Part 8: Creating an Inclusive Onboarding Experience

*Editor’s note: Download our full Diversity and Inclusion Handbook for more than 70 pages of tangible strategies to help you cultivate diversity and inclusion on your team.

We believe passionately that diverse and inclusive companies make for more innovative, engaged, and happy teams, and we speak with forward-thinking talent leaders all the time who feel the same. We’re writing this series on how to improve diversity and inclusion in the workplace because people are ready for the next level of discourse around diversity and inclusion; one aimed at actual solutions. In it, you’ll find tactical advice, beneficial resources, and examples of what companies are doing today to make real progress in diversity and inclusion. Read our series introduction to see what we cover throughout the series. 

So, you’ve hired some fantastic candidates and now they’re full-fledged employees and we know that having a great onboarding process is imperative to your new hire’s success. Your new hires have come to appreciate–and expect–the inclusive culture you’ve both told them about and shown them through the interview process. Now that they’re here, they’re looking forward to cultivating and enhancing this culture with you. So, how do you make sure that you’re walking the talk?

Creating an inclusive onboarding experience

Onboarding can be an impactful way to align your new hires with your company culture. At Lever, we use our onboarding experience to immerse new Leveroos in our traditions, company lore, people programs and HR resources, and (most importantly) our mission and values. New Leveroos spend their first week at Lever learning instead of jumping immediately into their work. Doing this teaches Leveroos not only what it means to work at Lever but what we believe in at Lever. While it can make new hires a little antsy to get going it’s proven to be a meaningful introduction to our company culture.

From my own experience, I’ve seen onboarding done a few different ways. I’ve seen programs that last weeks and go deep into company history, milestones, and wins but don’t touch on diversity and inclusion at all, leaving me wondering if it’s not something that is valued. Investing in diversity and inclusion in your onboarding lets your new hires know this is something that’s fundamentally important from the very beginning. Your new hires, coming from various backgrounds, might not be equipped with all of the information you need them to know about diversity and inclusion; this is your chance to bring them up to speed or to introduce them to concepts that they might not know about.

In order to instill the importance of diversity and inclusion early on for each new employee here are some concrete examples that you can include in your onboarding program.

How do you include diversity and inclusion in your onboarding experience?

Here are some ideas:

  • Define what diversity and inclusion means for your company
  • Include a diversity and inclusion onboarding session
  • Train people managers on how they can be diversity leaders, too
  • Coach the existing team on how to change to include new hires
  • Empower your people managers to be diversity and inclusion leaders, too.
  • Inform new hires about your company’s Employee Resource Groups
  • Build a mentorship program

Define what diversity and inclusion means at your company during the onboarding experience

If you feel like this is something that isn’t defined yet, that’s ok, us this as an opportunity to ask for some clarity. Approach your manager or leadership team and ask them what diversity and inclusion at your company means to them and even if it isn’t perfect, it’s a start. You can also bring your own opinion to them and ask them to iterate on it. For example, diversity to me means inviting everyone to have a seat at the table. As a prompt, that might be easier to start with.

Include a Diversity and Inclusion Onboarding Session

At Lever we include a diversity and inclusion session as part of on-boarding for new employees and it has been really well-received. This session is the foundation that makes all other programming possible.

Here are some ways we approach this session:

The purpose of Lever’s diversity and inclusion training is not actually instructional, but rather to communicate why Lever really cares about being an inclusive workplace and what that means at Lever. The ultimate goal is to leave people feeling comfortable continuing to talk about diversity and inclusion and related issues. It can be a sensitive and stressful topic at times, especially if you’ve never really talked about it before. We deliberately exclude extensive teaching or information sharing (like what is privilege, what are the latest diversity and inclusion issues in tech, what are all the statistics, etc.) to avoid making the session overwhelming and possibly discouraging people from exploring further. We did consciously include some things that we want Leveroos to be aware of like what a microaggression is and what an inclusive environment looks like compared to some of the exclusive environments that we have seen in the past.

After the on boarding session we follow up with all employees with an email with links to resources to learn more. We also have a slack channel #inclusion that is very active where people post articles and have continued discussions.

Coach the existing team on how to change to include new hires

Remember that an inclusive culture isn’t one that inducts new hires into a the existing company culture but instead expands to incorporate the new skills, approaches and perspectives that a new hire brings. This means that a huge part of a successful onboarding is actually working with the existing team to expand to include the new hire.

Wait, what? I thought successful onboarding was all about training for the new employee?

It is, but it is also about working closely with your existing team. Remember that diversity and inclusion are not binary traits — your team doesn’t get to cross a barrier and all of a sudden be inclusive to everyone. Your team is going to need to adapt to each and every new hire to create space for them to be themselves and contribute fully to the company’s goals.

If the team expects that new hires shouldn’t change the way they work, then you’re going to end up with a homogenous team because they will only want to hire team members that already fit the mold.

Leveling-up your existing team to be inclusive to a new team member might involve education you can try communication workshops on accommodating different communication styles, 1:1 coaching with employees and most importantly encouraging direct feedback. When you create an environment where feedback is encouraged and embraced, you inadvertently create a culture of inclusion. What do I mean by a culture of inclusion? I mean a culture where everyone is allowed and encouraged to bring their authentic selves to work without judgement. By focusing on learning how to give and receive feedback you’re promoting a space where open communication can exist. These are all ways you can better prepare your existing team to grow and support it’s newest members but also continue to help the team mature together.

Empower your people managers to be diversity and inclusion leaders, too.

Your people managers play a vital role in this as well. You want your employees to feel like their managers are also walking the talk and that your new hires are supported  on their own teams, too. Lead a manager training to ensure that your managers feel comfortable speaking to diversity and inclusion initiatives, processes, and resources. There are a variety of leadership trainings available, whether it be a sensitivity training, coaching and developmental conversation training, or learning how to have hard conversations.

This is the best way to ensure that your managers are equipped to help every type of employee at your company regardless of educational background, learning style, ability, and motivations. This is what will separate them as leaders and will help to make them as embracing of diverse employees as possible. Investing time in management training is a big time and resource commitment and can easily be put on the back burner. Insist on doing this now; the impact that you’ll have long term on your employees is tremendous. Diversity can’t be something that is encouraged and acknowledged by a few people; it has to be a company wide initiative in every way possible. Your people managers will play a huge part in that.

Another thing to include here is potentially having HR provide metrics/data to people managers so they can learn how to improve

Inform new hires about your company’s Employee Resource Groups

Let your new hires know what different employee resource groups (ERGs) exist and how they can join them. Now, I’m aware that this might not be something that you have up and running already. Again, that’s ok! Talk about ERGs that you are currently working to create or ask for suggestions of what they’ve seen at previous companies or schools. If you already have established ERGs try to tell a story about these groups: highlight events they’ve hosted, types of services they’ve provided, or initiatives that they’re working on.

Another way to involve new hires is to share the process of starting a new ERG: share with them how employees have built ERGs, what obstacles they faced and some best practices they found in starting their own. By bringing your new hires along with you you’re inviting them to be a part of the different communities within your company.

Build a mentorship program to foster an inclusive onboarding experience

Research that has been done that shows the value of mentorship and the impact that it specifically has on diversity in tech. Articles like this highlight the lack of mentors and the negative impact it has not only on the demographics of your company but also the innovation coming out of your company. So, if you already have a mentorship program, highlight it! If you don’t have a mentorship program, consider starting one. The benefits here are two-fold, as you’ll have the ability to engage your lower level and higher level employees.

First, by giving your tenured folks the opportunity to mentor someone, you’re choosing to invest in their personal development through leadership and coaching. Eventually your mentees will look forward to becoming mentors themselves, and will be excited to invest in the development of their teammates. Second, by giving your employees the chance to learn from a more tenured employee or peer they have the chance to get additional perspectives and coaching from someone other than their manager.

Conclusion: Creating an inclusive onboarding experience

By digging into what diversity and inclusion means at your company, relying on your people managers,  investing in mentorship and personal development and presenting it early on, you will retain existing employees by giving them opportunities to stretch and grow and will be able to revalidate your company’s investment in personal growth.

A strong and thorough onboarding is the key to ensuring that your new hires are aware of and bought into your diversity efforts. It’s also a way to reinforce the company values within the individual teams at your company–your new hires will become your brand ambassadors and will be able to reinvigorate and remind the more tenured employees on their individual teams what it means to work at your company.

While onboarding is just the beginning of someone’s career at your company, it’s this first impression that you can never re-do. Set the stage and make the best initial impression by hosting a thorough, well executed onboarding.

For more, read our next post on how to navigate when your diversity efforts go wrong, and download our Diversity & Inclusion Handbook for hundreds of impactful tactics like the ones above.