Pride month has drawn to a close, and as a member of the LGBTQ2S+ community I find myself in a reflective mood and wanting to share some of my thoughts.
But first, I want to acknowledge I can share these ideas because I’m standing on the shoulders of so many others.
Through concerted effort by individuals, community groups and other advocate organizations, significant progress has been made in workplace diversity (for the LGBTQ2S+ community and others) over the years and I merely hope to champion and bring visibility to the messages long promoted by these important trailblazers. I am grateful for the tireless efforts of those who came before me, who envisioned and helped create an environment where I can be my true self at work. I can now spend time working alongside my colleagues, creating, ideating, innovating…without fear of losing my job should they know the details of my personal life.
I wholeheartedly believe diversity is a key to our success at Helcim, so I thought I would share some things we’ve done in hopes they may be useful to others who are working to create positive and inclusive workplaces.
1. When hiring, focus on the top of the funnel
Focus on the top of the hiring funnel. Diversity does not mean arbitrary hiring quotas. Inclusion does not come at the cost of exclusion, it’s not a zero sum game. The goal is still to hire the BEST person for the job – by casting a wider net to catch a greater array of potential candidates. Don’t limit who is eligible for a given role or compromise your hiring standards to achieve a specific quota, rather – widen the funnel! It doesn’t need to be expensive, there are lots of free or low cost job boards and career events out there that can highlight your job opportunities to all sorts of communities. It might take a bit more effort to channel your hiring practices, and it’ll take time for new practices to gain traction (we’re always trying new things), but the end result will be more diversity in your pool of candidates and ultimately in your hiring, without clumsy quotas.
2. Bring more people into the hiring process
Bias is often unconscious, so democratizing your hiring process will bring more perspective into candidate selection. Empower your existing employees by allowing them to actively shape their teams, and help eliminate bias (conscious or unconscious) that can manifest when hiring is conducted by a limited group of employees. As an added bonus, we saw that making these changes also sped up our hiring process, as we were able to run more interviews concurrently. It does take time to train team members on how to participate in the hiring process, but the rewards have certainly justified the investment.
3. Make sure your company culture and environment is up to the task
If you want a more robust and diverse team – once you hire someone, they need to land somewhere that lives the values promoted in the hiring process.
Make it a visible priority, talk about it regularly and candidly. To give a strong sense of what it means to work at Helcim, we created our Culture Book where we clearly list our values for existing, new, and potential employees alike. Of the listed core values, “We are a Company of Many” outlines why we feel diversity is important to our success, and we hold ourselves accountable to this value throughout our decision making process. Every new employee reads the book and has a session with an executive team member to review the values. With widespread acknowledgment, understanding and buy in, our teammates can hold us accountable.
It should also be a priority to know who is on your team, and understand what they need. When our CFO @MARJ joined us, she spearheaded sending out a company wide survey to figure out who is on our team – who is a caregiver to adults or children, what religious observances should we be considering, what stage of life are our team members in… We try to make sure our team stays visible to us so we can continually analyze our policies and practices to make sure they are keeping pace. In a growing company where it gets harder to stop and chat regularly with every team member it has proven a simple but invaluable tool.
4. It’s about intent, not offence
People will put their foot in their mouths. I can almost guarantee it. Pronouns will get mixed up, people will make assumptions based on their lived experiences. When these things happen, the first thing I try to determine is intent. Almost all of the time, when people slip up they don’t mean any harm – and in that circumstance, a polite correction should be met with a commitment to get it right the next time, and move on. When new staff members take an interest in my life and ask me about my wife or girlfriend, I don’t recoil in offence – I chuckle to myself, and then let them know about the weekend I spent with my partner. The last thing I want at Helcim is a culture that rewards offense, rather than one about recognizing positive intent and seizing opportunities to learn from our differences.
5. Lead by example
This one is pretty straightforward – live your values. Remain curious and check yourself. Surround yourself with colleagues who will check you, and help heighten your awareness. Be open to conversations. Read articles. Try to get things right, and if you make mistakes – visibly correct them. Participate in events – join/support organizations who promote diversity and show through your actions that this topic is important to you. In 2019 we marched for the first time in the Calgary Pride Parade, and in 2020 we joined the Alberta LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce. If leaders don’t walk the talk, it’s unlikely the rest of the company will follow suit – there are a lot of little things you can do that will show your team you value diversity and the array of perspectives it brings.
As a person who for a long time hid his true self from friends, family and coworkers, I can tell you how stifling and unfulfilling a life lived behind barriers can be. I often wonder how many amazing contributions and innovations we’ve lost from truly talented people because of limitations placed upon us in our journey as a society to embrace diversity instead of fear it. And why fear it? Diversity is great!! It is resilient . It is intelligent . As a leader, the problems I have to solve and the decisions I have to make are enhanced by the array of perspectives I can collect from my colleagues.The world is coming to realize the importance of these perspectives – our business and products exist in societies that are changing rapidly, with more people than ever participating in the economy. Having a company more reflective of the world at large allows us to build a more resilient team, and better, more thoughtful products for our wide array of customers and users.