Decoding Diversity Part 3: Inclusion Throughout the Employee Lifecycle

break the rules

There has been a lot of conversation lately around inclusive hiring practices, and with good reason; if you don’t hire people from different backgrounds, you won’t have them in your company.

But the problem with only thinking about hiring is that corporations are not magically inclusive and diverse thinkers: Corporate culture enables or hinders a lot of the potential benefits of diversity. For instance, you might hire a lot of women, but if the company runs like an Old Boys club where women are not respected, then the company loses out on the different perspectives women bring.

So how do you be more diverse and inclusive throughout the employee lifecycle? Here are a few suggestions/frameworks you can use:

1. Sourcing 

A good amount of the work does still rest in how you find people. If you only source candidates from schools with a 70:30 male-to-female ratio, it will be very difficult to hire a 50:50 gender split cohort.

  • Use niche job boards focused on diversity and inclusion: Some companies, like Ziversity, focus on this side of the diversity and inclusion equation. Ziversity is a niche job board and sourcing community that helps companies source diverse talent spanning across race, gender, sexuality, and ability status.
  • Write inclusive job descriptions: One of the biggest issues in sourcing diverse talent is that the job description is written to appeal to a small number of people. Using language that is overly harsh (perhaps in an attempt to sound cool?), language that implies certain types of relationships with coworkers (not everyone likes getting drunk on weekends with coworkers), or referring to company culture in a way that makes it sound like a frat house (“Beer on tap all the time and weekly ragers!”) are all ways that people from diverse backgrounds might feel – correctly or not – that they are unwelcome in your organization and self-select out of the process.

2. Interviewing and Hiring

When you do find diverse talent in your pool (which you should have an abundance of since you posted inclusive-language job postings on niche diversity boards!), the interview could make or break your success in bringing diverse talent into your organization

  • Look for fundamental skills: If the job is internal HR and payroll, you don’t need the fun-loving, “cool” guy or gal that everyone will love. You need someone who is detail oriented and ok with working relatively independently (or with the same internal HR team day in and day out, in a larger firm). If the role is client facing or in sales, you don’t necessarily need an extrovert – you need someone with patient persistence.
  • Tackle unconscious bias: All too often we are programmed to look for the things we want to find in a candidate. Someone with an accent may appear less intelligent. A woman might be “nurturing” but not seen as a “go-getter”. It’s not our fault for having these thoughts – they’ve been drummed into us from birth – but it is our responsibility to tackle them. In interviews, enter with a completely clear mind and try to understand non-traditional experiences for the skill-sets they provided, not just the title or organizational association they offer.

3. On-boarding and Early Management

When you do have diverse talent in your organization, on-boarding and early management is when you start to leverage benefits for everyone (as we know,diverse teams make everyone smarter)

  • Form diverse project teams to maximize different perspectives: This should be a combination of skill-sets, experience, academic background, and identity. Simply having people who look different on a team won’t help if they all went to the same university, took the same classes, and are the same age with the same work experience.
  • Offer new experiences to all positions: Where feasible, implement a job rotation program (or enable ad-hoc opportunities for employees to try new teams and projects). If this can’t be done, instead focus on offering your employees as much exposure to different kinds of work as possible – whether that be through a mentorship program, “extra-curricular” activities at work, or sponsoring them to take courses or volunteer outside the organization.

4. Performance Management and Promotions

When managing the performance of a team – or choosing who to promote – diversity and inclusion can sometimes look like “choosing someone for their identity”. Truly inclusive organizations recognize how a different identity can bring a different perspective, but promotional decisions should be motivated by performance, not personality.

  • Make internal opportunities known to all: Often, an organization has an internal role to fill and “taps” someone to fill it. The justification is usually that the person is qualified anyways and it would be far faster. To be inclusive, an organization must give all employees the opportunity to step up and apply for a new role. This could be part of their corporate development plan, a retention tactic, or a lateral move out of an area of the company that is a bad fit for the employee. Regardless, it shows every employee that the position is given on merit, not corporate politics.
  • Assess whether employees were given opportunities to meet performance criteria: The process of performance management is usually done in checklist fashion; was this done, to what degree, where do we go from here. The idea of talking about next steps is powerful, but at the same time you need to look back and be sure there was an opportunity to showcase the skills you are judging. If one of the areas for performance management is client readiness but an employee was given no outside client experience and very limited internal stakeholder face-time, then it is not fair to that employee to mark them down on that area.

5. Off-boarding

Whether employee-driven (quitting) or employer-driven (fired/laid off/let go), emotions run high during this time in the employee lifecycle. However, it can be an equally inclusive process that ensures everyone is treated fairly and with respect.

  • Employee-driven: When an employee gives notice, you should not be afraid to ask questions that address diversity and inclusion issues. This can be done in an exit interview or exit survey, but should cover whether they felt welcome, whether they had opportunities to do their best work, and what they might suggest for the employer to change to retain top employees in the future.
  • Employer-driven (Performance issue): If the employee is being fired with cause, be very clear about what went wrong – and ensure that you clearly offered adequate opportunities to correct the wrong before it was too late (subtle reminders don’t work here – documented, explicit performance conversations are necessary).  Also consider a brief audit of who was fired with cause in recent history to ensure it is not one predominant identity group or from one specific vertical – this could signal a larger organizational issue, not necessarily one about the employee in question.
  • Employer-driven (Organizational issue): If the employee is being laid off due to an organizational issue, be honest about it and offer to write a positive recommendation for the employee about their work-ethic and explaining why s/he was let go from your organization. Also be sure that it was not one predominant identity group in the laid-off cohort, as this could signal an unconscious bias issue.

When it comes down to the details, being diverse and inclusive can often be summed up as simply treating everyone like an individual and a human. In order for every organization to thrive with a diverse and inclusive environment, make your own Individual Commitment To Inclusion. Make the world around you an inclusive place; as others do the same, there will be real change in the world.

This was Part 3 – Check out Part 1 (The New Business Case for Workplace Diversity) and Part 2 (What Causes Diversity to Fail).

This post originally appeared on


Stefan is a diversity and inclusion consultant and Founder of Ziversity, an online diversity recruiting and sourcing platform. He has a number of years of experience in the HR/diversity recruiting space, starting with his research at Yale University and continuing through numerous non-profit positions. He blogs about diversity, inclusion, tech, startups, and cultural commentary. Connect with him on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter @stefanpalios. Business inquiries can be sent to

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