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How to Recruit and Retain Denver's Women

In a panel at Denver Startup Week, companies discuss building a more diverse and inclusive workforce


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It seems that gender, diversity and inclusion are becoming inescapable topics in today’s business landscape. For evidence of this, look no further than this week’s Denver Startup Week. In its eighth year, the event added a new set of sessions, panels and events purely to promote the topic of people and bringing about diversity and inclusivity in every aspect of a company.

And one such aspect is in the recruiting, hiring, retaining and promoting of diverse applicant and employee pools.

In a panel put on by commercial real estate company JLL, panelists from four different Denver-based companies discussed why the city is considered one of the top cities in the country for women in the workforce and what companies can be doing better to recruit and retain women in business.

According to JLL and its research division, while women outnumber men by 18,000 in Denver’s population of 3 million, men and women evenly split the workforce for those between the “prime working ages” between 15 and 64. In fact, Denver was recently ranked as the No. 5 city for working women based on its low unemployment rates for women, high-percentage of women-owned businesses and the number of women in the state legislature (45%).

“Denver has a vibrant, growing economy,” says Elizabeth Salomon, the CFO of Xactly, a sales performance software firm. “And that is evidenced by the people coming through the door.”

However, while Denver is seemingly a great place for women in the workforce, there are still conversations to be had and still areas where improvements can be made (The panelists discussed issues of wage gaps, family leave and unconscious bias). Where all the panelists agreed is that it starts with businesses having these conversations and enacting change where they can.

“Colorado is a resourceful place and we aren’t afraid of issues,” says Erica Brown, head of talent and change management at Transamerica. “Just the fact that we bring people together and are talking about them, will make the difference for us.”

Recruiting a Diverse Workforce

For driver safety business SambaSafety CEO Allison Guidette, starting the conversation in her company began identifying and measuring exactly what their “diversity problem” looked like. Once SambaSafety identified that its problem was stemming from its applicant pools it jumped into action and set its sights on recruiting 50% female candidates for every job.

“Job descriptions can turn off candidates,” Guidette says. So, SambaSafety looked at its job descriptions and removed gendered language that may be turning off female applicants. Having a more diverse slate of applicants (50% men, 50% women) helps bring more diversity naturally, she says, adding that from there employers should still make the right talent choice for them.

Other panelists echoed similar changes to their recruiting strategies.

For Xactly — based on research that while men will apply if they meet near 60% of the requirements, women won’t apply until they meet 100% of the requirements — the company rewrote job descriptions to be impact-oriented. “Instead [of typical requirements], we looked at what the job actually required and the growth pattern looks like,” Salomon says. “We saw a 32% increase in female applicants.”

Transamerica rewrote its job descriptions in a similar fashion. “We talked about the success factors for the jobs, rather than the requirements,” Brown says.

Retaining a Diverse Workforce

However, creating more inclusivity in applicant pools only gets you so far. Once you have more women in the workplace, the panelists discussed the ways businesses can retain these women. This starts simply: “From the CEO, down,” Salomon says. Having buy-in from the top executives and leaders at the company helps create an inclusive and representative workplace — and it will create a culture that women and other diverse populations will want to work for.

From there, each company on the panel discussed their different internal programs and ways that they are promoting inclusivity as a way to retain female employees. This ranged from formal mentorship programs to promoting sponsorship for women to encouraging and creating growth opportunities for all employees.

“We are intentional around showing we have successful women working in our organization,” Brown says.

Another such method that these companies are employing is unconscious bias training. Unconscious biases are defined as social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness.

For Xactly, this included training its top 250 leaders on creating language for meetings, making sure all voices are heard in meetings and rewarding and recognizing inclusive behavior. Having training sessions where unconscious biases are discussed and made conscious helps build more discussions and open conversations on what is required to create inclusive workplaces.

“Diversity is who you are, inclusivity is what you do,” says Salomon.

The fourth member of the panel was Todd Ablowitz, co-founder and CEO of payment facilitator startup Infinicept. While the other companies were identifying problems in existing companies, Ablowitz and his co-founder are building an inclusive culture from the get-go as the company has grown from 7 to about 30 employees since November.

“We’re super small, but we’re aware that all the decisions we make now will be magnified over time,” Ablowitz says. Which is why it is having open conversations now on diversity, hiring, and pay equity from the beginning. This is because the company believes that diversity will breed a unique and really, good product.

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Ali Longwell

Ali Longwell is the digital editor at ColoradoBiz. She has also written for SDxCentral, a B2B online technology publication, as well as Denver-area lifestyle magazines 5280, Denver Life Magazine, Avid Lifestyle and more. She can be reached at alongwell@cobizmag.com

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