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Building a Diverse and Inclusive Workplace Begins with an Equity-Centered Job Description

By Maribel Duran, Leadership and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Advisor

The year 2020 will be remembered as one of the most racially divisive and socially fractured years in modern history. In order for America to live up to its promise, we will need to collectively commit to the necessary work of addressing its historical inequities and willful injustices. To build on the stalled progress experienced by Black Americans in social mobility, educational outcomes, homeownership, political representation, and more, writer Shaylyn Romney Garrett and political scientist Robert D. Putnam shared that we must “aim for a higher summit by being fully inclusive, fully egalitarian and genuinely accommodating of difference. Anything less will fall victim once again to its own internal inconsistencies.” This work begins with ensuring all governing institutions, including Congress, embrace the responsibility to truly advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging across their places of work. As the most diverse in history, with a record number of women and LGBTQ people, as well as a high number of racial minorities, the 117th Congress is poised to lead the way. According to the newly published Racial Diversity Among Top Staff In Senate Offices, “Capitol Hill will soon welcome up to 192 staff in top positions.” While people of color make up 40 percent of the U.S. population with trends pointing to growing projections in the coming years, only 11 percent of all Senate personnel office top staff are people of color. Congressional leaders can make significant strides towards hiring more diverse teams to advance their legislative agendas.

We know that “diversity by itself is not enough” — we need to co-create teams and environments that are inclusive and encourage people to be all of who they are, helping provide a sense of belonging throughout an employee’s experience. We need to prioritize hiring less “traditional voices, and address biases baked into hiring processes.” It is also imperative that we are deeply committed to values-based leadership, continuous learning and improvement, and embrace different working styles. It means that we regularly assess priorities based on constituent needs, not what is politically correct or convenient. It may sound overwhelming, and that is because committing to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging is not meant to be a simple fix. It is a system reengineering with various moving pieces that strives to change behaviors.

You start by developing equity-centered job descriptions to recruit and attract more diverse talent. The “copying and pasting” job description days are over. Building a talented and diverse team requires a thoughtful, equity-centered job description with inclusive language that accurately reflects what the hiring manager and team need. Roles and responsibilities evolve, as does the landscape of the work and priorities, given our ever-changing and uncertain world. It is especially important to be clear about what is important and focusing on the specific skills before beginning the recruitment and interview process. This is essential for congressional hiring managers, as they may have more flexibility with titling and job responsibilities. As managers begin to recruit for open positions, below are three key steps for developing equity-centered job descriptions:

1. Reflect and Assess. Ask yourself what you need now and what you will need in 12-18 months. Whether this is a new role or a role you need to refill, this is an opportunity to openly discuss with your team and/or the outgoing staff member what functions, key responsibilities, and projects are needed and will advance the overall goals and priorities of the collective. If applicable, interview the outgoing staffer and openly discuss what worked and what didn’t work. Ask for recommendations and feedback to assess if any of the core responsibilities, reporting structures, or elements of the work environment need to be adjusted to ensure the success of the incoming staff member. Pro-tip: Managers and staff should regularly review (every 6-12 months) the job description to ensure their day-to-day responsibilities are accurately reflected in their job description. Should the staff member transition to a new role or leave the office, this practice can minimize the development of a new job description.

2. Develop an equity-centered job description. At best, job descriptions can hint at an organization’s culture and signal an actual requirement versus a “desire.” They don’t have to be a “catch-all” shorter is better.

  • Key Responsibilities: What is the staffer ultimately responsible for? What projects and functions will this staffer lead and/or support? Be clear about each. What are the expected accomplishments? What does success look like?

  • Key Skills and Competencies: How will the staffer achieve success? What are the enabling attributes required to excel in this role? When reviewing previous job experience, focus on how they achieved success versus the titles they held. Eliminate a degree requirement, particularly for early-career or entry-level positions. If the position does require advanced education, consider expanding educational requirements to include two-year degrees, since community college students are typically older, more racially diverse, likely to attend part-time, and have family responsibilities. Pro-tip: Research shows that job postings often require previous internship experience on the Hill; however, it is critical to address the significant barriers to diversity in these roles as well. For example, women, Black, Latino, and first-generation students are less likely to have an internship, let alone a paid internship. Be flexible on this requirement. Probe a candidate’s abilities and do not automatically dismiss applications if this experience is lacking.

  • Values and Culture: Has the team co-created values? What are the spoken and unspoken behaviors and practices of the team and manager? What are the non-negotiables? This is as important as the actual responsibilities of the role. What matters is how the team eventually comes together to get the work done in service of the greater good.

  • Inclusive Language: Avoid gender-biased language. Include an explicit expectation that this roleand every team memberis committed to creating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive working environment and integrate these principles in all they do.

  • Salary: Include salary bands and include whether salary is negotiable. Research shows that this can be an effective approach to narrowing the gender gap in job applications. The recently released Building and Maintaining a Diverse and Inclusive Congressional Office is another resource to approach pay band transparency in a congressional office.

3. Share and Receive Feedback: Share the draft job description for review and feedback from team members who will work with the incoming staffer. When possible, and especially if pressed with time, create a shared document where staffers can review and contribute simultaneously. This part of the process is key, as it reinforces transparency and creates an inclusive work environment where any one team member’s success is supported by the rest of the team. The inclusion begins when the job description is drafted and should continue through candidate selection and onboarding.

An equity-centered and inclusive job description will bring in the right candidates and, hopefully, a more diverse slate to review (here’s a great example by Offor, a Black woman-led talent search firm). Getting diverse talent in the door with a solid job description is key, showing up with honesty and authenticity throughout the interviewing process is equally important, and ensuring the organization’s values are lived throughout is paramount.

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