Advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in STEM

By Michele Rapp

Now, more than ever, organizations are becoming more intentional in their efforts to create diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplaces. Assistant Director for the West Coast and Cooperative Education Faculty for the College of Engineering in Seattle, Kelsey Kaul, EdD’22 is on a mission to guide STEM start-ups in their hiring process to increase representation of women and historically underrepresented groups. I sat down with Kaul to learn more about her research in diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Improving the hiring process

Hiring diverse talent is essential to a company’s success, explains Kaul. Start-ups tend to be founded by people who already know each other, often resulting in less diversity of ideas and skills. This is a significant barrier to success, as only ten percent of start-ups survive five years.

A key obstacle to diversity, according to Kaul, is employee referrals, which tends to increase homogeneity since talent is being pitched from the network of current employees. Kaul suggests supplementing the process with questions like, “How do you know this person?” and, “Were they a peer or supervisor?” or, “Is this person from an underrepresented group?”

Kaul consults with companies to increase the consistency of the interview process so that candidates are only evaluated on established skills and criteria related to the job description. Using a set of pre-selected questions for each candidate increases equity in interviews. Having candidates work on scenario-based problems from real-world situations is best, Kaul shares, rather than an abstract coding exercise for example. Before a group debriefs about candidates, Kaul suggests collecting anonymous feedback from all the interviewers.

Allyship and associations

The actions of managers and colleagues in the workplace have a great impact on the satisfaction and success of underrepresented staff. Kaul surveyed 300 women in tech which revealed a common complaint of being spoken over in meetings and managers not giving credit for work and ideas. Managers and team members can make a difference as allies by understanding and changing these dynamics so that all can contribute. In meetings, leaders can create a culture of giving shout outs to recognize contributions, manage interruptions, and call on people to speak so that all voices are heard.

Larger companies often have employee resource groups and mentor programs for sharing information and advocacy. Kaul encourages individuals to connect with their professional groups and attend conferences for support outside of their organization.

These increased efforts in research, organizational improvements, professional associations, and individual and managerial leadership are creating greater opportunities. There is a push within the industry for change to happen. How will you be an ally in this movement?

November 23, 2021


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