Systemic Racism: Removing Barriers in HR

Posted on June 30, 2020


Today’s Morning Buzz is brought to you by Brandi Leos, Sr HR Business Partner at the City of Tigard, Oregon (Twitter and LinkedIn).

What I’m Watching: I Am Not Your Negro by James Baldwin

What I’m Listening To: NYT The Daily Podcast (this one is about police unions)

What I’m Planning: A camping trip to Eastern Oregon’s Wallowa Lake State Park, my first camping trip as an almost-empty-nester

About a year ago, the mayor of our city learned that families renting park shelters were asked if they would be using a pinata at their parties and if they said yes, they were charged a “pinata fee,” which I believe was a $100 deposit to cover clean up after the party. The mayor was distraught by the “pinata fee” because most people who have pinatas at their parties are Latinos and the fee was perceived as racist… I mean, why not call it a cleaning deposit, folks? The mayor charged all staff with finding “100 Pinatas” or 100 things that we’re doing in the city that are unnecessary barriers to access for our community. There was some movement, but probably not to the degree the mayor would have liked.

Enter June 2020.

We are once again tasked with finding things we can do RIGHT NOW to improve services for our underserved communities. Over the past year, our HR department has done a better job at tracking candidate and new hire demographics, we removed the names from job applications and stopped accepting resumes and other attachments, and we started advertising every job on the Partners in Diversity job board. But we can do more. We have been challenged to find new and creative ways to identify and eliminate barriers to employment in our municipality. I wanted to share some of our ideas (none have been implemented yet), ask for your feedback, and learn what you’re doing to eliminate barriers at your place.

  1. Conduct all first interviews via video call. This idea came to me as I was interviewing candidates for a job during the pandemic and saw a man wearing his uniform from his current job. How awesome was this to see that this guy could just take a half hour away from his job, not ask for a day off or make up an excuse, to chat with us about this new job.
  2. Offer tech support and video call practice. My partner at work came up with this one. We both noticed that some people have no clue how to work the technology. So, if you’re going to have video call interviews, let those candidates schedule time with a staffer in advance to try out their tech and get a few tips (headphones, anyone?).
  3. Ask more equity and inclusion questions during interviews. We’ve been trying this for a while but like many DEI initiatives, we’ve been soft pedaling. Let’s ask some direct questions about race, equity, and inclusion to help weed out those who have offensive takes on these topics before they enter the workplace. In our police department we ask directly for the candidate’s opinion on why minority groups might think the police treat them with unfair bias. We need more of that.
  4. Stop asking the “why Tigard” question. If we’ve learned one thing it’s that employee referral is great so long as you’re not exacerbating your diversity problem by hiring the friends of employees who are of the same ethnic makeup as your current employees. We have found that current employees know to talk up our workplace and their friends know exactly why they want to come work for us. How about instead focus on skills and talents and let new employees learn why we’re so great after they get here. Insider knowledge shouldn’t help you land a job in local gov.
  5. Provide candidates some interview tips when you invite them to schedule their interview. I’m borrowing this from our local transit district. We’re not trying to hire the best interviewers, we want the best employees, so why not give them a few tips on how to hold an interview?
  6. Give candidates the questions in advance. This is not a pop quiz and we rarely ask our staff to answer work problems instantly. Give them 20 minutes with the questions to figure out the best stories of their work to demonstrate the skills we’re looking for.
  7. Hold job info sessions on Facebook Live or another platform. Let candidates “meet the manager” and ask questions of HR. I think we’ll advertise for these in advance and try to target our audience. I haven’t flushed this one out completely but I’m excited to give it a go.
  8. Not enough qualified candidates from diverse backgrounds? Don’t close the job. Yes I know this is going to slow down our process, but the proposal is that if a certain percent of the candidates are not of diverse ethnic backgrounds, we should keep the job open a little longer, place a few more ads, and give our pool a chance. I have heard that with just two women in an interview pool, the chances of hiring a woman doubles; the same goes for ethnic minorities.
  9. Offer “office hours” with HR staff to provide assistance and feedback on job applications. A lot of people I know have had help (some from me) on how to complete their application to get it through the HR review process. We know HR is a barrier for a lot of people (and we have our reasons), so let us help you. I’m always happy to help people with their application, but we should let it be known that help is available.
  10. Reduce the size of the panel. I’ll be brutally honest and state that some hiring managers insist on large panels of 10-12 employees (and we’re not talking about a department head position). It’s intimidating. I know because I have interviewed with similar panels. It can be difficult to decide who should and should not be included on a panel and there are probably other creative ways to involve more people in the process. And also the analyst in me thinks these huge panels cost too much (just do a quick hourly analysis).

I’m excited to get to work on implementing some or all of these ideas. I have to remind myself that implementation takes time and we can’t do everything all at once. If you’ve tried any of the ideas above and have some insight, please share! If you have other ideas you’re working on, I would love to hear about them. You can reach me at [email protected] or reach out on Twitter or LinkedIn (links above).

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