Venkat Subramanian

All Productivity Systems Boil Down to These 4 Principles


When it comes to productivity systems, everyone has one that:

  • Used to work for them
  • Has been working for the last 24 hours
  • Sounds like it would work
  • Never works

However, with new productivity books coming out all the time, how are you supposed to keep track of all of them? Do you need to use a branded journal? Do you need a special app? Do you need to buy a training program to help your team get more done?

Leaders are especially notorious for finding what they think is the best productivity system in the world, sending it to everyone on the team, and then wondering why not everyone is as excited as you are. 

We go through phases. Is everyone practicing GTD? What’s your frog today? How could we forget our Pomodoro timers!

The good news is that most productivity gurus are all saying the same thing, so you don’t need to do deep research on every trend that comes up. Instead of forcing new productivity systems on your team, start with the basics. 


The four pillars of productivity

All the productivity systems out there fit into one of these principles:

  • Task management – a way to collect and organize all the stuff you have to do
  • Prioritization – a way to decide what you do first
  • Time management – a way to structure your day so that you get the most important things done
  • Focus – a way to reduce distractions and accomplish your goals 

That’s it. Everything falls under one of these. If you and your team have a solid plan for how to do each of the pillars, you will be well on your way to being extremely productive. 

Now, here are some of the most popular productivity systems out there and see how they fall into the productivity principles. 


Pillar 1: Task management

The heart of task management is David Allen’s adage: your mind is for having ideas, not holding them. There are a limited number of things you can hold in your brain at one time, so you need a way to organize ideas and tasks as they spill over. 

When you record your tasks somewhere else, you can rest easy knowing that you aren’t forgetting to do something. Your anxiety can be better directed towards the number of things you have to get done, rather than on remembering what to do :-). 

Here are some common productivity systems that fall in this category:

Getting things done

GTD or Getting Things Done is a framework introduced by David Allen in his book of the same name. It starts with brainstorming and capturing ideas in a notepad or an online tool. Every time an idea pops into your head, you make a note of it. 

With GTD, you break down big tasks into the smallest possible next step so that your tasks are very actionable. GTD also gives you an algorithm to process your tasks and organize them into things that need to be done sooner or later. You provide context for every task so that you don’t have to start from zero when it’s time to work on it. 

Kanban

Kanban boards were originally used as a tool for project management, but it turns out they are pretty good for task management as well. Instead of the GTD algorithm, you write your tasks on cards and put them in one of three columns: to-do, doing, and done. 

(Some people like to have additional columns, such as “nearly thinking about doing” and “haven’t thought about doing in ages”.) 

This visual layout lets you see items as they move across the board. 

Kanban is cool because you can go full analog with pen-and-paper sticky notes up on a physical board and still feel cool. While highly visual, it can’t be transported easily. Instead, digital tools like Trello and Kissflow give you a digital board that functions the same way, but is also accessible anywhere. 

Kanban boards are also nice when it comes to shared tasks among a team. 


Pillar 2: Prioritizing

Prioritization is a deceptively simple concept. Anyone can do it, but few do. 

We get caught up in the moment and everything seems to be the most important thing in the world, or we are eager to get the easy stuff off our plate first. We act like firefighters that put out (and sometimes light) fires all the time.

If you are bad a prioritizing, you might be incredibly efficient at things that don’t matter that much. Here are the productivity systems that center on prioritization. 

Eisenhower matrix

You’ve seen this one before. Urgency vs. importance. True productivity is focusing on the tasks that are both. The only problem with this matrix is that both axes are subjective, and in the right frame of mind, you can be convinced that anything is both important and urgent. The trick is to take your time and actually rank the importance and urgency of tasks rather than assigning it an arbitrary value. 

The Eisenhower Decision Matrix

Eat that frog

Mark Twain once famously didn’t say, “If the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long.”

This productivity principle was popularized by Brian Tracy in his time management book. You pick the most difficult, yet most important task (the frog), first. It’s the item on your to-do list that you have no motivation to do. You move on to other tasks only when you’re done with the frog.

Doing the most challenging task first thing means that no matter how the rest of the day goes, it starts off with success. 

Similar to Eat that frog is the MIT system (most important task). Some productivity systems advocate for picking three MITs instead of just one. 

Pareto principle

Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, states that 80 percent of the effects comes from 20 percent of the causes.

So, when it comes to prioritizing, you should forget the 80 percent of stuff and focus only on the 20 percent that is actually going to produce results. 


Pillar 3: Time management

Now that you know what you are going to be working on, you need to make the time to do it. Most people feel like their days get away from them, but if you are at the office for eight hours, that’s actually quite a lot of time to get things done. If you plan out you day well, you have all the time you need to be productive. 

Pomodoro technique

The pomodoro principle requires you to break your workday into 25-minute blocks of time followed by a 5-minute break. After about four of these ‘pomodoros’, you take a longer break. 

We tend to believe that we have an endless supply of time. The pomodoro technique breaks this notion by instilling a sense of urgency. This is based on Parkinson’s law, which states that we’ll complete a task in the time that we’ve allotted for it. By creating a faux-urgency that you have only 25 minutes left to complete a task, you tend to work faster and more focused.

The forced break reminds you to take a breather once in a while and prevents mental fatigue. 

Time-boxing

The weakness of the pomodoro system is that it treats every task as the same, whether it is a quick email or an hour-long sales call. The 25-minute period works great for me, because most of my day revolves around writing. I can write for that time, take a quick break, and return to my task until it’s done. But, this may not be the case for every line of work. Imagine being in the middle of a sales call and telling the client that you’ll be back in five because your timer goes off. Yikes!

The time-boxing technique overcomes this drawback by being flexible and giving you control over how much time to allocate for every task. You estimate how much time you want to spend doing a task, work within this time box, and take a break when the set time runs out. Here’s a list of time management apps that can help.

Biological prime time

Detailed by Sam Carpenter in Work the System, this time management system tries to take advantage of natural ebbs and flows in your momentum, energy, and focus throughout the day. You chart out when you are typically most focused and do your most intense activities there. When you naturally slump down, you can do tasks that don’t require as much thought.


Pillar 4: Focus

There’s not much worse that getting everything set perfectly, knowing you have your most important task in front of you, having significant time blocked out to do it, and then checking Facebook just before you start. 

You can do all the planning and prioritizing in the world but if you are easily distracted and switch between tasks, then you’re not managing your time effectively. Dr. Gloria Mark says that it can take up to 23 minutes to get back to the original task after being distracted or interrupted. So, it’s crucial to focus on the task at hand, finish them, and move on to the next. 

Here are a few productivity systems dedicated to helping you focus.

To-don’t list

There are plenty of things you do in the middle of work that you know you shouldn’t be doing. These are the ones that affect your productivity, your super-villains. Like twitter scrolling. One minute you’re seeing what’s trending on twitter and then an hour later, you end up taking a Buzzfeed quiz to see what kind of bread you are.

Make a list of all the activities and habits you know you shouldn’t be doing and stick to it. It’s as simple as that. 

The real challenge is sticking to it and you need an insane amount of willpower to work against your impulses. But, by listing all your productivity-hampering habits, you tell your brain that you’ll no longer focus on them. 

  • Don’t check social media from 10am to 5pm
  • Don’t check emails more than two times a day
  • Don’t set up meetings from 9am to 12pm
  • Don’t speak to Dave about the latest movies on Netflix
  • Don’t look at funny cat videos during work

Free to focus

This one comes from Michael Hyatt. It has three steps: Stop, cut, and act. With each one, you examine your habits and behaviors and find ways to avoid more distractions in your life. 

There are also many individual apps that promise to help you focus better and reduce the digital distractions that make up a large part of our lives. 


Back to work

Productivity is a big thing for leaders, but there are just too many systems out there. If you jump from one to another, you’ll never actually get anything done. 

When you look at the four productivity pillars, you’ll be naturally better at some and struggle with others. Where you find yourself lacking, you can try to find some good systems specifically designed around those principles. 

But also remember that your teams will take on their own productivity personality as well. You may be great at prioritizing, but horrible at distracting each other. 

As a leader, it’s your job to find the areas where your team needs support, and explore systems that can help your productivity skyrocket. 

PS: Check out our podcast episode with Sujan Patel to know how he runs nine companies but still has time for skydiving.

WorkMinus Boardrooms – Event Recap

Technology industry leaders face a lot of challenges when it comes to heading their digital transformation efforts. Where do you start? Are we too big? Are we too small? How much budget do I need? What do I do about low adoption rates?

But the one element that is most challenging of all is a community. Nearly every leader tasked with trying to figure out digital transformation is doing it alone.

There’s not a platform for like-minded people to discuss ideas and have a candid conversation about the challenges they face daily in their organizations. Leaders are left alone to fight their battles. 

So, we launched a new initiative called WorkMinus Boardrooms–an event series that brings tech leaders together to talk about digital transformation, share struggles, learn from others, and encourage each other. 

The event was set in a cozy, comfortable lounge where people could converse freely and discuss their ideas with everyone present in the room. 

We invited 14 leaders from different industries and roles. There were C-level executives, IT directors, digital transformation heads, and financial advisors. Some of them had a successful digital transformation strategy in place while others were wondering if it is just a trend they had to wade through until the next big thing comes by.

What happened

The event kicked off with Neil sharing the backstory of WorkMinus–why we care about the future of work, where we are heading, and how to bend the trajectory back to a better place.  

A case for digital transformation

Our main speaker was Mr Sukumar Rajagopal, former CIO of Cognizant Technology Solutions, a Fortune 200 company.

When he started his role in 2007, Sukumar was asked by the CFO, “Are you going to be about transformation or efficiency?”

Sukumar said, “Transformation.” The CFO said, “That’s fine, but you won’t get any more budget to do it.”

Sukumar used lean startup principles to get the project going and first focused on the company’s timesheets. He faced a lot of challenges with users not adopting his tools even though they were far superior to the other alternatives. He shared how eventually, the entire company of more than a hundred thousand people started using the digital tools they had created. 

The amazing part was that by pursuing transformation, Sukumar led the company to greater efficiency too. Within the first three years of replacing manual processes, Cognizant saw a 5x increase in the organization’s productivity. 

“When organizations transform, efficiency automatically follows”, he said.

A new digital workplace for the future

This event was sponsored by Kissflow, and the CEO Mr Suresh Sambandam spoke about how modern organizations can adopt a digital workplace platform that isn’t IT-driven, but people-driven. If the platform is built right, then the finance team can create their own timesheet app in a few hours rather than waiting for IT to take six months to produce it.

“A whole generation of employees that’s used to sophisticated software and world-class apps are entering the workforce today. They have certain expectations of the software they use at work. If you were to engage this workforce, you must be digital at your core,” he said.

Suresh quoted a report from Forrester that positioned a digital workplace as the operational system of record for a company. “Your ERP is your financial system of record. Your CRM is your customer system of record. But everything that happens operationally is scattered around dozens of apps instead of on a common platform.” Suresh said that an employee-first model is key to the digital transformation success of any organization. 

Conversation time

When we established this event, we wanted to make sure there were no spectators, only participants. The issues we discuss aren’t able to be answered by a single person or at a single event. We want to start the conversation and get people listening to each other. 

We passed around sticky notes and asked, “What are your biggest digital transformation fears?”

Here are some of the most common answers we got:

  • Budget
  • Employee readiness and changing their mindset
  • Using different tools for different business cases
  • The size of their organization
  • Measuring the success 
  • Convincing stakeholders

Then we took one of the most burning questions that nearly everyone had about digital transformation: 

How the heck do you measure the ROI? 

Here’s the summary of the discussion:

  • It all begins with understanding what you want. Digitize data? Improve employee experience? Or, boost operational efficiency? Find focus areas like customers, infrastructure, and innovative disruption and start from there.
  • Depending on the functional area you choose, you can come up with metrics. Say, you choose customers, your KPIs would be the net promoter score or the churn rate or positive feedback.
  • Zoom back and look at your efforts holistically. See if it is affecting other areas, either positively or negatively. 
  • Place high importance on stability while going through a transformation. 

Swag in the bag

Once the discussion came to a halt, each guest received a bunch of WorkMinus goodies. 

A networking session over brunch followed. The guests exchanged cards. Some continued their discussion while others bonded over the books they read and love. 

And, that’s a wrap!

We broke away from all the norms with this event. We had an awesome bunch of people that sparked amazing ideas continuously for over two and a half hours. 

We want to thank all our guests and our sponsor Kissflow for making this an absolutely delightful event.

Follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn (if you haven’t already) and watch this space for upcoming events. We have a lot more coming in the future. Stay tuned.

How to Create a More Inclusive Workplace

“Diversity is getting invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.” 

-Vernā Myers

You may have built a diverse workplace. There may be African-Americans, people from the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities, and a diverse age range. Great, you’ve hit your diversity goals. Now what?

Do women in your office occupy positions of real power? Can trans people make it through the week without an invasive question? Are there microaggressions when a Muslim steps out of a meeting to pray? Do black folks keep getting complimented for being so well-spoken? Do Latinos get to enjoy their lunch without a Taco Tuesday comment?

Now that you’ve built a diverse team, the real hard work is about to begin. 

Beyond tokenism

It’s tempting to think that you can just throw all of your properly proportioned team members into the same room and expect them to suddenly be highly innovative and productive. 

But unless you take an inclusive approach to diversity, all you’d done is made the issue worse. 

What you have created, my friend, is tokenism, or only hiring these people to avoid criticism and to make it appear that your company treats everyone fairly. 

The diversity you have created doesn’t mean much if your staff doesn’t practice inclusion. Moe Carrick, founder of Moementum, Inc. says diversity is the mix while inclusion is what you do with the mix. So, how do you create an inclusive environment that brings out the beauty and power of our differences? 

There’s good and bad news.

The bad news is you can’t do it in a day. Or in a week. Or a year. It’s not that easy. You can not root hundreds of years of discrimination with a half-day diversity training program. There are people who devote their entire careers to this and look back to realize everything moved a few inches. 

The good news is that if you, as a leader, can bring about a change in the mindset of your employees. It’s a long and difficult road, but you can get there. You can lead by example and make your employees see that we must acknowledge our differences and treat each other with dignity.

Bring your bias to the dais

As a team leader or functional head, the onus of instilling an inclusive culture in your team falls on you. And guess what, you have a ton of bias just sitting inside you. Take a look at any of Harvard’s implicit bias tests if you need proof. 

The absolute best thing to do first is to call out your own biases and name them. When biases go unnamed, they keep the power. They love to lurk in the darkness and are easy to deny. Instead, when we bring them out in the open, they don’t seem so insipid. 

Lead by example and others on your team will be more comfortable to be open with their biases. 

Stop using the phrase “culture fit”

The norms of power and the embedded rewarding system in most organizations are directed at people who ‘fit’. In our interview with Leron L. Barton, he said:

I just thought back to whenever I would interview at a company or tech firm, they would always stress culture fit. “Well, you have to fit the culture here. We have a certain work culture here. Or our culture at this company is blah, blah, blah.” And so, I just found that that was a new way to discriminate against people and block them from saying, “Oh, well, yes, on paper, he or she was fantastic. But they didn’t really fit the work culture.”

It’s a dangerous word because it can exclude. It’s usually code for “you’re not like us”. It stops managers from hiring people who are different from themselves. It stops people from fraternizing with their coworkers. 

Pay close attention during your meetings

Meeting behavior tells you everything you need to know about inclusion–whose voice is heard and who gets interrupted, who speaks the last word, and how the dominant group responds to an outlandish idea. 

It’s highly likely that white males dominate the meeting and women and people of different races do not get their due credit. Whose ideas are discredited? Who forces everyone to listen? Who summarizes other people’s thoughts? 

If you notice these subtle behaviors and microaggressions, then you know your workplace needs a dose of inclusion. Establish clear meeting policies that allow people to participate freely and amplify the voices of women and other marginalized communities. Experiment with appointing a leader to keep the meeting on track, someone who isn’t the usual person in charge. Ensure that people don’t interrupt each other and give credit to the original idea creators.

Hand over the power

It’s tempting to want to take charge of this and every conversation regarding inclusion. But the best thing you can do is to give up as much power as possible. Who plans your holiday celebrations? Who gets the final say for decorations and art around the office? Who plans the company offsites? Even if you try to be a benevolent privileged group, it isn’t the same as turning over full power and authority to people from marginalized communities.   

Be a good human

There’s no point in having extra seats for marginalized people at the table if they don’t feel like they belong there. Adding to what Verna Myers said, belonging is dancing like no one is watching. 

Human things like sitting down and listening, asking for someone’s opinion, making eye contact, and giving genuine appreciation are always appropriate. 

Over to you

The topic of diversity and inclusion is broad and extensive and it’s a massive challenge we all need to tackle to create a better workplace for everyone. Hiring goals are the first step an inclusive environment but this won’t automatically create one. 

Inclusion is not a one-off thing but it’s an ongoing process. It’s close to impossible to teach employees how to be inclusive because it requires them to identify unconscious biases, put emphasis on key moments, build new habits, and be a good ally. Take the first step today!

How to Be a Good Ally

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. 

-Desmond Tutu

The first time I heard the word “ally” in the Diversity and Inclusion topic was on Jennifer Brown’s episode of the WorkMinus podcast. I was pretty intrigued by this word because I knew its conventional meaning yet I had no idea what it meant in this context. 

“So, I can have a conversation with others to educate them and remove the burden of having to do that all the time from people who are transgender. It’s something that I can show my allyship in.”

Having spent almost all of my life in India, a country where I feel like people only look out for themselves, I found the concept of allyship interesting and important. It’s something we need to talk about often. And a lot more. 

Who is an ally?

An ally is someone from a privileged group who actively promotes and aspires to support people from marginalized groups such as LGBTQ+ people and black folks. Allies use their privilege to bring awareness to these issues and create opportunities for those put at a disadvantage. 

A straight ally is someone who stands up against prejudices against members of the LGBTQ+ community and a white ally is someone who opposes racism against people of different ethnicities. 

Allies and world wars 

My love for history makes me think about the world wars when I hear the word ‘ally’. I find it quite interesting because, we’re still talking about war–a war on racism, misogyny, bigotry, and all other ugly things that are wrong with our world. And, the allies play an important role in fighting these spiteful elements. 

Being an ally means not just standing up against discrimination but acknowledging that you may be contributing to the problem as well. It is important to become aware of these unconscious biases and make efforts to address and eliminate these prejudices. 

[Read how Neil caught himself doing this during an interview with LeRon L. Barton.]

Anyone can be an ally

The most important thing about allyship is that you’re not really an ally until someone from a marginalized group recognizes you as one. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t try to be an ally to a marginalized community.

Allyship is an ongoing process of connecting with disenfranchised and discriminated communities. It’s building a relationship that’s based on mutual trust and respect. It’s an opportunity to learn and grow with people that you normally wouldn’t while creating the world a little bit better for everyone than what it was yesterday. 

How can you help?

You don’t have to be in a position of power to be an ally. You might be from an underrepresented group and still be an ally. For example, take a white woman and woman of color. Even though they both face the same problems, one group faces an additional disadvantage because of their race. 

Understand your privilege

The first step to being an ally is understanding your privilege. What that means is that there are some things in life that you have never experienced or will never experience just because of who you are. Here’s an example. There are 17 states in the US where you can legally be fired on grounds of your sexual orientation. If you’re a straight person, you’ll never have to think about it. 

Before you can fight for the rights of others, understand what privileges you hold that others don’t.

Even the marginalized may have some levels of privilege. This is called intersectionality. You can use this privilege to use your voice for others. As a black male, you can do more for the black members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Listen to people 

Hundreds of people share their stories every day on the internet. Start reading tweets, blogs, and news articles and get caught up on the issues that the marginalized communities face. Only once you’ve done your homework and have a thorough understanding of the issues that are important to them, you can take meaningful actions.

Speak for them when they’re not in the room

Being an ally is about integrity. It’s about doing the right thing even when no one’s looking. To be a good ally, use your position of power to voice for those not in the room. This includes calling out blatant things like racists comments. But it is even more important for microaggressions and things that are easy to sweep under the rug. 

Speak up but don’t speak over

A good ally knows when to shut up.

An ally’s job is to support; to make use of privilege and voice to promote and say great things about the community members. But, make sure that you say it in a way that does not speak over them or take credit for what they already have been saying. 

Being an ally doesn’t make you a part of the group you’re trying to support. If you help your friend build a house, it doesn’t mean you get to live in it.

Being an ally is more important than saying that you’re an ally

Being an ally is neither a self-proclaimed title nor a passive statement. Writing monthly checks to a non-profit is not the same as being an ally. 

Being a true ally is a state of mind. It is being proactive, brave, uncompromising, and not being afraid to use your voice. Even though you can’t walk in their shoes, you can acknowledge the difficult road the marginalized had to travel. You can support them and stand up for them when their world is being carelessly tossed around by the privileged few.

I know I can’t fight discrimination everywhere or call out every bad joke. But, I can be an ally to my LGBTQ+ friends and wipe the happy tears off their cheeks when section 377 was abrogated in India. I can listen to them and understand them while they know that they will not be judged for anything they say.  

I can’t be sure where my journey to be a better ally will lead, but it’s definitely a path that will change me for the better.

9 Actionable Ways to Kick Off Your Diversity Recruiting Efforts

Diversity consciousness in the corporate world has come a long way. In recent history, countries have had laws in place that actually protected the rights of employers to not hire people from different backgrounds. 

The definitions of diversity have also evolved. What was once limited to race and sex has been expanded to physical ableness, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious beliefs, native language, economic background, and much more. 

Real inclusion or splashy PR?

Celebrating diversity (at least on the surface) is a part of today’s company culture. From celebrating gay pride month to publishing internal diversity reports, many organizations across the world claim diversity as a core value.

But splashy PR efforts and real commitment to diversity are two different things. 

The first place where you can tell if a company is serious about diversity is to see how they recruit and hire. 

What is diversity recruiting and hiring?

Diversity recruitment happens when organizations put emphasis on hiring from a diverse pool of candidates and have procedures in place to make decisions free from bias based on age, sexuality, gender, religion and other characteristics that are unrelated to the job seeker’s performance.

Most organizations assume you should hire the most qualified candidate. While this may seem like the right thing to do, it will not help your team, as a whole, in the long run. Think of it like choosing a software stack for your company. What may be the best solution for each individual problem may not leave you with the right overall software stack. As Melissa and Jonathan Nightingale say, it’s not about hiring the best person, but building the best team. 

Why diversity recruiting should be your top priority

Building a diverse culture is a lot more important than compliance or just being able to say, “We are an equal opportunity employer.” It’s not just an item to be checked off on your list. It’s a mentality that needs to be ingrained in your organization’s psyche.

Diverse teams consistently outperform homogeneous groups. Each person in a diverse team has been exposed to radically different ideas and has a wide range of experience and skills. When surrounded by people who are similar in one or more ways, it’s easy to slip into groupthink and not question things. But when a team is made of people who bring a variety of perspectives and insights, they think harder about their decisions, leading to better decisions.

9 tips to better diversity recruiting

Talent acquisition teams are becoming more and more sensitive to diversity hiring. In a study by Ideal, 57 percent of respondents said they have a recruiting strategy in place to attract diverse talent. You could start with something as simple as changing the language you use in your job posting. Every step you take toward diversity recruiting is one step closer to a more diverse workforce. 

Here are a few things you can start doing right now to help you with your recruitment process:

Tweak your policies 

Start by creating a company culture that promotes diversity and inclusion. Where might you be able to change your policies to demonstrate more open-mindedness? Gender-neutral restrooms? Private nursing areas? Flexible time off for religious holidays? 

You will likely not be able to spot all the issues with your current policies. Instead, ask people from different groups to look over them and point out areas you can improve. 

Also, don’t create a separate section of your handbook that says, “These are policies about diversity.” That makes it seem like you view it as a separate problem. Having nursing areas and respecting other religions are just part of working, not a quarantined-off section that is just for diversity. 

Establish key metrics

Once you’ve reviewed your policies, you need to decide on key metrics that reflect your diversity hiring goals and to evaluate if your strategies were successful. The overall minority representation (especially in leadership roles), the number of diverse candidates recruited, their retention rate, and pay disparity are a good place to start. 

Having actual numbers in place is a good way to judge how effective you were at your efforts. But remember Goodhart’s Law: as soon as you focus on achieving a particular metric, it no longer becomes a valid metric. 

The goal is a more diverse and inclusive space. Numbers can be a good indicator of that, but they are only a proxy. If you only chase the numbers, you will often miss out on the bigger goal. 

Widen your talent pool

Employee referrals are the top source of potential candidates. However, if your employee base is pretty homogeneous, your referral network is likely the same. When your talent pool looks exactly like your existing workforce, you don’t have much hope of becoming more diverse organically. 

Companies need to actively seek and hire candidates from different sources. There is usually some representation of the marginalized community in an applicant pool, but you want to increase the numbers. Try recruiting at colleges with a diverse mix of students and posting to unique job boards dedicated to a marginalized group. 

Let candidates know you value diversity

A diverse workplace is one of the key things millennial candidates look for when considering a job offer. You want to be public about your commitment to diversity, without making people think you are pursuing them out of a sense of tokenism. You must find a balance between the indirect, “We think you have a unique perspective,” and the direct, “We really want to have a gay Latino man on this project to help us think through everything.”

Most of this is accomplished by being genuine and humble, and always willing to listen and be corrected. 

Work against your natural biases

Resumes with ‘white’ sounding names receive 30% more callbacks than other ethnicities.

The first step to moving beyond biases is to admit that you have them. You can’t make it to 21 without having some firm impressions about groups of people–some you’ve met, and many you haven’t. 

Being honest about stereotypes and speaking them can be powerful to externalize them and then you can work against them. Imagine looking at two resumes, one belongs to a young black woman from Mississippi State and the other belongs to a white male from Stanford. Acknowledging the natural biases that you have openly with others can be a great way to disarm the situation rather than trying to skirt around the elephant in the room.  

Experiment with blind screening 

There was an experiment conducted by Stanford where the same resume but with different names was handed to a number of scientists. The “male” was perceived to be more competent despite every other piece of information on the resume was identical, indicating an implicit gender bias. Try to redact the names and photographs on resumes and proceed with the usual screening process. 

While these are some common biases, there are many hidden ones such as the names of the universities and former companies. Relying on these signals is being complicit in systemic systems that keep marginalized people out of these places.

Find a way to assess abilities that don’t necessarily have to do with these factors. Alternatively, you can use technology to automatically screen candidates to help you succeed in your diversity recruiting strategies.

Have a diverse interview panel

When your hiring managers are diverse themselves, they bring a variety of viewpoints and perspectives. This balanced panel brings out unique exchanges and makes the candidate feel more comfortable and perform better. 

After requiring at least two women or members of underrepresented communities in their panel for any new hire, Intel saw a 41 percent rise in women and employees of color in just two years. 

However, this alone doesn’t fix things. You can’t just add a Japanese man to the hiring team and then claim that all hiring decisions are anti-discriminatory. 

Consider offering remote work

Opening the doors to remote work automatically exposes to candidates from hard Siberian ice to sunny Florida beaches. If you don’t have a culture of remote employees, start with one team and experiment with policies and tracking results. Mike Knoop from Zapier says, “It’s very difficult to add one or two people remote because the culture of the office is not often set up to support it. The best thing to do here is really taking a bigger stake than just one person.” 

Bring underprivileged people to leadership roles

It’s not enough to just focus on entry-level recruiting. If all you are doing is adding diverse people to the bottom of your organization, it may be decades before they take on senior leadership roles (if they last in your culture) and bring about a balance in power. You need to think about inserting people at high levels, bringing in diverse consultants and agencies, and bringing on diverse board members.

Toward a more inclusive workplace

Diversity recruiting and hiring is a good beginning, but you can’t stop there. Just because you hire diverse people doesn’t mean they will feel welcome and stay. If the atmosphere is toxic and you don’t prepare others for a more diverse workforce, your new hires may leave, and those from the majority culture who stay get to add the word ‘uncommitted’ to their stereotypes. 

Have the diversity discussion with everyone in your company long before you start bringing people in. 

Diverse candidates bring a broader skillset and experience, increase cultural awareness, and are a perpetual source of diverse talent pools. Taking the first step towards diversity hiring can lead you to starting a more inclusive workplace

If you have more tips or have a story to share, tweet to us @workminus. We’d love to hear your thoughts.