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Equity in Hiring Starts with Removing Barriers

Arela Simerson
3 min readApr 18

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Employment barriers are built into our work systems and culture. We see them in all aspects, starting from the job description and hiring process/practices of an organization.

A barrier is any policy, practice, or norm that excludes people based on factors unrelated to the nature of work or merit. Some are clear and intentional forms of discrimination, i.e., not hiring childbearing-aged women who just got married. While others are our conditioning, i.e., requiring references.

Let’s start by looking at the hiring process. What do you think makes a good candidate? Take a moment to pause and reflect on some things which you think make a candidate stand out amongst the others.

For a mid-level role in the US, It might look like this:

-Notable education
-5–7 years experience
-Duration of time at each role (1.5–3 years)
-Progression of responsibilities, roles, and management of others
-Consistent employment with solid or top organizations
-Experience within the same industry
-Strong resume/cover letter outlining their achievements (no typos!)
-Is a referral

In actuality, none of the above ensures a candidate will be great at getting the job done. It’s what we believe because of conditioning — having been rammed into our minds thousands of times by teachers, parents, corporations, etc. Our conditioning is getting in the way of equity at work, reinforcing systems of oppression and limiting us from having dynamic, interesting, and innovative teams.

If our goal is to hire a great candidate, remove bias and hire equitably, then our focus on what makes a good candidate should only consider the following:

-Core need(s) for the team/organization that this role fulfills
-Tasks that are truly non-negotiable for the role
-Core skills/competencies that are needed to complete the above

How the person achieved the competency shouldn’t matter in most cases. For example, if someone is a great naturalist, it shouldn’t matter if they are self-taught or have a science degree. I often get much pushback here, so I’ll give an example.

Most natural science roles require at least a bachelor of science degree. In the US, 24% of 18–24-year-old Native American students are enrolled in college compared to 41% of the overall U.S. population.

Tribal people in areas of natural lands and resources and where nature is an essential part of their communities and laws have eons of learned knowledge and understanding of the natural world. A Western view of education in natural science does not consider this adequate to gain employment in a biologist role. Leaving out the vital Indigenous perspectives, practices, and skills. Resulting in massive loss and severe damage to communities and nature by not centering their expertise and leadership.

While this example is specific to the natural science field, you can easily apply this to most professions. What does an executive assistant or a marketing manager gain from a university degree that learning on the job can’t teach them? How come a self-taught software developer still requires a tech degree?

Those of us in hiring positions have an incredibly important opportunity to consider how our conditioning influences our hiring decisions and how we decide a candidate is suitable.

Here are some of the top things you can eliminate in your hiring process to increase equity and hire excellent people:

Eliminate
-Requiring education, training, or certificates (most roles)
-Asking for references (or preferring referrals)
-Asking any personal questions (or identity questions)
-An application process that takes more than 15 minutes
-Unwritten norms and expectations: thank you notes after interviews, appropriate small talk, physical movements, or how they are dressed
-Requirements for years of experience (too senior/too junior)
-Judging gaps in employment/education

There are so many different types of barriers, which even can be unique to that organization. And there are the systematic ones that I haven’t addressed like:

-Gender
-Race
-Class
-Reliable transportation
-Houselessness
-Toxic stress and/or poverty in childhood
-Disabilities

Many people may have had to leap massive hurdles of systematic oppression in order have even gotten to the point of applying for an entry role at a typical organization.

We can make a difference if we consider a broader view, work to reduce our conditioning, and approach hiring with an equitable focus.

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