Diverse teams are 35% more productive, especially when they’re inclusive. Yet many organizations, particularly startups that rely on personal connections to flesh out their teams, end up with a team that shares the same gender, race, age, and ability.
Mailshake, an email automation company, came up against that exact issue. After building their company for four years they realized that it was mostly white males. They wanted a diverse team — not just because it’s the right thing to do but also because they knew it would help them grow Mailshake from startup to thriving business.
Just by changing a few small aspects of their hiring process, Mailshake improved diversity in two major ways:
- Half their executive team is non-white.
- They have 17% more female engineering applicants.
They also benefited from:
- Increased employee engagement and job satisfaction
- Better decision-making and performance
- Stronger employee retention
Let’s take a look at how they improved their demographic mix and hired more women engineers.
Mailshake’s 10-person team lacked diversity
Mailshake co-founder Sujan Patel has Indian heritage, but he grew up in southern California. So diversity was at the core of his existence. It wasn’t something he consciously considered when he co-founded Mailshake.
“We didn’t think about diversity in hiring [early on], we just needed roles filled.”
Like any other startup, Mailshake was hustling to keep their business running, serve their customers, and grow their team. But after four years, Sujan made a realization: Mailshake’s team included 10 men and one woman. And, except for Sujan, all of them were white.
“We looked around the room and it wasn’t diverse enough. We all felt like, ‘what the heck?’”
Sujan’s takeaway? Diverse organizations aren’t built accidentally.
A conscious effort to make Mailshake more diverse
Sujan and Mailshake’s CTO, Dave Donaldson knew they wanted a more diverse organization. They also knew they wanted to start with engineering because that was where they were having the most difficulty sourcing diverse candidates, especially women.
“When you look at your own company-wide Zoom calls and see mostly white males, you realize pretty quickly that you have to do better. More diverse employees leads to other perspectives and experiences, which leads to building better products, and ultimately a better company.”
They came face-to-face with the fact that not only was their team missing female engineers, but women are underrepresented within engineering overall. Women make up only 15% of the engineering workforce in the United States.
Women also apply to 20% fewer jobs than men do because they self-screen. If they don’t meet all the criteria in a job description, they don’t apply. Women are also less likely to reach out for a referral from someone at the company.
Sujan understood that in order to make Mailshake a more diverse and inclusive workplace they had to change the hiring process.
Mailshake’s leadership team also wanted to be an example of how other organizations could become diverse and inclusive without having to adopt complex and resource-intensive diversity initiatives. It was time to get to work.
Sourcing applicants in alternative ways
Not paying attention to diversity, got them to a nearly all-white, all-male team. So if they wanted to do better than the industry averages and introduce more gender diversity into engineering roles, they had to make a conscious effort to find applicants from a variety of backgrounds.
“We had a pipeline problem. Not enough women were applying for engineering roles.”
Mailshake’s solution: post their job openings on sites that support women and marginalized workers. Some of their first options were:
These platforms and other job boards helped Mailshake fix their pipeline problem. In fact, niche job boards were so effective, Sujan and his wife decided to start their own. Kickstart Careers helps women to find jobs from top tech companies.
But before they could advertise to a more diverse pool of candidates, Mailshake needed job postings that would attract diverse talent.
Auditing job descriptions for gendered language
Sujan and his team found that Mailshake’s job descriptions had language with a masculine bias. For example, their job descriptions would include masculine language like “you must have a strong background in…” rather than “have a working knowledge in…” This would stunt all their efforts from using diverse job boards as non-male candidates could be put off by the language.
To solve this problem, Sujan tasked a female copywriter to review and edit their job descriptions. She coached Mailshake’s team on how to write more neutral job descriptions. Additionally, they would circulate the posting around to their team (especially to other female employees) and get their feedback. The result was job descriptions without gendered bias.
Removing unnecessary requirements
In addition to adjusting the language of their job descriptions, Mailshake removed any skills requirements that weren’t truly necessary for someone to succeed in the position. Sujan didn’t want to risk losing high-quality candidates because they were asking for skills their engineers didn’t need.
To trim their job descriptions to the essentials, they started with a wishlist of skills for the open position. Then, they would cross out all the nice-to-haves so they were left with only 3-5 of the most essential skills and experiences.
Sujan says they weren’t making their job requirements more lenient; they were being more honest about what they actually needed.
Sharing your DEIB efforts publicly
Mailshake also adds their updated commitment to diversity to all their job postings.
“It isn’t a canned PR blurb. D&I is critical to us at Mailshake. The paragraph [at the bottom of the job description] sums up what we changed about our hiring practices.”
Removing unconscious biases during the interview process
Generally, people’s intentions regarding their hiring practices are not bad. However, unconscious biases are hard to spot until their effects are obvious. For instance, an all-white leadership team.
For that reason, Mailshake decided to practice blind recruitment so candidates receive objective feedback based only on their skills and qualifications.
When applicants pass their first-round interview, the Mailshake team removes personal information from their applications. Then the rest of the team reviews the candidates. This gives them more diversity of opinion and eliminates the inherent biases we have based on someone’s name, gender, or location. When biases would sneak in, team members would call it out.
Since Mailshake was a smaller organization at the time they could self sensor, but as organizations grow it becomes more difficult without having guardrails to guard against bias in recruiting practices.
👀 Check out 4 Easy Ways to Build a More Diverse Workplace for more.
Mentors support new employees
Mentorships are critical to driving diversity and inclusion. A mentor gives employees guidance that is crucial to their continued professional development, such as:
- Exposure to new ideas
- Support from those with lived experience
- Training for reskilling and upskilling
- A sense of belonging and inclusion
Diverse mentorship programs have added benefits for your organization as well:
- An infusion of new ideas
- A culture of learning and growth
- An inclusive workplace
- Strategic alignment with DEIB programs
- Employee engagement and retention
To get the most benefit from your mentoring program, don’t just match up people based on career experience and professional ability. Look at the more “soft” aspects of mentorship too, such as personality traits, career goals, and learning styles. This will ensure you get ideal mentor-mentee pairings.
Mailshake increased diversity in just 3 weeks
Sujan says Mailshake is focused on changing slowly but sustainably. That’s why they started with the hiring process.
“The problem of diversity and inclusion in the workplace is so big that it deters people from starting. In fact, the problem was much more simple than we thought.”
Female applicants increased 25%
Through diversifying where they find new applicants, removing bias, using neutral language, and providing mentorship opportunities to all employees, Mailshake increased the number of women applying to engineering jobs by 25%.
“We spent three weeks and tripled the diversity in our candidates.”
Better hiring across all roles
Next, Mailshake aimed for more diversity in its sales roles, using the same recruiting process. It’s helped them scale their DEIB efforts and reproduce the results.
“It’s not solved, but we have a process. This process helps us write better job descriptions, place applicants in the right places, and interview them without bias. These simple efforts help to level the playing field throughout our organization.”
Mailshake continues to diversify
Sujan’s advice to other businesses building diverse and inclusive organizations is to not think about solving the whole problem but just get started in one area and branch out from there. In doing so, you’ll quickly make a difference that your teams and employees notice.
As Alessandra Colaci, VP of Marketing at Mailshake puts it:
“The moment I realized how Mailshake truly has made an impact on diversity is when I was describing the company to a friend. I mentioned the actions the leadership team takes to increase diversity and it was like a breath of fresh air talking about how different the culture felt compared to other companies I’ve worked for. What has made a difference is specific actionable steps and a process to follow when hiring at Mailshake.”