On Our Minds
“In conversation with On-Ramps” is a series that captures some of the internal discussions our team has as we sort through issues facing today’s social sector hiring managers. Michelle Kedem (she/her/hers) is one of On-Ramps’ founding members. Yahira Cruz (she/her) is a search associate for the team, and Kevin Do (he/him/his) is a search analyst.
Michelle: When thinking about the broader conversation about accessibility in hiring, I think it’s fair to say the pandemic has thrown a spotlight on the ways in which interview processes past and present can sometimes be inaccessible to a wide array of talent.
Kevin: Interviewing is an investment of time, effort, and resources. Oftentimes, access to these can be inequitable. If you’re having a video interview, you need private access to a working laptop with working wifi and a working camera. For in-person interviews, folks often have to book travel or take time off during normal working hours. Those can be unattainable expenses for some. I’ve definitely bought a whole suit for some interviews. As hiring managers think about certain steps of the interview process, I think it’s important to consider how superfluous some of these things might be. If your hiring team is adding some of these additional elements to the process and assessing folks against them, you might be creating barriers to a more diverse pool of talent.
Yahira: Exactly. One that immediately comes to mind is the heightened, over importance of in-person interviews. That went out the window with COVID, and all of a sudden people were more than okay with downloading Zoom and conducting the entire interview process virtually. But a year ago, the mere mention of having any one conversation virtually as opposed to in-person would get you reactions like, “That’s not the process” or “It takes away from the experience of meeting someone.”
As facilitators of these processes, we have to think about the ways that we can make them more accessible. Part of that includes the types of questions that we’re asking candidates. Do they need additional time to complete an assignment? Do they have access to reliable internet and a video camera if they’re having a virtual interview? Can we better structure an interview process—virtual and in-person once COVID subsides—for someone who doesn’t have childcare?
Michelle: And there are certain things the hiring team should offer without asking. They should be saying things like, “I know you’re interviewing from home. We understand if your space may not be pristine or silent. That’s understandable.” Or, “We are flexible with time.” Hiring managers shouldn’t put it entirely on the candidate to have to ask for what they need. I think it’s on them to balance the power dynamic.
Yahira: A positive outcome I have noticed, both in internal and client meetings, is that there seems to be more of an understanding that candidates and clients are people. Going into remote work, I think people expected interviewing to still be about presenting in the sort of robotic professional way that folks sometimes default to. Now, there’s more of an acknowledgement of everyone’s humanity. When we have conversations over Zoom, we are in spaces where people sleep, where their dog is going to bark, where their baby could cry.
Kevin: I definitely agree. With everyone being stuck at home—and with the new worry about spatial backgrounds being viewed as “professional” or “unprofessional”—I think there’s a bit more grace towards people’s situations. I also see that when it comes to the timing of certain steps in the hiring process. When there are certain events happening in the world, or when candidates are going through specific life struggles, there have been more times where I or my clients are able to adjust the deadline of certain activities and give people additional time. Again, I think it’s becoming more important to be flexible and not provide candidates with just one option for doing things. To Michelle’s point earlier, it’s always better to ask candidates if they would like any accommodations or need any support during the process because you shouldn’t assume anything. By providing a lot of different options, you’re using your position to help prevent a lot of stress from the candidate side.
Michelle: What you’re describing is what we try to do with our clients and candidates, but I don’t think it’s done universally. I have a close friend who is interviewing and she has two young kids. She asked me, “Do you think I need to go drive to my mother’s house and make sure I do my zoom video from there, or could I do it from my car?” And I said, “Honestly, I don’t know anything about who you’re interviewing with, so you should go get yourself to a place where you can have quiet.” So while people may not be judging what you’re wearing or what your space looks like, I think there are still some stigmas related to one’s ability to be professional, in this case parenting. I think that there are still biases and barriers that are really hard to overcome right now.
Yahira: It all comes back to mindset. Making your hiring processes more accessible requires reframing your approach. Every single organization that we actively work with says they are committed to integrating the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion into their hiring. That is not a commitment that you just make at face value. It has to be thought of and approached with intersectionality. From our end, we work to help clients understand that folks coming into a conversation with them will likely look different, be different, and have different priorities. Creating a more accessible process requires being open to that type of information and conversation.
Also, when a hiring manager makes a commitment towards diversity, equity, and inclusion, they’re making the commitment to be called out in the ways in which there could be unnecessary barriers to their process. If a client tells me that a strategic exercise has to be completed in 45 minutes, my first reaction isn’t to say, “Sure!” My reaction is, “Why? Why is it required to be completed in 45 minutes? Have you thought about the fact that 45 minutes could be a limiting factor to some interviewees?” An accessible approach to hiring has to leave room for those questions that ask about the meaning behind the process, as opposed to taking the process at face value just because it’s “always done that way.” That is a very clear tenet of white supremacy culture, and our role is to challenge those tenets.