Editor’s note: Joan Yabani is the executive administrator and outreach support manager at Smashing Boxes, an app development startup in Durham. Born in Ghana and raised in North Carolina, she graduated from UNC-Charlotte with bachelor’s degrees in political science and international relations. During a design tour with AIGA Raleigh (American Institute of Graphic Arts), she met the Smashing Boxes team. Three years later, she’s leading the company’s diversity and inclusion initiatives while getting active with Black Wall Street, the annual AfroTech Conference and more. This article is part of a diversity and inclusion series that she wrote for Smashing Boxes’ blog.

DURHAM — As Smashing Boxes continues to find ways to be disruptive in our communities, a passion of ours centers around the desire to be a diverse company — both in the business we engage and the talent we hire. “Diversity” and “Inclusion” (D&I) are big buzzwords in the business world lately, and admittedly, when businesses announce their D&I initiatives, it can come across as a shallow effort to appear relevant.

D & I initiatives and programs cannot be successful without organizations doing the real work beneath the surface, i.e culture shifts. At Smashing Boxes, we are dedicated to being intentional and authentic in how we approach our pledge. Diversity can be uncomfortable to address because we have to face how un-diverse we actually are. To help curb some of the discomforts, Smashing Boxes is openly addressing it as a company and taking actionable steps to get better.

As we tackle hiring, here are some steps we have taken to make it a more inclusive process:

Step 1 – What doesn’t work?

Talk about it! Communication is key to growth. Ask current/former employees and leadership to give you feedback on the state of the culture. What could we do better? How can we make you feel safe and accepted? We can’t move forward if we don’t know where to start.

Step 2 – Address the company outward facing employer branding.

How do we portray ourselves to potential candidates (website, brand messaging, images, reviews on Glassdoor, social media interactions, etc.)? Basically, when candidates look at us, do they see themselves? If our outward facing brand continues to revolve around what we currently look like, we will continue to attract the same candidates. We tell potential employees to dress for the job they want, as companies we should present ourselves as the company we want to be.

Step 3 – Proactively reach out to underrepresented candidates.

Who do we align ourselves with to put our company in front of candidates who wouldn’t normally find us or think of us during their job search? We do this by:

  • Going out of our way to meet them where they are: Attend conferences and networking events, partner with alumni associations, and engage with community allies.
  • Diversify where we’re posting jobs listings (sites like Jopwell, etc).
  • Reach out to personal contacts who have access to different demographics than we would, allowing us to source candidates from a different pool.

In addition to proactively reaching out to diverse candidates, let’s come up with a diversity sourcing strategy for every role. Focus less on the holistic company numbers and more on the makeup of the team we’re recruiting for. What does diversity look like on that team? Go after profiles that are underrepresented — the most prevalent demographics currently on that team might differ than across the company or even your industry. This can move across race, gender, education, and even criminal history.

Step 4 – The screening, interview, offer processes: How hiring impacts culture.

It’s also important to create a recruiting experience that’s comfortable and accessible to all. We need to find ways to set all people up for success. To that end, we are:

  • Standardizing interview questions ahead of time for each role.
  • Moving away from trying to find individuals who “fit” exactly into our culture and move to people who add to the culture.

This is the most important step: Do not send a single evaluation or set up a single screen call until the position being hired for has a diverse candidate pool to choose from. Yes, this will take more time, but if we are going to be serious about hiring diverse candidates — we have to understand that we are not the most accessible to those types of candidates. Due to that fact, sourcing those candidates and expanding our reach becomes very important. This will also force us to start prepping for new positions earlier than we normally would, allowing us to be intentional and authentic about our pledge to diversity and inclusion.

Step 5 – Define “success” by creating diversity recruiting KPIs: Where are we now and where do we want to be?

Tangible data helps give a better picture of success than “feeling” like we are improving. First things first, where are we? Conducting an audit and having data of our start point, gives us a great foundation to build upon:

  • % of women and men in the company
  • Out of the gender stats — How racially diverse are we?
  • Pay Audit: Race + Gender taken into account first, is our pay equal across those lines?
  • Company-wide surveys: How do our current employees feel?

Now, where do we want to be?

  • What are our goals?
  • % increase in quantifiable statistics
  • Amount and improvement of Glassdoor reviews
  • Company-wide survey rating
  • We look at the number of hires for which we implemented a diversity sourcing tactic and divide that by overall hires per quarter — This helps us assess our success in diversity hiring.

Step 6 – Presenting D& I data and findings

Some people may be shocked and uncomfortable with the numbers because they can be very telling of the inequality or unhappiness within the organization. It’s important to present these findings in a safe space and prepare leadership and employees for these emotions. It is going to make some people feel awkward or uncomfortable, but discomfort drives us to change. At Smashing Boxes, our goal is to create a “safe space” culture where vulnerability is honored and celebrated.

To summarize, becoming a company whose culture embodies Diversity & Inclusion doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s hard, but necessary, work. What are you doing as a company to transform your culture? What has worked or not worked for you in the past? The fastest path to change is often to learn from the successes, and mistakes, of others. Let’s keep this critical conversation going.