Employee Lifecycle

Successful inclusion is comprehensive. It covers an employee over the course of a life cycle with the company, from application to exit interview. We recommend a multidimensional approach and a broad framework, covering supportive HR practices, inclusive onboarding and mentoring, equitable compensation practices (salary, benefits, equity), and fair approaches to assignment, performance evaluation, and promotion decisions.

Today’s inclusion efforts need to move beyond hiring. Companies often focus solely on hiring when thinking about diversity. Rhetoric blaming lack of candidates in the “pipeline” has often meant few resources invested in diversity. It ignores the leaky pipeline problem, where diverse recruiting efforts aren’t backed by support once people arrive on the job, and thus members of underrepresented groups leave in large numbers. Companies that focus on gender temporarily absolve themselves of responsibility with respect to race, ethnicity, age, religion, life experience, disability, sexual orientation, and other aspects of diversity. These limitations prevent companies from giving all employees a fair chance to succeed.

CEOs need to lead and hire for D&I with care. It starts with diversity recruiters and a hiring manager who is committed to building a diverse workforce. It continues through to supportive HR and D&I teams focused on promoting inclusion and upholding company values throughout an employee’s lifecycle at a company. It should incorporate an inclusive onboarding process, strong sponsorship programs, and thoughtfully administered performance reviews and promotions that consider both conscious and unconscious biases. Inclusion training must be given to all new employees from day one, and employees from underrepresented groups should have access to internal resources and support.

What are our recommendations

Use inclusive and transparent hiring practices

Companies need to radically restructure the way they hire, from where they recruit to how they make offers. That needs to be a conscious effort driven by the CEO and implemented at the executive level. As people hire people who look and think like them, workplaces remain homogenous and limit their chances for success. Today’s tech industry is stuck, because it relies heavily on tools like “culture fit,” existing social networks, and outdated sources of talent for recruiting.

Sourcing, recruiting, and hiring candidates are an important component of diversity initiatives, but the focus on these issues has distracted from larger problems. There are embedded structural inequalities found in both technical and non-technical pipelines and the recruiting process as a whole.

Don’t wait for talent from underrepresented groups — attract it. Use a broad range of recruiting sources, with inclusive job descriptions written to appeal to those with a spectrum of life experiences that goes beyond feeder universities. Build inclusive company policies and a good name by putting them into action so that people interested in working for you will take the next step with responding to recruiters or submitting applications.

When evaluating candidates, rethink traditional approaches to resumes and interview practices to identify and address bias. We identify some tools below, but in addition to technical tools, think about how interviews are conducted, the role of a modified Rooney rule with a minimum of two underrepresented candidates in the hiring pool, who is involved, and how your company makes decisions about candidates. Standardize your offer process and think carefully about whether you will allow negotiation.

Make onboarding ongoing during the employee’s first year

Onboarding should be a lot more than a quick round of introductions, an ID badge, and a tour of the office in an employee’s first day. It should start during the pre-hire process and continue throughout an employee’s first year. It should provide training and support, and opportunities for the employee to offer feedback.

Think of pre-hire conversations as the start of the onboarding process. Be clear with applicants and interviewees about what your company expects of them, and what they can expect of your company. Discuss leadership approaches, how decisions are made, collaborative working methods, communication, and how your company handles dispute resolution.

During initial training, use a clearly structured and well-documented process to make sure you cover your company’s code of conduct and anti-harassment policy as well as policies and procedures for working across the company and in their specific departments. Emphasize the company’s shared values while also recognizing the contributions people from diverse backgrounds bring to the table — this isn’t about assimilation with rigid norms, but a collaborative approach to working together. Over the course of the year, use check-ins and refresher training to help people internalize your company’s values. Make trainings thoughtful and interactive with real life examples, instead of interactive videos that are generic and dreaded.

Employees should know who to talk to when they have questions and concerns — whether project-related, interpersonal, or otherwise. A buddy system 1 with a friend in the company to help someone navigate over the course of the first year, can be a valuable tool. Buddies should not be confused with sponsors, who provide guidance to help people thrive in a company and move up in the ranks.

Be thoughtful about inclusion when building teams

One voice gets silenced, but two voices together make a difference. When you don’t have many members of underrepresented groups, do not intentionally separate them and put them on different teams. If you have the option, put at least two in a group so they have mirrors and allies, and as your company grows, use Employee Resource Groups to build a supportive environment.

In the 1980s, the concept of windows and mirrors arose in designing curricula: Educators wanted children to see themselves in the stories they heard and to learn about each other as well. Research has shown that having female peers on small teams improves the motivation, participation and career goals of women in engineering school. This effect increases for teams that have as many women as men, and participation increases most in groups of mostly women. 2

Some argue that assigning people of color or women or women of color to different teams benefits the company by providing more perspective to a greater number of diverse teams. But it is at the expense of the employees from underrepresented groups. The sole member of a certain group is often expected to take on the extra often underappreciated work of being the voice for the entire underrepresented group.

Another way to add perspectives is bringing people in from outside your company as examples of successes or connecting people across companies. If you have a speaker series or guest panels, the speakers should reflect diversity.

Participate in and sponsor tech sector organizations for underrepresented groups. It can inspire your own employees by showing that you value underrepresented groups inside the company and also provide role models for success and connections outside the company. And, it could be a lead to potential job candidates at different levels and in different functions.

Use sponsorships to promote D&I

Employees from underrepresented groups often enter the industry at a disadvantage, because they may not have the same relationships and networks or common experiences as the rest of the team. Some companies attempt to level the playing field with mentors who offer tips and advice. However, their energies could be even better leveraged on a sponsorship program to connect employees with people in higher-ranking positions. Sponsors, unlike mentors, can provide opportunities in addition to guidance.

Becoming a successful sponsor isn’t always a natural thing. Structure and a framework for sponsorship programs can help guide interactions and set expectations. Regular check ins and a system for providing two-way feedback can also help. A successful sponsorship program should be clearly structured and voluntary for both parties, as the relationship requires trust and commitment. Also, if a sponsor-sponsee relationship isn’t working, both parties should be able to withdraw without real or perceived penalties.

Setting clear goals to measure progress can also help increase the chances of a positive experience. Examples include targeting for a promotion within a set period of time, getting a raise, learning a new skill, leading a team project, or achieving another concrete career goal. Sponsors should be open about the kind of support they can provide to set a goal that they can help achieve.

People who are interested in sponsoring should be offered training to help them manage what could be a long-term collaborative relationship. Not everyone who would make a good sponsor will come forward, and your company should have a plan for identifying and reaching out to candidates. Their work should also be treated as the work that it is — this is not an add-on to existing projects, but a project in itself. Whether sponsors receive compensation, more time in their schedule, or other allowances, their contributions should be recognized.

Share feedback regularly with help from inclusive performance reviews

Currently, performance reviews can be problematic, often reinforcing bias, checking for “culture fit” rather than performance, and potentially limiting advancement. 360 reviews can be political and biased. CEB found that 95 percent of managers are dissatisfied with the way their companies conduct performance reviews, and nearly 90 percent of HR leaders say the process doesn’t even yield accurate information. 3 Performance reviews often drive good employees to leave, so be thoughtful in how how you design and implement them.

Sharing feedback should be part of a process that helps employees thrive — managers should tell employees where they’re doing well, where they can do better, and, importantly, how they can get there. Start by giving feedback regularly and clearly, with actionable items for employees: For example, if someone isn’t speaking up at meetings, find out why, and set a goal to help that employee find a voice. Use regular 1:1s (usually weekly), casual check ins, and monthly meetings to keep up a steady flow of communication.

When you have quarterly, midyear, and end-of-year performance reviews, they should provide an opportunity to review and formalize information from more casual meetings, and to look at bigger picture career opportunities and goals. These reviews shouldn’t be a tool for collecting information to fire people, but a way to reinforce company values, make sure employees are set up for long-term success, and address issues as they arise.

A written overview of what was discussed helps employees set measurable goals, and nothing in the overview should be new to the employee. Information about raises and bonuses also shouldn’t come as a surprise — both because your company should have a clear and transparent compensation scale and because ongoing feedback should give your employees a clear sense of how they are doing year round.


We share these helpful references as starting points and encourage you to continue exploring.

Platforms and services

Today’s companies and leaders have the benefit of many technology tools to help manage employees and culture that weren’t available before. Here, we share a list of technology tools for people and operations. We have not looked at all these companies and tools closely, but we believe they are worth considering and testing in organizations.

  • Atipica: Using big data and deep learning to improve hiring databases.

  • Blendoor: “Blind” recruiting: merit based hiring.

  • Culture Amp: Company surveys, including on diversity, that seem to get a good balance between anonymity for surfacing issues and accountability to filter out noise.

  • Gap Jumpers: Blind “auditions” for recruiting to interrupt hiring biases.

  • Glass Breakers: Connecting professional women in a company in peer mentorships using data algorithms.

  • Interviewing.io: Practice technical interviews for real jobs anonymously.

  • Jopwell: Connecting underrepresented people of color to companies for jobs.

  • LeaveLogic: Planning employee parental leaves.

  • Make School: Two year college replacement for founders.

  • Painless1099: Manages savings for tax payments.

  • Textio: AI-powered intelligent text platform that predicts how well text will perform before it’s published.

  • Talent Sonar: Hiring platform built for your business.


Organizational Structure

  1. “New Employee Onboarding: Buddy Guidelines.” New York University. Retrieved April 2016 from: https://www.nyu.edu/content/dam/nyu/hr/documents/managerguides/BuddyGuidelines.pdf 

  2. Dasgupta, N., Scircle, M.M., and Hunsinger, M. (March 2015). “Female peers in small work groups enhance women’s motivation, verbal participation, and career aspirations in engineering.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112(16). Retrieved April 2016 from: http://www.pnas.org/content/112/16/4988.full 

  3. Cunningham, L. (July 21 2015). “In big move, Accenture will get rid of annual performance reviews and rankings.” The Washington Post. Retrieved April 2016 from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/on-leadership/wp/2015/07/21/in-big-move-accenture-will-get-rid-of-annual-performance-reviews-and-rankings/