Inclusive hiring is the secret sauce to creating an innovative, safe and exciting organisation. It all starts at the hire; this is where you set the tone for your new employee. If they start their career journey at your company feeling valued and respected from the get go, chances are they’ll stick around to make significant contributions.

It’s not news that a diverse workforce brings a wider range of perspectives, ideas and experiences to the table. Subsequently, this can mean more imaginative and effective problem-solving. But how can you ensure your hiring process is inclusive? If you’re struggling to attract individuals from diverse backgrounds, experiencing low employee retention, or just don’t know where to begin, we spoke to three experts from the tech sector who have spent some time learning the complexities of inclusive hiring.

What does inclusive hiring mean?

To be successful in building an inclusive hiring process, firstly you need to have a solid understanding of what the term means.

If you recognise the benefits of building a diverse team, fantastic, but how do you create one? Simply deciding you want to diversify your workforce won’t make that happen overnight. If your current process has continued to attract the same people, then it likely needs a revamp.

Incorporating inclusive hiring could be the key to unlocking the talent you’re searching for. The term summarises the overarching ethos of your recruitment process. To identify if this process is currently inclusive, ask yourself: Who is finding our vacancies? Where are they seeing our adverts? What is the message we’re communicating in the job description?

The ambition behind implementing inclusive hiring techniques is to minimise bias and improve equality. As Zara Nanu, founder of Gapsqaure, the fair pay analytics software company, explains, “There was a time when the key word associated with hiring was diversity. Getting diverse talent in the pipeline was the north star. The key to success. However, when you get diverse talent in, very little progress can be made unless the processes organisations use to recruit, onboard, upskill and progress talent are inclusive.”

Inclusive hiring is a multi-faceted concept. It encompasses the entirety of your recruitment process; it can’t be limited to just one aspect. “Inclusive practices are what will help the talent be successful in the recruitment stage, and subsequently in the retention stage,” says Zara.

Alan Furley, co-founder and CEO at ISL Talent, Talent Acquisition experts & startup recruiter, and Cara Dean, Head of People at Ghyston, a bespoke Software Development company,  both highlight that inclusive hiring means tapping into the entire talent pool. Alan elaborates, “It’s about a capability to hire across the whole of the market, not a narrow portion.

“So in effect, it means making a conscious effort to engage and embrace talent from underrepresented groups, so you can build a diverse team.”

Cara emphasises the significance of the candidates’ experience: “It is all about making sure everyone has equal access to employment, and that every single candidate is treated fairly, and with respect,” whilst consistently recognising unconscious bias where possible.

Why is inclusive hiring important?

So why should your company strive to be more inclusive when hiring? Alan highlights that it’s particularly key for battling the tech sector’s skills gap: “Being inclusive with your hiring is essential to access as wide a talent pool as possible. Put effort into increasing the candidates you can choose from, rather than only fighting over the obvious ones.”

And once you secure this talent, embedding inclusive practices into your company culture keeps people there. As Cara mentions, “a diverse workforce is key to a happy, successful business. Having a focus on Equality, Diversity and Inlcusion (EDI) has been proven to improve employee retention, enhance innovation through diverse perspectives, and create higher revenue.”

Zara explains that it is also a case of adapting strategy in the wake of recent global events: “Many things are currently changing the world of work. Pressures of hybrid working that open the talent pool more globally, increases in costs of living, and increased pressures on companies to report on social indicators that include EDI data, gender pay gaps and human rights. These are all creating the perfect storm for organisations to be more intentional around diversity and inclusion.

“In the process of recruiting new talent, especially in the tech sector, all too often I hear the words ‘there are no women in tech’ or that the pipeline of women in tech is small. This is largely true. As an example, the number of women in STEM (women graduating in core STEM subjects) has grown from 21% of the workforce in 2016 to 24% in 2019. The increase in the talent pipeline is too small for the high demands of the tech sector. But there are many things that can be done differently to ensure a diverse and inclusive organisation and a larger share of the talent pool.”

How can tech companies create inclusive hiring practices?

So how can you make inclusive hiring a reality within your business? It starts with having the right frame of mind.

Zara tells us, “Be open to accepting people with different backgrounds into specific roles. Questions to ask at this point include: Do candidates really need official certifications? How can certain skills from different occupations be reused in different roles? How well will a candidate learn and adapt to a changing world of work? Some of these basic re-thinks can help shape the entire recruitment process.”

We’ve complied the advice from Alan, Cara and Zara here for some tangible steps you can take to build an inclusive hiring process:

Job Description

  • Check how inclusive the language you have used is. Ask yourself, is it neutral language that is going to attract candidates from all areas, or is it biased towards one group? There are lots of free gender decoding tools to help you with this; keep an eye out for the launch of Bristol-based software, which can do this for all your marketing assets. 
  • Don’t be lazy with it. Avoid taking pre-written copy from the first Google search – these job specifications could be guiding you down the same route that you’re trying to avoid, whilst lacking diverse and inclusive thinking. For your next hire, take a serious look at the old descriptions you’ve used. Do they need rewriting to reflect a different message? 
  • Start with a blank sheet. Take time to think about the purpose of the role. Alan suggests thinking about what success looks like in 18 months and using that to drive the performance measures and the skills you’ll need for the role.
  • Ensure the job advert isn’t a long list of demands, as this can be a deterrent to certain groups, in particular women. 
  • Clearly state that you’re open to people from different backgrounds; it may feel like you’re being too obvious but it sends a positive signal to the talent you’re looking for.
  • Get others to check it over. This could be your team, advisors, old colleagues, etc. Different perspectives will highlight things you may have missed.

Application process

  • Look beyond the standard job boards and do some research to see if there are other forums where you can advertise your role – there might be local groups, societies or movements that would love to hear from you and promote your roles.  
  • If you are working with recruitment agencies, work with ones that have a focus on improving EDI in your field. Challenge them to find you a diverse range of candidates and speak with them about how you can work together to make a difference.  
  • How important a CV actually is for you to decide on candidates? Are they really the best indicator of success? Zara explains that many organisations are turning to online applications like BeApplied to ensure unbiased shortlisting of candidates. 
  • Ghyston has a variety of ways in which potential candidates can find out about the company and the roles they have available. We offer “open evenings”, micro-internships, 8-week internships, and junior roles.

The interview 

  • Build a diverse interview panel. A diverse set of interviewers reduces the risk of bias in interviews, helps candidates feel more welcome, and allows for a better judgement to be made.
  • Ensure the space is inclusive, whether that’s online or in person. Consider accessibility and ensure candidates feel comfortable entering the space. 
  • It’s always worth checking with candidates about any adjustments you can make to account for their specific needs, such as more time to complete assessments or physical adjustments in your office. 
  • Hold a structured interview process with objective scoring. A consistent interview process will also help inclusivity, with a better chance of being fair and unbiased in your hiring.
  • Cara explains Ghyston specifically gives entry-level candidates the chance to go on tailored hiring journeys depending on their experience level. For example, for developer roles, they ask candidates to identify as beginner, intermediate, or advanced and then tailor their exercises according to this. This allows us the team to test for aptitude across a diverse range of backgrounds, without people being put off or disadvantaged if they lack relevant experience.
  • When you’re making your decision, think skills over experience. Talk about the raw skills you need, to help people from all backgrounds demonstrate they can do the job.

How can tech companies retain diverse talent?

So you’ve streamlined your process and have successfully attracted a variety of applicants from different backgrounds. Following that, you’ve brought your ideal candidate into the team. Hurrah! But how do you keep the whole team feeling happy, fulfilled and included?

By embedding inclusive practices throughout the onboarding process and within the company culture, you are simultaneously creating a healthy environment whilst retaining top tech talent.

Let’s start with onboarding. This is the first impression of how your business functions, so it’s crucial to get it right. To keep inclusion at the heart of it all, Cara recommends having an EDI induction as a part of onboarding, demonstrating your company’s values and beliefs around the topic. It also creates a sense of cohesion across the team, making sure everyone knows the policy. “It’s a great way to explain to employees why EDI is so important both internally and externally,” adds Cara.

At ISL Talent, Alan works with a lot of founding teams to generate their first few hires. He explains a reoccurring challenge is that the existing team knows each other so well that often new starters, no matter their background, don’t feel a part of the team. To combat this, Alan explains, “Getting stuff written down can be a big help here.

“If you’ve got values and ways of working but they’re largely in your heads, document them. Make sure you’ve allowed new starters to access the knowledge you’ve accumulated so that they feel part of the team quicker.”

To maintain these positive practices, Alan suggests implementing regular check-ins to create time and space for discussion with new starters and long-term employees alike: “Don’t assume that because you’re approachable your new starters will come to you. Putting time aside, say at 30 / 60 / 90 days in, will mean you can go deep on any issues they’ve experienced in onboarding as well as learn what’s helped them settle in.

“I spoke on a panel recently where we discussed recent research on diverse teams and high performance, and the study showed the key ingredient to unlock outperformance was psychological safety. The confidence to speak freely without fear of retribution or judgement.”

Alan explains that he has had countless candidates approach him looking to move on from a role due to a toxic work environment: “Not being listened to is disappointingly common.

“For me, psychological safety is a key part of creating an inclusive culture and retaining your talent. Build an environment of trust and respect, where you’re actively seeking feedback and contributions from across your team.”

Cara echoes this sentiment and encourages employers to get their employees actively involved. “Empower them to speak and listen to them when they do,” she says. “Ask for opinions, create safe spaces so that employees feel comfortable to speak, and incorporate the opinions that you gather into the company initiatives and policies. If employees feel heard and involved, they will be more engaged with values and policies, much more likely to spread feelings of positivity and lastly, but most importantly, they will feel valued in their roles. This then has a direct impact on retention.”