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Beyond Branding: Intersectional Hiring

Can a tech start-up build a culture of diversity from the ground-up without a huge team of D&I specialists? As a growing scale-up company we believe the answer is a definitive yes.  

At Identitii we have written our own playbook without any constraints or preconceptions of what workplace diversity should be. This authentic and open approach resulted in Identitii being awarded Best Workplace Diversity at the 2019 FinTech Australia Awards recently.  

 Intersectionality  

As I covered in my last blog, intersectionality is at the heart of Identitii’s diversity and inclusion strategy.  

Intersectionality applies a wider lens to diversity and moves beyond gender as the sole means of measuring workplace diversity. Intersectionality places importance on how various social strata, such as socioeconomic background, education, disability, mental health, age, gender, ethnicity, and sexuality intersect to shape a person’s opportunities, experience and overall identity.  

Putting Intersectionality into Practice 

Upon joining Identitii in October 2018 the first pillar of the people operations function I focused on adapting was talent acquisition. 

Two of my most essential hiring philosophies are to hire talent over experience and to hire for values-fit over culture-fit. Intersectionality offers a framework to put these hiring philosophies into practice.  

I have always been interested in finding and nurturing talented people who may not have trodden the traditional path, or perhaps do not fit with the prevailing corporate criteria for success. To this end, Identitii does not use any educational criteria as part of the candidate selection process.  

 Sound radical? EY removed academic criteria from their selection criteria four years ago, as there is simply no evidence that correlates higher education with future success or competency in the workplace.  

The recent US college admissions scandal is further evidence that a top-tier (or, perhaps, top dollar) education is not always a guaranteed indicator of talent, skill, or ability.

I am not for a moment suggesting that there is no benefit to education. Rather, I am suggesting that a person can be talented, intelligent and highly-skilled without a degree. There are myriad reasons why people do not, or cannot, attend university. This approach simply widens the lens once again to include a greater cross-section of people and removes educational and socioeconomic bias from the hiring process. 

In a cutting-edge industry such as technology, skills like adaptability, problem-solving, logic, critical thinking, continuous learning, and initiative take precedence over formal qualifications. In the rapidly evolving tech space, many of the finest candidates are autodidacts. Furthermore, with the increasing cost of university, more and more young adults are opting out and choosing a new path into the industry. We should not discount anyone because they could not afford university, or because they chose another path. 

The Culture Fit Trap  

Rather insidiously, culture-fit can often morph into hiring in one’s own image or attempting to clone a particular type. Inexperienced interviewers are particularly at risk of this and can rely on ineffective, or even unethical, interview and selection techniques. This is not surprising. Recruitment, especially interviewing, is incredibly hard to do well and it is easy to default to hiring people who look, sound, and think the same way we do. 

This is not culture-fit, it’s homogeneity. To get things done and move forward, especially in cutting-edge technology, genuine diversity is crucial. 

The Identitii interview process is rigorous without attempting to clone specific personality or background traits of the existing team. We do not use any type of personality testing, such as the unscientific and widely debunked Myers-Briggs, as part of our selection process.  

Our interview panels are diverse in terms of seniority, role, gender and ethnicity/background. We discuss experience and skills, rather than educational background and qualifications, and we focus on solving real engineering or business problems in our interviews, rather than posing esoteric puzzles to our interviewees. 

Every candidate that passes through our door is given a full tour of the office and is encouraged to ask us questions. I love tricky questions best of all – challenge us! If we make someone an offer to join the team, they are given the opportunity to meet the whole team in an informal capacity before they decide if Identitii is the place for them. Too often, interviewees are expected to make a decision on a role without having met their future team.  

To build a high-performing, diverse team the hiring process must be a genuinely two-way street. 

Looking Ahead  

The above is just a small selection of the work we are doing, and we are still only a short way into our journey as a scale-up FinTech. 

There is no time to stop and pat ourselves on the back about our diversity philosophy. On the contrary, the only way to walk-the-walk on diversity and inclusion is to continuously challenge the status quo and keep pushing for better.  

Much of the work involved in promoting true diversity is not expensive. The changes we have made at Identitii take precisely zero dollars of budget to implement. The most important change to make is one of mindset, and that doesn’t cost a cent.  

Layla Bates

Layla Bates is Identitii’s Head of People and Culture. She joined the company in 2018 and is based in Sydney.

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