expected, and you are often at the mercy of technology. So we have found that sometimes the software wasn’t able to hide names on CVs if in certain formats, and it added loads of complexity for us in reviewing candidates.

However, if more of us require features like that, I am optimistic that tech will follow!

Streamlined process

We used to have a reasonably lengthy hiring process consisting of five stages to ensure we were making the right decisions. However, asking people to go through so many stages doesn’t provide the best candidate experience.

Some individuals may not have the time or mental capacity to dedicate to multiple stages, especially when applying for several jobs simultaneously. We recognised this as an issue on our part and decided to find a solution.

After a few ideation sessions, we concluded that we could achieve the same outcome with just three stages:

  • The first stage involves an internal recruiter asking a set of clear questions defined by the design team to vet all candidates.
  • The second stage includes a few members of the design and product teams engaging in an informal conversation with candidates about design, education, and experience.
  • The third one is a presentation of the candidate’s work to evaluate the candidate’s technical skills.

Interview questions, in advance

We decided to provide candidates with the questions we would ask in the interview in advance. This was an essential step in supporting neurodivergent candidates, translating into creating a better experience for all candidates.

We wanted to provide an honest and seamless interview experience. We weren’t trying to catch anyone unprepared; we wanted everyone to be at their best.

Also, when you go into a meeting, you already have context. Why wouldn’t you have that in an interview? So, this felt like the right move for us and for everyone’s benefit.

We had great feedback from all candidates, and we don’t feel like it jeopardised the quality of the interview process. In fact, we thought it allowed us to have deeper conversations with candidates.

No tasks, please!

We decided to eliminate design tasks from our interview process. Asking candidates to spend hours on tasks didn’t align with our team values.

In the past, we never asked people to complete large tasks, and we chose company-agnostic projects that focused on thought processes rather than clear visuals. However, we could have evaluated technical skills differently, so we removed this step altogether.

Alternatively, we asked candidates to bring a project they were working on to the interview and demonstrate their thought process and visuals directly from their Figma files.

This proved to be a better way to evaluate candidates and gain a deeper understanding of how people work, organise their work, and collaborate with other team members.

Seeing the behind-the-scenes of a Figma File is invaluable. It provides insight into people’s design practices and helps us understand whether they are the right candidate for the job.

Fair scoring

We created a matrix to score candidates fairly and to ensure we were hiring the right person for the job. We didn’t want to hire just someone who we connected with but someone who ticked the right boxes in terms of design and product thinking.

We also introduced a blind scoring system to ensure we didn’t influence each other after the interview, talking about what we liked and didn’t about the candidate.

So everyone went to the matrix sheet and added their scores separately. Then, we revealed them and discussed whether or not the candidate fit the position. This made a great difference in evaluating candidates, and it felt fairer than other methodologies we explored in the past.

Extra helping

Not everything we have done was right. There are things that we have missed and others that we wouldn’t do again, or at least do differently.

Something that we wanted to do, but the organisation limited us, was to show the salary range in the job description. This is probably the most challenging thing to do as it’s not team-based but might affect the rest of the company’s policy around the disclosure of salaries. The way that we got around that was to disclose the salary range during the first recruiter interview.

As we had over 400 applications for two roles, we decided to clear our candidate list pretty quickly, and we moved fast in the first stages. However, quite a few people dropped out of the process. So, I recommend keeping the pool open to ensure you have a good list of candidates in case you experience dropouts, as we did.

Beyond hiring

The hiring process is pivotal in creating a culture that fosters diversity, equity, and inclusion. However, you can’t really stop at the initial stage of someone’s journey with your company. I found it essential to carry on the effort with everything we do at work, from meetings to activities to socials.

This is why we started discussing inclusion and belonging more as essential factors in the culture we wanted to create in the team.

We didn’t just want someone to join the team to tick a box; we wanted someone to feel a sense of belonging, participate in the company’s life the way they wanted, and contribute to creating, enhancing, and evolving the culture.

The term belonging felt needed to ensure we were always looking into new ways to get together as a team and to foster a culture that doesn’t benefit a small group of individuals but grows and evolves with everyone that joins the company.

Raffaele Di Meo

Design, mentoring, workshops, strategies and innovation

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