A DEI consultant helped a startup founder overhaul her company culture to attract diverse candidates and create space for important conversations
This article is part of Talent Insider, a series containing expert advice to help small business owners tackle a range of hiring challenges.
Rachel Schneider, the founder of financial startup Canary, wanted to put diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at the core of her business from the beginning. But she knew she didn't have all the answers, so she turned to Rhonda Moret, the founder of DEI training and consulting firm Elevated Diversity, for guidance.
Schneider and Moret met over several weeks on Zoom as part of Insider's mentorship program, created in partnership with Indeed. "The opportunity to work with an expert who's really invested in developing expertise on this was phenomenal," Schneider, whose company helps employers ensure that their employees can access emergency funds in times of financial need, told Insider.
DEI is fundamental to Canary's mission, as women, people of color, and low-income individuals are more likely to experience financial crises, Schneider said. She added that her company will make better decisions when it incorporates diverse points of view and experiences. "If we're really going to be effective at delivering the best possible customer service, we really need to invest in empathy, and that means having a team who can really relate to the life experience of the people that we're working on behalf of," Schneider said.
Moret and Schneider shared how they worked together to develop DEI policies and best practices for Canary around recruiting, company culture, and people management.
Making equity a central part of the business
A key piece of advice Schneider received from her mentor was to think about equity in the same way a leader thinks about marketing, finance, or other parts of the business — as a central component of the company, not just a short program or initiative. "I found that to be really insightful, versus thinking of it as, 'Here's this project we're going to do,'" Schneider said.
Creating policies and putting DEI thinking at the center of the business early on will ensure it's in "the very fabric of the organization," Moret said. To start with implementing this mindset and policy, she suggested to Schneider that Canary write a brand statement that publicly states that its values center on DEI and belonging.
"You have to start with making it really clear to your external and internal audience that this is a part of how you're thinking about your work," Schneider said. "That creates space for activity, growth, and for other people to bring their ideas and creativity."
Creating space for new ideas and creativity internally
Schneider said Canary has been surveying its employees about "how they're experiencing and thinking about equity-related issues at work," and she was able to use some of Monet's survey materials at Elevated Diversity to help craft specific questions around this topic.
The surveys have helped "create space for equity as a topic" among her team, Schneider said. "People step into that space with their own creativity and ideas." For example, one employee asked to host a conversation about National Native American Heritage Month in November. In response, Moret shared several of her resources around creating diversity councils and employee-resource groups, which include setting up forums for employee conversations and ideas on DEI.
The next step is to establish metrics to assess how Canary is progressing on DEI priorities, which Schneider said she's still working on. "We want to make sure we're doing more than words, that we're holding ourselves accountable."
Updating the hiring process to attract top talent from all backgrounds
Beyond the company culture, Schneider also plans to put DEI at the center of Canary's recruiting and hiring processes by drawing from a broad range of candidates and becoming more mindful about how it interviews and evaluates applicants.
To help with this, Moret shared with Schneider her best practices for inclusive recruiting, which include being careful around a job posting's language, establishing panels of diverse employees to interview applicants, and crafting interview questions that are standardized for all candidates.
DEI has become an important factor for job-seekers, Moret said. "It's important for organizations vying for top talent."
Creating an equitable workplace isn't a cookie-cutter experience, and Schneider said working with her mentor enabled her to develop initiatives that were best suited to her business.
Moret said she admires Canary's mission and plans to share details about it with other companies that she works with. She also appreciated helping a fellow female business owner.
"I wanted to pay it forward," Moret said. "I've added another contact to my network, and I would love to see if there's an opportunity for us to work together in the future. I genuinely enjoyed working with Rachel."
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