3 Steps to Build a Diverse and Inclusive Workplace

women.js co-chairs, Amanda Small and Jeannie Ly.
women.js co-chairs, Amanda Small and Jeannie Ly.

When I joined Jibestream, the tech company I work for today, some great foundational work had been done by women.js, their special interest group, to increase the presence of women within the organization and to inspire gender equality in tech. I was excited to expand on their work by helping to make Jibestream a welcoming environment for women in a traditionally male-dominated field.

I quickly realized that there were three important areas that required some attention and would help us in achieving our goals. So we took three relatively small but extremely important steps that any small business can take to help set the stage for building a more diverse and inclusive workplace:

  1. Create a parental leave policy
  2. Remove biased language from job postings
  3. Change recruitment and interview practices

The Parental/Maternity Leave Policy

I started by creating a “Parental Leave Policy”.  While it may sound daunting, it’s actually a very simple first step to workplace equality for any business. It was important to our team that we created something that would support, guide, and create transparency regarding parental and maternity leave in our company. It’s every employee’s right to take leave when starting or growing their family.

Our primary goal with formalizing a parental leave policy was to create transparency around employee’s options, to show that parental leave wasn’t something our organization was  avoiding and most importantly, to show that we support our team in taking leave to take care of their family.

Here is an overview of our path to parental leave in three easy steps:

  1. Established a timeline for researching, drafting and rolling out the policy.
  2. Do some research and build out your policy. We used The Expecting Playbook developed by Anna MacKenzie and Ella Goravelov as a guide for our parental policy. This helped us create visibility and support for families at our organization.  
  3. Once complete, ensure that employees know where to access policy guidelines, what to do, what to expect from employers, what employers can expect from them, and that employees on leave are still part of the team (even while away). This creates trust between the company and employees currently on leave, women currently working here, and women who are applying to work here.

Reexamining Our Job Descriptions

It’s easy for gendered and biased language to sneak into job descriptions. Luckily, there are easy steps you can take to make sure you’re being inclusive from the start. After bringing recruitment efforts in-house, we began with a simple exercise of writing down what skills were actually required in a role. This helped us to remove anything that wasn’t truly necessary to get the job done effectively. I spent time with each team to clarify what would be considered ideal candidate skills and characteristics.

We then assessed whether placing an emphasis on academic backgrounds was really necessary compared to the value of real skills. Before doing this, I met with and asked our current team of developers with non-academic backgrounds what it would take for them to apply for a role at our company. I also did a lot of personal external outreach to women in development on LinkedIn to find out more about them, their expectations, and experiences.

We also recognised that many women look for workplaces that recognise family obligations and saw the importance of having transparency with parental policy in job descriptions and on our careers webpage. Our company is vocal about the support we are able to provide women with families or who plan to have families. Showing that we are upfront, open, and willing to have conversations about it has also helped.

Changing our Interviewing & Recruiting Procedures

From the small things, like having another woman in the interview room if the interviewee identifies as a woman, to checking one’s own confirmation biases along the recruitment journey, there are plenty of simple steps that help us in our journey of achieving women.js’ diversity and inclusion goals.

On the recruiting level, here are some ideas for removing bias before and during interviews:

  1. Remove names from resumes
  2. Remove educational institutions from resumes
  3. Offer questions in advance where it makes sense
  4. Ask yourself along the way – what assumptions are you making?
  5. Ask all candidates the same technical, behavioural, and soft skills questions, whilst being mindful of differences in gender biases when judging the responses
  6. Tell your interviewee about the team and how they interact and work together

Overall, I’ve had to recognise that it’s a slow burn and that sweeping organisational changes take time. We’re continuing to try different things and experiment by setting milestones and adjusting our expectations around employee retention while creating policies to support women and families. I’ve been looking at national engineering statistics to guide our long term goals and milestones to ensure that our activities are measurable and meaningful.

I think it’s important for all of us to take part in the journey and public discourse to increase the visibility of women in technology by connecting with other women in tech. Get out there and talk to other women in organisations your size or a little bit bigger, and see what actions they are taking. If we collaborate, communicate, and work together to solve these problems, I believe we can have a positive impact in our workplaces and across our industries.

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