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Here's what one executive learned when she chose inclusion over pay

Many women of color face bias and exclusion, but have to grit their teeth through it for a paycheck. Ruchika Tulshyan, author of ""Inclusion on Purpose," explains the conundrum and lays out five ways to hire more inclusively.
Hilliary Turnipseed is a talent acquisition executive based in Washington D.C.
Hilliary Turnipseed is a talent acquisition executive based in Washington D.C.Rodney Choice

Hilliary Turnipseed can’t wait to start her new job as a talent acquisition executive, later this month. She’ll get to work flexible hours, have time to manage projects outside of work and her new employer has demonstrated a strong commitment to creating an inclusive work culture.

She’s also taken a significant pay cut for this new role– close to $30,000 less than her last role. And she’s undeterred by it.

“I am joining an organization that is investing in me and also my insights on creating consciously inclusive teams,” said Turnipseed, who lives in Washington D.C. and has worked for organizations like Discovery and POLITICO. But in her last role at a technology startup, where she was one of the only Black women on the team, she said she faced, “direct microaggressions and discrimination that held me back from advancement, recognition and being afforded the same flexible work conditions as other white staff.”

“That was when I knew I will never give someone that power over me ever again,” she said. From now on, she’ll be prioritizing an inclusive company culture over a higher salary. “The feeling of being seen, heard and valued became more important to me than salary matching,” she added.

Ruchika Tulshyan is an inclusion strategist, CEO of Candour and author of "Inclusion on Purpose."
Ruchika Tulshyan is an inclusion strategist, CEO of Candour and author of "Inclusion on Purpose."Courtesy of Ruchika Tulshyan

Women of color face a particularly acute conundrum in many corporate environments where they're the first, only, different or one of the few. Many face bias and exclusion, but have to grit their teeth through it for a paycheck. Many don't have the financial safety net of their white peers. Over time, it's clear that inclusion matters more than pay. But as many women of color I spoke to shared, the financial considerations can weigh heavy–over four in five Black mothers are breadwinners. Faced with an impossible choice, most women of color I spoke to quit when they couldn't see a way to carry on. Most often, the tipping point came when the toll on their mental health, relationships and physical health becomes too much to bear, as many of the women of color I interviewed told me.

Research supports the ‘why’ behind Turnipseed’s decision. Talented individuals deeply value and prioritize managers who create inclusive workplaces. In fact, inclusive behaviors far outweigh other company benefits for millennials, the largest demographic in the American workplace today. A Deloitte study found 39 percent of millennials would leave their current employer for a more inclusive one, and that 80 percent of millennial employees say inclusion is important when choosing a new employer.

The same study found that for many jobseekers, a company-wide corporate diversity and inclusion program was less important than inclusive behaviors demonstrated by their peers and leaders. Inclusion on purpose matters now and will continue to become more fundamental in the future of work.

I can’t overstate the importance of an inclusive hiring process and culture for any organization today. More jobseekers–especially women of color– are actively looking for clues to indicate that the company’s culture would be inclusive to them. For example, as a working mother, if interviewers keep talking about an “always available” work environment, I know I wouldn’t belong there. If current employees keep talking about happy hours as a way to network there, I probably wouldn’t fit in there if I didn’t drink alcohol. Of course, I’m not suggesting that interviewers fake an inclusive work environment, instead, recognize the meaningful and long-term work ahead to create a more inclusive culture. But learning what these barriers are is the first step. Remember that the job interview process runs both ways–the candidate is also assessing whether the employer would be right for them.

To create a more inclusive hiring process, leaders have to prioritize actions to include everyone–not just dominant group individuals. Here are some data-backed examples:

1. Don’t use words in job listings that negatively impact women and people from underestimated groups to apply. Also, share a salary range where possible.

Where possible, emphasize skills and experience over professional degrees. This increases the likelihood that a wide variety of candidates will find the job appealing by removing words that indicate certain people do not belong.

Examples of words to avoid in job listings: Rockstar, ninja, hacker, guru, manage, build, aggressive, fearless, independent, analytical, assertive. These words are often associated with masculine traits and multiple studies find women are less likely to apply when job ads have them.

Examples of words to use in job listings: Create, dedicated, responsible, conscientious, sociable.

2. Don’t ask questions or initiate conversations about “culture fit” or criteria (both official and in discussions) around culture fit. Seek to bring “culture add” – people who are different and will add diversity to your team.

If you’re seeking to diversify your organization, why hire for sameness?

3. Have a diverse interview loop and avoid panel interviews.

Homogeneity among interviewers can indicate to jobseekers that diversity is not valued on the team. Panel interviews can reinforce hiring for “culture fit” over “culture add.”

4. Consider "The Voice" style challenges for the first round of interviews, where candidates are asked to solve a challenge (you can’t see any demographic information about them).

This is an important tool for mitigating bias, these "Voice-style unseen auditions" allow for demonstration of skill without indicators of race, gender, and other factors.

5. Ensure salary offers are made fairly and in-line with other comparable salaries.

We know that women, people of color, and others from marginalized backgrounds are historically paid less. Be transparent and vigilant that you’re not perpetuating bias.

As Turnipseed’s experience confirms, for some women of color, an inclusive experience with an employer can be more important than higher pay. Smart leaders will prioritize creating an inclusive hiring process to bring in the best candidates from all backgrounds. Inclusion on purpose matters and it takes intention, practice and transparency.

Ruchika Tulshyan is an award-winning inclusion strategist, CEO of Candour and author of "Inclusion on Purpose: An Intersectional Approach to Creating a Culture of Belonging at Work."