How to Launch a Diversity and Inclusion Council

With a background in both recruiting and acting, Affirm’s Head of Talent Ragini Holloway considers herself to be a “casting director” for companies. When she was an actress, she often received feedback that she was “really talented,” but that the casting directors wanted to go in a “different direction.” She wondered if that direction was really “different”—or just more of the same. Today, it’s experiences like these that drive her advocacy for diversity.

At Lever’s 2018 Talent Innovation Summit, Ragini shared how she launched a diversity and inclusion council to make Affirm a more appealing choice for underrepresented minorities. Below, are five steps to start an diversity and inclusion council.

How to set up a diversity and inclusion council

Step 1: Learn your company’s historical context

Two weeks after joining Affirm, Ragini was getting feedback from candidates that the company didn’t look like a diverse workplace. With funding, a viable product, and momentum—but nobody in Human Resources—they were growing very quickly and hired the best way they knew how: through referrals. Despite the many benefits of employee referrals, hiring this way can create a homogenous workforce, because candidates typically all come from the same companies and schools. To make employee referrals work, it’s important to be intentional about diversity and inclusion throughout the recruitment process.

Step 2: Ask others for help and establish a framework

The drive toward diversity and inclusion came from the top-down, and Affirm’s executive team took the Tech Inclusion Pledge. At the time, however, the company had no infrastructure to support those commitments. So Ragini asked for help, and 20 Affirmers signed up to be on the Diversity and Inclusion Council. Their goal? “We want to help facilitate a more informed conversation and thoughtful strategy around diversity and inclusion at Affirm,” they said.

Ragini then created a short checklist for best practices on starting a diversity and incusion program.

Diversity and Inclusion council best practices

  • Define roles and responsibilities of the council
  • Identify partners for key initiatives
  • Establish accurate representation
  • Determine membership expectations
  • Substantiate meeting cadence
  • Track and communicate progress
  • Determine how to recruit new members onto the council

Step 3: Get executive support and budget

With the Diversity and Inclusion Council and framework in place, Ragini went back to the executive team for budget and additional support. With the entire executive team, as well as partners in Human Resources, Legal, and Finance, bought-in, she knew she wouldn’t get any pushback. However, she needed executive support for two things. First, she needed executive support to help the council match the greater population. People of color and women were involved, but the rest of the company was not represented. Second, she wanted the Diversity and Inclusion initiatives to be employee-led, while coming from the top-down.

Step 4: Identify mission and focus areas

Ragini said the mission took a long time to draft, due to many iterations, opinions, and feedback. It had to tie back to the company mission, be broad enough to be inclusive, and evolve with the company. What did they ultimately write? “We believe every person has equal value, which is why we work so hard to expand fair and transparent access to credit and to welcome every kind of person and idea. Our Diversity and Inclusion Council combats discrimination and promotes respect, inclusion, opportunity, and community in our workplace. The Council is comprised of four parts: messaging and metrics, attraction and recruitment, inclusion and retention, community and partnerships.” Each of those four teams had their own focus area and leader.

Step 5: Build strategy, set goals, roles and responsibilities for the diversity council

Now the Diversity and Inclusion Council was ready to build diversity goals and execute on them. They knew they needed to lay the groundwork down, looking years ahead, but also tackling the low-hanging fruit where they could immediately have some impact. Here’s what each of the four teams focused on:

Messaging and metrics team

Ensure inclusive messaging practices as well as maintain and publish up-to-date employee demographic metrics and partner with Human Resources to goal-set on company-wide hiring efforts.

  • Launch Diversity and Inclusion survey
  • Analyze and present data
  • Create monthly newsletter
  • Publish goals and data

Attraction and Recruitment team

Source diverse candidates from varied backgrounds and create fair hiring processes and goals that reduce bias and provide all candidates equal opportunity to demonstrate their capacity and abilities.

  • Recruiting goals for underrepresented minorities
  • Equal Employment Opportunity reporting
  • Historical candidate application and data review
  • Tools for sourcing underrepresented minorities
  • Eliminate hiring bias
  • Targeted university strategy
  • Recruiting events

Inclusion and retention group

Raise awareness of identity in the workplace and cultivate an inclusive community at Affirm.

  • Employee resource groups
  • Diversity awareness month
  • Speaker series
  • Workshops

Community partnerships

Engage lower-income communities and underrepresented groups through financial education.

  • Partnership tied to company mission
  • Celebrate PRIDE
  • Volunteer @Affirm

Final thoughts

After the Diversity and Inclusion Council presented their roadmap and progress at an all-team meeting to the company, the council doubled in size to 41 members. The larger group was much more representative of the general population at Affirm, allowing them to have a more inclusive conversation. Affirm has made a lot of progress, and is starting to look a lot more diverse—but they understand there’s a lot of work to still be done, and that they need to be dedicated to it. Some final thoughts from Ragini: be very open to feedback, stay humble, learn from your peers, draw insights from your data, and never lose your passion for making things better.

To learn more from Ragini – plus dozens of other impactful tactics – download our 70 page Diversity & Inclusion Handbook.


Further reading