On Our Minds

Working with so many organizations across multiple issue areas gives us a unique view into what’s happening in the social sector. This is where we share our insights and ruminations.
Yahira Cruz works with colleagues in the On-Ramps office.
Unpacking accessibility: How hiring teams can do better

by Yahira Cruz (she/her)

A few weeks ago, one of my colleagues shared an interesting, ongoing Twitter conversation with me. It began with: 

"A job that I interviewed for a month ago selected another candidate. 

This afternoon, I received an email from them asking for my information so they can send me a stipend of $150 for all the time that I put into my application, interview process, and final stage project."

My initial reaction to the tweet was: how great is this? In the world of executive search, monetary compensation for candidates is a rarely used recruiting tool. Often, hiring managers and the recruiters that guide them make assumptions about a candidate’s ability to meaningfully participate in the hiring process without taking into account the many life disruptions that looking for a new role can create. In your search for a new job, you may need to factor in extra costs and time just to make room for an interview. It’s easy for hiring teams to forget that looking for a new role requires a significant investment of time and resources on the part of the candidate. And often this investment by candidates is not only overlooked, but also accepted as the status quo.

Changing the tides of the status quo is like swimming against the currents. Even in conversations with my colleagues about the tweet, the immediate reaction was to frame a response in terms of operational feasibility and efficacy. We wondered if it was our place to require that our partner organizations compensate candidates—and if so, how much is fair? How would candidate compensation impact an organization’s operational budget? These are important questions to consider and discuss as we continue to bring inclusivity to the forefront of how we run talent processes. But these are also questions best suited for an organization’s C-Suite and legal team. 

As recruiting partners to social sector organizations, the operational application of candidate compensation is not, in my opinion, where our thought partnership should lie. To focus on compensation alone misses the broader issue that this tweet highlighted to me: that the ability of candidates to invest in finding a new professional home brings to the forefront the issues of accessibility—or in some cases inaccessibility—and of privilege. 

My colleagues and I have talked about how it is critical that we, as thought partners, push the thinking and actions of our hiring managers. We must challenge the tenets of white supremacy culture that show up time and again in hiring processes. We must hold our hiring managers accountable to their stated commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion—which includes  their commitment to be called out if their process creates unnecessary, hindering barriers. Let’s explore for a moment how accessibility and privilege plays out in our work, and what we can do to ensure that we’re checking our biases and holding ourselves accountable. 

On accessibility

The act of looking for a job doesn’t happen in a vacuum. A candidate’s ability to meaningfully engage and participate in the job market requires a significant investment of time and resources, which are often not universally accessible to all candidates. Here are just some of the barriers candidates can face in conducting their job search:

  • Do they have the ability to take paid—or even unpaid—time off in order to interview? 
  • Can they cover the costs of work attire, travel, and similar expenses? 
  • Can they find a care provider for their children, parents, or other family members while they’re away?
  • Are employers making reasonable accommodations for an interview (i.e. a quiet space with minimal distractions)? 
  • Do they have access to proper technology such as a computer, webcam, printer, or reliable Internet connection?

To run a truly inclusive process, we must recognize that these inequities are reflective of greater societal inequities. We must also recognize that we bring different perspectives reflective of the skin we’re in and our lived experience. To ensure that we consider these different perspectives and views, here are some things we as recruiters and hiring managers can do to make the process more accessible, equitable, and fair: 

  • Ask candidates what they need.  Placing the burden on candidates to ask for things they need in order to meaningfully participate in the search process perpetuates an imbalanced power structure. Recruiters and hiring managers must demonstrate upfront that candidates can advocate for their needs without worrying that they’ve positioned themselves at a disadvantage.
  • Make reasonable accommodations. As outlined by the EEOC, it is our responsibility to make any adjustment to a job or work environment that ensures all willing, able, and qualified candidates are able to participate in a process. One way we can do that accessibility is, giving candidates extra time for the completion of a work product so that it considers the neurodiversity of a candidate pool. 
  • Adapt to the times. Until a few months ago, the very idea of running a 100% virtual search process was deemed “impossible.” Now, virtual meetings are commonplace, and organizations who once bristled at fully virtual processes to assess candidates’ skills and cultural alignment have embraced technology in the recruiting process. Leveraging other reasonable tools and means to carry out a hiring process should not be prompted by a global pandemic. Hiring managers should lean into creative ways to assess talent that allow for flexibility and take into account the multitude of lived experiences within the candidate pool. 
  • Pay candidates. There is no set framework for how best to implement this approach. It is going to look different for each industry, organization, and job. But it is undeniable that a substantial amount of resources are spent by prospective job seekers. It would be unfair to rule out the possibility of compensating candidates if that’s an option your organization can support.  

On privilege

To further approach a recruiting process with inclusivity and accessibility, empathy is a prerequisite. Often this means that we as recruiters and hiring managers must take a step back from our own positions of privilege. It is incumbent on us to recognize not just the barriers candidates face, but also the way power structures show up in the recruiting process—many of which unevenly, and routinely, benefit the employer. 

Ask yourself these questions as you and your team get ready to hire:

  • Check like-me bias. What assumptions are you making of candidates? Are you over indexing on a lived experience because it resonates with your own background (e.g. a college attended, a former job)? 
  • Check accessibility. Are you making reasonable accommodations that give all qualified candidates a fair shot at applying and participating in your search process?
  • Check role parameters. Are you differentiating between nice-to-have and must-have skill sets? Are you ensuring that you’re not requiring experiences or degrees that are not needed to successfully carry out the functions of the role? 
  • Check outside your network. Where are you posting the job opening? Are you ensuring that the opening is posted across various job boards and  listservs? Is the open position is viewable and accessible to all, in an effort to  increase the diversity of your candidate pool?  

These questions are a good starting point, but there are certainly many more you can—and should—ask yourself in preparation for a role going to market. You should also be aware of the other ways you can better balance the scale of power:

  • Share the compensation range. Often, an organization knows the monetary value of the role they’re recruiting for before they know the compensation expectations of prospective candidates. Women and people of color continue to face pay discrimination and often undervalue their own worth when asked for their compensation target. Instead of having candidates give you a target number, share with them what the range is upfront and whether that number is in line with their expectations.
  • Be transparent. Recruiting candidates is not a transactional activity. You are not simply asking candidates to switch jobs, but to significantly change their livelihood. As such, recruiters and hiring managers need to be thoughtful and open. Give candidates an overview of what to expect in the process and a true depiction of what they’d be walking into if they accept the role. Allow them to ask probing questions. Most importantly, do not bury that truth. By leaning into transparency and acknowledging both the clear challenges and opportunities in a role, candidates can better consider the opportunity in front of them. If they decide to pursue the role, having a full picture heading into conversations with hiring managers sets them both up for long-term success. 
  • Close the loop. I don’t know when ghosting candidates became en vogue, but it is by far one of the worst trends in executive recruiting. Imagine going through rounds of assessments and completing projects, only to be dropped into a recruiting abyss where you never hear back from the hiring team. That’s incredibly disheartening, and it’s far too common. Prospective candidates significantly invest their time, and it’s our job to acknowledge that investment. So even if a candidate does not move forward to additional assessments, let them know.  

Where we go from here

The truth is that these conversations never lead us to a tidy conclusion. They are still important because they help challenge our preconceived notions and make clear that there is no one solution, but rather many different possibilities we can employ. 

Leading inclusive, equitable, accessible, and fair recruiting processes is active, continuous work. It requires empathy, vulnerability, and the ability to see others’ perspectives. It is also necessary work that we must carry out in order to dismantle inequity and unlearn rooted behavior. This will enable us to build bigger, more inclusive tables that extend opportunities to those without historical access. After all, it is core to our belief at On-Ramps that social change happens when people with a wide range of backgrounds, experiences, and identities come together with common purpose.