How To Foster A Diverse, Equitable And Inclusive Workplace Culture—Starting With Hiring


Jenny Xia Spradling is Co-CEO of FreeWill, a social enterprise offering free estate planning tools that help facilitate charitable giving.

My co-founder and I started FreeWill in part to move $1 trillion to nonprofits, but also because we couldn’t find the right workplace. It seemed like many companies with a social mission didn’t offer career growth, meritocracy or high performance standards for their employees, and many purely for-profit places felt soulless, political or closed-minded.

We aspired to build a place where fairness, kindness, courage and open-mindedness were built into the foundation of the company—somewhere for high-achieving idealists like us. It turns out that these foundational traits set the stage for a company that values diversity, equity and inclusion. In turn, having a diverse, equitable and inclusive organization has helped us achieve our business goals—a philosophy that is now data-backed.

Over the past five years as we’ve grown from two to 200 people, we’ve made lots of mistakes and have a few tips to share. After establishing the mission, vision and values of the company, the next step in creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive company culture is developing the right hiring practices. Here are five ways to go about this.

1. Start every hiring process with anti-bias training.

Everyone inherently brings forms of bias to everything they do. While many workplaces have implemented anti-bias trainings, few companies make anti-bias training a direct part of their hiring process. My company makes sure that each hiring team includes a recruiting lead and a hiring manager, as well as a cross-functional group of colleagues who would work closely with the new employee.

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After first making sure that this team represents a diverse group, it’s important to train and support that group to ensure that everyone checks their biases at the door. As part of this process, help your interviewers define what they should look for—what skills (not just experience, but qualities such as growth mindset) are most essential for your role. They should gear their questions to target those attributes.

2. Give candidates assignments.

Interviewing effectively is a skill any candidate can learn. But that skill may not mean success in the role you’re filling. This can introduce bias and subjectivity: Interviewers might be inclined to give preference to a candidate who interviews and presents well but lacks the requisite skills for the role.

Ask candidates to complete a brief assignment designed to home in on skills. This provides more insight than simply looking at someone’s portfolio, which may feature work with varying levels of managerial oversight. Importantly, the assignment should be graded anonymously whenever possible. Otherwise, it’s easier to favor an assignment from a candidate whose interviews went well.

I’ve seen from experience that the results of anonymous grading often do not correlate with success in the traditional interview setting. This has resulted in us hiring candidates who might not have been hired through a more traditional process, including (but not limited to) neurodiverse candidates who possess many of the skills needed to thrive in the position but who may have struggled in traditional interviews.

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3. Consider a nonnegotiation policy.

This is a best practice around pay equity. Full stop. There are so many reasons why more companies should institute nonnegotiation policies as part of their hiring processes. Women and people of color tend to appreciate such policies the most, we’ve found.

Negotiating, like interviewing, is a skill that advantages some while disadvantaging others. Negotiating opens the door for all sorts of societal biases. Basing pay around external factors allows systemic shortcomings to enter your workplace before an employee has done a day of work.

Also, many people also don’t actually like negotiating. Few are experienced negotiators, and many simply do so out of fear of missing out. There’s an enormous power and information differential between candidates and companies, given that companies have far more experience negotiating, giving them the upper hand. Transparency in pay ranges is quickly becoming the norm in some states and nonnegotiation could someday follow.

4. Be open to tweaking your hiring process.

At my company, the recruiting lead and hiring managers “temperature check” the hiring process as it progresses to ensure it is as inclusive as possible. For example, if they notice the candidate pool isn’t very diverse, they might do an outreach push to increase the diversity of the pool or reexamine the job description to see if there is anything that might exclude a group of candidates we don’t mean to exclude. Or, if they notice that candidates from underrepresented groups are disproportionately dropping off halfway through, they might try to collect candidate feedback to understand what is causing folks to exit the process.

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In a company of 200, there might be 100 different roles. Being open to improving your hiring process for each role and recognizing that a hiring process that works for one role might not work for another role is important.

5. Realize that hiring is just the start.

Once you’ve successfully expanded your talent pool and extended an offer, the work really begins. To start every employee off on the right foot, consider a structured onboarding process that is uniform across the company. By making sure all new hires are exposed to the same information, introduced to colleagues across the company and armed with a vision of what success looks like, you increase the chances that all employees develop mentorship relationships early on and are positioned to succeed in your culture.

At my company, we send around a series of 10 quick pre-readings (each about a page long) the week before each new hire starts in order to create shared language on some of the principles that matter most to us: growth mindset, radical candor and how biases show up in the workplace.

Here’s the bottom line.

Creating a workplace that is diverse, equitable and inclusive requires time and thought. Hiring is one key element, and retention is another. Making sure your hiring process is airtight and based on the best information you can find is a great start.


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