Today is International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. As a white, Middle Eastern, immigrant, Iranian-American woman working for a company that stands for diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, the elimination of racial discrimination is something I think about, not just today, but every day. When faced with a systemic and complex problem that is systemic that permeates our political, social, and professional lives, I often ask myself what one person or company can do.
In a recent EnCompass training on identity and power, we talked about privilege and the many identities we each embody. Identities associated with gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, socioeconomic status, and more. For many of us, we have both dominant and marginalized identities that push and pull us in different ways. Listening to my colleagues’ stories, I feel honored and proud to work with team members who have overcome so much adversity. I also feel an urgency to help fight discrimination in the ways I can and in the spaces where I have influence or control.
While there is much we cannot change in this world, there is a lot we CAN do. We will make mistakes along the way, and we won’t always get it right, but I am personally committed to doing the work to build a company that is actively anti-racist.
While developing a guide for how to eliminate racial discrimination in talent acquisition (formerly known as recruitment), I had a chance to canvass some of the things about our practices that we do within EnCompass to fight racial discrimination. Here are some things I learned along the way.
Implement a talent acquisition process that cultivates and actively seeks diverse candidates
At EnCompass, we understand that diversity in thought, perspective, and professional and lived experience makes us stronger as a company. Race is one of the most critical dimensions of diversity, and we work on it alongside all dimensions of diversity. We try to tackle each dimension of diversity separately, with a thoughtful and deliberate process that engages community members we are trying to protect from discrimination.
In our company, building a talent acquisition process that eliminates racial discrimination is complex and involves:
- Cultivating diverse networks and contacts and reaching out to them intentionally
- Developing position descriptions that recognize and value a range of experiences
- Training talent acquisition specialists and hiring managers on how to screen candidates in a way that eliminates racial and other biases
- Developing structured interview guides that are applied consistently from one candidate to the next and that focus on hard and soft skill qualifications articulated in the position description
- Intentionally selecting a diverse panel of interviewers and then training them on how to interview with an eye toward the qualifications of the role
- Extending offers based on the market and the qualifications for the role rather than an applicant’s salary history
- Providing standard benefits for all, without negotiations that offer perks to some but not to others
Invest in a more diverse pipeline of future leaders
We know that people, due to race, background, and/or socioeconomic status, have differential access to education, internships, and corresponding job opportunities. This results in less diverse candidate pools for senior-level or highly specialized positions, which can lead to a lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) “at the top.” We try to combat this by crafting more opportunities for young and emerging professionals who might not otherwise have access to these opportunities to help them develop the “qualifications” needed for future work.
At EnCompass, we support internship and scholarship programs, placing talented emerging professionals with our TA/Eval team through the AEA GEDI program, partnering with historically Black colleges and universities to recruit for all open positions, and offering a range of scholarships to the EnCompass Learning Center. For our staff, we position our annual performance review toward developmental goals, invest in the ongoing professional development of all employees, and provide development benefits and stretch assignments. These practices fall within an appreciative performance management system designed to build on strengths and promote growth.
Build a performance management system oriented to growth and development for all
Most companies have a performance review process that ranks or rates staff against a bell curve that necessitates there can only be a select few “high performers.” The companies then typically reward these stars with a monetary or professional reward to keep them motivated and “high performing.” With this system, there are winners and losers.
At EnCompass, we do our best to hire people passionate about their work and who can add real value based on their strengths and skills. Then we ask them to work collaboratively and supportively in partnership with one another in pursuit of excellence for our clients and our teams. We believe in the contributions of every person and know that we all rise and fall as one. In our company, we conduct performance dialogs, not performance reviews. We don’t rank people or compare them to one another. We talk to each individual to reflect on what they accomplished, what they learned, where development happened, what support they needed, and what else we want to do toward a development path. Our training and discussions related to DEI aim to increase awareness of identity and power and move us toward stronger relationships, trust, and authentic conversations between supervisors and staff and between colleagues. Our talent team members are certified in DEI and serve as a great resource, and we are planning continued and increased investment in this area. Finding fulfillment in the work we do in the world is something we want for everyone at EnCompass. We want to consider what individuals bring and what we can do to support their success while respecting who each person is across their many identities.
Create communities of practice and share resources to help us all be more effective in our work
Just before COVID-19 (thankfully), we migrated our company to a cloud-based O365 collaboration system. We built out an intranet using SharePoint, created Teams for group collaboration on project work and internal ops, and established several formal and informal communities of practice. While we do have designated channels and communities that are focused on DEI, DEI is also a cross-cutting theme across all of our efforts:
- Our leadership regularly invests in company-wide training to support the elimination of racism and more inclusive practices within EnCompass and in our projects/programs that we support around the world.
- We have a DEI Yammer board where staff can share DEI-related tools and resources, but more often than not, we see cross-postings between the DEI board and other boards. Take, for example, the data viz and reporting board, where there is a conversation around inclusive imagery and language. Or on the gender forum board, where staff are often talking about the issues that arise at the intersection of race and gender. On the watercooler board, I regularly see postings about upcoming webinars or workshops that grapple with decolonizing aid (a topic that goes hand in hand with racial discrimination) or “white privilege” baked into a host of topics.
- As we grew, we created multiple outlets for regular communication and open and anonymous spaces for feedback, recognizing that speaking up and giving feedback can be an expectation born of privilege and something that may not be easy for all staff to do. We may not always be able to address every concern, but we know that active listening and an open line of communication are essential in moving us all forward.
- Three years ago, we established an elected Staff Council to enable greater staff participation in informing company decisions and enhance communication and understanding across the company.
Working with clients to increase racial and other kinds of diversity
Just as we are committed to building and implementing these systems and processes internally, we are equally committed to sharing what we know to be good practice with our clients. We have brought our hiring best practices to serve our USAID TOPS ISC contract, where our work is in helping the Agency to identify and engage a diverse pool of exceptional service providers with expertise in climate, natural resources, energy, and infrastructure. While the pool of candidates with these niche qualifications is not traditionally diverse, we have had no shortage of diversity in our applicant pool thanks to our broad network, deep connections, and exceptional talent team members.
USAID consulted our talent team when the Center for Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance (DRG Center) was developing its guidance for staff around hiring. Recognizing EnCompass as a leader in DEI practices, USAID called on our talent team to provide key inputs on the proper process to put in place to support the elimination of bias in hiring. This e-learning shares some of the guidance and thinking that came from those consultations.
Outside of promoting better hiring practices within our client systems, we tackle the issue of bias and racial discrimination across all of our other work. It comes up in our principles-focused evaluation practices, learning and development initiatives, gender and inclusive development work, EnCompass Learning Center offerings, and so much more.
The road ahead
We are a relatively small company, but we have big dreams about the road ahead. On our vision board, we pin at the top a dream of eliminating racial bias and discrimination in all we do. We continue to build out programs and processes for ourselves and our clients that we hope will move us toward our vision. We have shared a few practices we implement internally at EnCompass, and we would love to learn more about what others do as well! Please comment and let us know if your company has a practice that you think is great.
If you are a prospective employee or consultant and came across this blog while looking at our open positions, welcome! We hope this blog has given you some insight into the kind of company we want to be. Take a moment and look around our website. Consider our careers and consulting page, and if there is a role that is the right fit for you, we hope you will apply. If you don’t see anything that suits you now, consider joining our consultant database so that we can find you for future positions.
Join us and let us co-create the brighter future that we all want to see!