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.
LGBTQ+ allyship and recruiting
In conversation with On-Ramps: LGBTQ+ allyship and recruiting

by Emani Inoa (he/him), Suzy Cintron (she/her), Imani Doyle (she/her), and Rob Mayer (he/him)

“In conversation with On-Ramps'' is a series that captures our discussions as we sort through issues facing today’s social sector hiring managers. In this edition, in honor of Pride month, Emani Inoa (he/him), search analyst, moderates a discussion on LGBTQ+ recruiting-related topics. Participants: Suzy Cintron (she/her), search analyst; Imani Doyle (she/her), search associate; and Rob Mayer (he/him), partner. All are members of the LGBTQ+ community.


Emani: I’m excited to dive into this important conversation with you all!  My first question is: As a recruiter what does it mean to show up for candidates that are part of the LGBTQ+ community? 

Suzy: As a recruiter, I really see myself as the mediator, as a bridge between a candidate and a hiring manager. Whether you’re an agency recruiter or an in-house recruiter, being an ally means really having empathy and using that to guide the candidate experience. And it is not only on me to create a really warm inclusive process, but my role is also to hold the hiring manager to the same standard. They need to be super mindful of how they show up in a conversation and ultimately of the candidate's experience with their company. 

Emani: I agree. Part of my role as a recruiter is to figure out what is best for my candidate and to present that to the client. It’s very important for me to build relationships with candidates and understand their full identity. Then I can better advocate for them so that they feel empowered throughout the search process.

Rob: I can offer a specific example. I advocated for a candidate who identified as both BIPOC and a member of the LGBTQ community. I remember he wore a scarf to his interview and held coffee when he was talking with the team. Afterward, the hiring manager said something like, "You know, I just didn't get the sense, Rob, that he was a real leader." Knowing how the candidate had identified across many lines of difference, I immediately knew I had to really unpack the client’s comments and challenge their assumptions. 

I started by asking the hiring manager, “How are you defining leadership here? What specifically made you think that?” And that's when the examples of how the candidate held his coffee and what he was wearing came into the conversation. I guided the hiring manager to really examine their bias about what a leader looks like, and then I re-emphasized that focusing on a candidate’s alignment with the position’s core competencies is not only the path to successful hiring, but also absolutely essential to creating a more equitable recruiting process and, ultimately, company culture. It was definitely one of the more challenging moments I’ve had as a recruiter, but I’m glad I had the opportunity to step up for the candidate—and in doing so, for the client too.

And that’s what partnering with On-Ramps looks like. When they hire us, our clients commit to engaging in a process grounded in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion. And that means we hold them accountable when they veer from it. 

Imani: I couldn’t agree more, Rob. I also always believe in getting competency-based feedback, because so much of hiring has been grounded, for so many years—too many years—in just human instinct and gut feelings, and that leaves the door wide open to a lot of bias. So, anytime I can say, “Okay, thanks for sharing, but can you tell me specifically what did this person say to bring you to this conclusion,” I can help the client see their bias and steer them back to what really matters—core competencies.

Another way I’ve supported LGBTQ+ candidates is by being transparent with them in situations where I can tell they would be stepping into a space that would not be welcoming to their full identity. For example, we completed a search where a client demonstrated their lack of practice using “they/them” pronouns. Though the candidate shared their comfort with using “she/her” pronouns in a professional setting, this moment signaled to us as a search team to pay closer attention to how bias might show up in decision-making. This encouraged us to ask probing questions on what inclusivity and diversity meant in the context of this specific organization so we can get a better understanding of those nuances to communicate those intentions to our candidates so they can make the choice that suits them best. 

Rob: I agree it’s very important to be transparent with the candidate about what they’re walking into so they can decide whether or not they want to take on the challenge of a particular situation and assess whether it is a position that sets them up for success.

Emani: That’s such a good point, Imani and Rob. And it brings up another question I want to ask the group: How can recruiters assess whether a company's culture is LGBTQ+ inclusive?

Suzy: I think recruiters should be proactive. Let’s not wait until a queer candidate comes into the process before we broach the subject with our clients and hiring managers. It’s really on us when we’re talking about inclusion to model it early on in the development conversations.

With some hiring managers, I’ve noticed an awkward tension or a veil of silence once a hiring manager finds out that a candidate is queer or when a candidate talks about their own identity. If this happens, it can feel like the company is not LGBTQ+ inclusive. Nothing is more jarring to a candidate than having the conversation suddenly become stilted when they’ve revealed something personal about themselves. And this is where we really need to advise our hiring managers to lean in and continue to engage and learn more about the candidate—not in the sense of asking probing questions, but simply by keeping the conversation going. That says the company is a place where you can share who you really are without awkwardness. 

Emani: Thank you, Suzy! One way I explore how LGBTQ+ inclusive an organization’s policies are is by reviewing their benefits. For example, what does parental leave look like? Is it equal across genders? Does their medical coverage include gender-affirming care? Also, I’m curious how a company genders or imposes dress codes.  

Rob: I agree and I love your points on benefits. I think that's a key place to ask about—especially for trans inclusion. When we're talking about benefits, we can help candidates identify inclusive companies by probing around trans inclusion in healthcare.

Another thing I look at are staff bios and email signatures to see whether gender pronouns are included. Also, I notice how people talk about themselves and their families in their bios. Are they bringing their full selves to work? Do they feel comfortable mentioning their spouses or families?

I want to point out, too, that thanks to some of the work of our DEI working group, we’ve changed our job descriptions to not be gendered and to not make assumptions in terms of how we describe roles that might appeal to genders differently. And in our write-ups of candidates for hiring managers, we don’t use gendered pronouns unless the candidate has disclosed them to us.

Emani: These are all great points—and useful tips for LGBTQ+ candidates. Definitely look at how the organization describes their commitment, in words and action, to inclusivity. This actually reminds me of a previous blog post we’ve shared on assessing company culture for their DEI commitments.

We've also had conversations about the ways in which background checks can unfairly impact candidates' job search experiences. We are very transparent about what could be flagged, and the third-party company we use will not do them without the candidate’s authorization. Candidates also have access to a copy of the final report.

Rob: To expand on that, companies, including On-Ramps, are also doing social media checks on people. When we started implementing that practice, I was really concerned about the potential impact on candidates who are members of the queer community. Media filters might flag a candidate for having sexually explicit content on their social media. But we know those filters are sometimes biased, so we asked the firm that does our social media screening not to report on that. 

Emani: Suzy, Imani, are there other ways in which you’ve seen an organization model LGBTQ+ inclusive policies or interactions?

Imani: Mission and culture is a core competency that we evaluate for in all of our searches with all of our candidates. That culture alignment needs to happen for both parties. By being transparent and empathetic in our communications, we are able to ensure that everyone has the information they need, clients and candidates alike, to make the decision in their best interest. We aim to place candidates that want to stay in the position for a long period of time. By having honest conversations with clients and calling out problematic behavior or discussing observations made by our candidates and candidly answering their questions, we are that much closer to making an authentic connection. 

Suzy: In my own experience when I was looking for a new role and thinking about my identity, having interviewers who not only advocated for me and took a deep interest in me but who also showed their authentic selves was important. When they were open, I felt comfortable sharing about myself, too. And then I knew I could come to work and have folks just see me, understand, accept, and keep moving. 

Emani: Let’s close with this final question. What is something you’d like to share with organizations or the broader recruitment community about LGBTQ+ inclusivity?

Imani: Self-awareness goes a long way. We're all on our own journeys, we are all learning, and sometimes we'll get things wrong. But as long as that is seen as an opportunity to learn how to do things differently and better for next time, we're on the right path. That being said, it takes effort. And as recruiters, we owe that time, effort, empathy, and accountability to anyone we interact with, especially marginalized communities.

Suzy: I think routine reflection, accountability, and learning—whether you’re part of the LGBTQ+ community or an outside ally—will help us all guide hiring managers and advocate for queer candidates.

Emani: Those are really great points. They prompt me to add a final suggestion for straight and cisgender recruiters or recruiters who may not have the same knowledge or the vocabulary that we might have as members of the community: Actively learn about these topics—about the needs and perspectives of LGBTQ+ candidates, about how to create a more equitable and inclusive process and culture. And don’t always lean on folks of the community to teach you. Do you know why it’s important to put pronouns in your bios? There are lots of great resources out there that can tell you why. Educating yourself is a really great place for straight and cisgender recruiters to start.