On this episode of The RecruitingDaily Podcast, William Tincup speaks with Annie Lin, VP of people at Lever, about the company’s findings in their 2021 State of DEI Report.

Annie is a passionate people leader who specializes in coaching and developing talent and building inclusive workplaces. Give the show a listen and let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Listening Time: 32 minutes

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Annie L. Lin
VP, People Lever

Annie is a versatile people leader with a background in business management. This non-traditional combination has equipped her with a unique ability to align people strategies and practices with business outcomes — and partner with the rest of the business in broader, deeper, and more impactful ways. It's also shaped her strong belief in the symbiotic relationship between caring for the business and caring for people.

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Music:  00:00

This is RecruitingDaily’s, Recruiting Live Podcast, where we look at the strategies behind the world’s best talent acquisition teams. We talk recruiting, sourcing, and talent acquisition. Each week we take one overcomplicated topic and break it down so that your three year old can understand it. Make sense? Are you ready to take your game to the next level? You’re at the right spot. You’re now entering the mind of a hustler. Here’s your host, William Tincup.

William:  00:33

Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup. You’re listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Today, we have Annie on from Lever, and we’re actually going to be talking about what they’ve just researched. So it’s kind of uncovering DEI misalignment and Lever’s 2021 State of DEI reports. We’re going to be kind of going through their findings and learning about some of the things that surprised them, some of the things that they kind of already knew, et cetera. So Annie, do us a favor and introduce yourself and Lever.

Annie:  01:05

Yeah, thanks so much, William. My name is Annie Lin. I am the VP of people here at Lever. This audience actually might be quite familiar with Lever already, given that we are ourselves, and our product, are in the talent and recruiting space. But we are a talent relationship management software. Essentially, we are a recruiting software that helps companies tackle what we believe and what we call repeatedly to be one of the biggest challenges that organizations face in their success, which is attracting and ultimately bringing on really, really talented people. So through a couple different ways, our product allows organizations and talent teams and hiring managers all over, to be able to do that.

William:  01:51

So let’s start with the word misalignment, because that’s actually what really kind of sparked my curiosity. It’s the DEI, kind off what you found in the misalignment. Take us into that world of kind of misalignment? What you found?

Annie:  02:08

Yeah, I think one of the most interesting themes that came out of our most recent DEI report is that while employers believe that they have made a lot of strides when it comes to DEI efforts, their employees don’t necessarily agree. And that misalignment, definitely I think that will be an interesting topic for us to dive deeper into, but what really jumped out at us is just that there is this disconnect. Whether it is because of communication or because of actual impact, between what the companies think they’re doing and what employees believe their companies are doing.

William:  02:47

So is that communications? Is that expectations? What do you think that the gap is?

Annie:  02:59

Yeah. And just to jump into some of the numbers a little bit too, to paint that picture. We asked about DEI in this report, in a couple different ways. But one of the stats from the results that really jumped out at us is 97%. So, almost all of the employers who responded to the survey that ultimately informed the report, they believe that they have introduced new inclusion related efforts and measures over the past year. But if you look at what employees believe has happened only a quarter, in fact less than a quarter, about 24%, believe their employer has not introduced any new measures when it comes to this area. So that’s a huge difference in perception at the very least, of what is happening.

Annie:  04:02

And I think there’s a couple things that drive this. I think one of them is absolutely communication. And I think there’s a ton of opportunities for HR teams, people teams, leadership teams, companies in general, to think more about how they’re going about their internal comms, their internal communication channels. To make sure that they’re effectively and quite frankly, repeatedly, demonstrating what it is that they’re doing. And from an accountability perspective and measuring impact perspective, also demonstrating progress or lack of progress, when it comes to the actual DEI initiatives.

William:  04:41

So, again, do you see some of this as companies, again, they might have the problem of miscommunication or not having enough transparency, et cetera. Have you seen or do you believe that some of this is kind of afraid to fail? On the side of practitioners, in terms of rolling out a program and it failing. You want to attract more female engineers and you communicate that to your employees. You say, “Yeah, we want to do this.” And you try a bunch of different things, it just doesn’t work. Like, is there anything underneath that, that you see that’s not just a communications problem, there’s other things that are in the way?

Annie:  05:33

Yeah. I mean, absolutely. And I think those two things relate to each other. Like a fear of failure may a result in a company deciding to communicate less.

William:  05:45

That’s right. That’s right.

Annie:  05:46

Because they don’t want their failures to be out there in super public.

William:  05:51

Which is odd because you know what I mean? Like that’s a part of growth.

Annie:  05:57

Absolutely. Definitely agree with you. I think there is a fear of failure here. And I also agree with you that that fear is not helpful for growth and making progress, even if it is very understandable. From a human nature perspective. The other thing I’ll say is that I think a lot of companies are still trying to figure out the right quote unquote, and I mean right in the sense of what’s right for that company, the right way to talk about DEI related issues, with different groups of their employees. Because of course it could be a bit of, some of them could be a bit of a sensitive topic. It could be very personal, which is also one of the reasons DEI is so important. And I think a lot of companies are still just figuring out how do we even talk about these types of topics with our employees.

William:  06:47

Yes, Annie, it’s just us. I think that’s kind of a cop out. I mean, I won’t call BS on it, but I think it’s a cop out to then not have those conversations. No one has a playbook and every company’s going to kind of be on this journey and be on a journey and figure it out themselves. But to not have challenging conversations because you don’t know like how to have challenging conversations. Like yeah, no, I just don’t buy that.

Annie:  07:20

I totally agree. I do believe that it is a real challenge.

William:  07:26

It’s definitely, a hundred percent. No, I definitely agree with that.

Annie:  07:29

Yeah. I also believe that the solution is not therefore to just shy away from these conversations.

William:  07:36

That’s right. [crosstalk 00:07:37]

Annie:  07:37

The solution is to figure out, how do you figure how to do it well? I’ll give you an example of something we did at Lever last year, that honestly, when my team first talked about this idea, I was a little nervous about, but that ultimately ended up being exactly the right thing to do. Which was last year, 2020, was a tough year for a lot of reasons. I guess some of that has continued to this year as well. But we also had a presidential election in the US, late last year. That was, let’s just say that different people, depending on their viewpoints had a lot of anxieties about that particular election.

William:  08:18

You’re doing a really good job of describing that. Thanks.

Annie:  08:23

And one of the things we ended up doing at Lever is we knew that like the rest of the rest of the world, quite frankly, certainly the rest of the country, like our employees were feeling really anxious about this. And as you may recall from the election, there were several days, when we didn’t actually know the outcomes of the election. And so it was several days of people sort of sitting around, not knowing what’s going to happen and feeling really anxious. And I think some companies have decided to tackle this by saying, “No talk about these types of topics.” And in my mind, as a company that like at least tries to lead with empathy and inclusion, one, that’s just not what people need. This is going to be anxiety-inducing for people because it is anxiety-inducing for people.

Annie:  09:16

And secondly, in my opinion, it’s also totally unrealistic to expect our employees, who are citizens of the world to not, there’s this idea that you’re supposed to separate your work life from your personal life, which I think is completely unrealistic. Especially, in the last year and a half when those two worlds have been smashed together in a really unprecedented way. And so anyway, we ended up, we actually worked with our CEO to facilitate an open, optional, discussion with anyone who wanted to attend, about the election. It was of course, totally nonpartisan, but our CEO facilitated this conversation and actually asked a bunch of questions that he knew was likely on people’s minds, but they were uncomfortable maybe asking in the setting.

Annie:  10:01

I was a little nervous about this idea, I’ll be honest, but it ended up being this just incredible forum, for people to talk and feel safe. And honestly, be able to process a little bit of angst in a way that’s more productive. And we heard really great feedback about this. And that’s just sort of like, I think one of the things that companies can maybe get more creative on. Like how do you have and facilitate these types of conversations productively instead of shying away from them?

William:  10:30

Love that. And first of all, that was bold, to have those conversations. And again, smart. Because there’s already enough ambiguity and anxiety in people’s lives. This was just murder [inaudible 00:10:48], there’s more anxiety and ambiguity. And so just to be able to talk and listen to people and just give them an access point to then voice their concerns. And I think just again, challenging conversations are called challenging conversation for a reason.

Annie:  11:06

Yeah, absolutely.

William:  11:10

Like they’re not easy conversations, they’re challenging. You know, duh.

Annie:  11:14


William:  11:15

But I love the idea of having them and learning from them. So I love that. Let’s talk a little bit about the report. Whenever you do research, it’s been my experience that some of that comes back and it kind of validates some of the things you already knew. You had a kind of a hypothesis and you’re like, hey, okay. That 89% of the people believe X, Y, and Z. Yep, that makes sense.

William:  11:41

And there’s always, inevitably, something that comes out of the research, that it’s out of left field. It’s either, you’re shocked, you’re surprised, you’re blindsided, but you just didn’t expect it. So while we deal with those, as you look at the findings from the report, on both sides, what was validating for you and maybe what was surprising?

Annie:  12:07

Yeah. Great question. I think on the category of what was not exactly surprising to us is that an increased number, percentage, of the companies that we talked to, are starting to put more and more emphasis onto DEI. This is something that we were really, really happy to see. We weren’t surprised by it, but it was still good to see it actually in the data itself. For example, in the survey, we found that in over the past year, 52% of companies, a slight majority, I suppose, have introduced measures to ensure pay equity. So that’s one very specific area of DEI. Of course, an extremely important area of DEI. And it’s good to see more companies starting to want to put in place more measures to make sure that the area of pay is equitable and inclusive as well.

Annie:  13:10

The other thing that was good to see and not surprising to see, is that more and more teams are starting to understand that in order to move the needle on DEI, you have to measure it. And it’s nothing groundbreaking, but it was good for us. We were happy to see, as far as the state of the industry goes, that companies and HR teams are starting to look at metrics. Of course, from the hiring side, employee demographics, looking at employee experience surveys, et cetera, to make sure they’re using data to measure and evaluating the progress of their work.

Annie:  13:49

The other side of things that maybe were a little bit more surprising to us, I’ll say two things. One is what we talked about a little bit earlier, which is the gap between what companies think they’re doing, and what employees think their companies are doing. I expected there to be some gap, because I think there’s always a little bit of a gap. I did not expect the gap to be that big.

William:  14:10

The Grand Canyon.

Annie:  14:14

The Grand Canyon, for sure. I talked about 52% of companies saying that they introduce measures about employee pay. The flip side of that is only about 24% of employees report that their companies have taken these types of actions. So that’s a huge difference, 52% versus less than a fourth. And then the other thing I would say is that I think there is so much opportunity still for people teams, the leadership team is to leverage more data and look at different types of metrics. To really get a better sense, a clear a sense, of how things are going with DEI efforts. How they’re tracking and be able to ultimately communicate to their company or even externally how things are going.

William:  15:02

So you mentioned analytics, and so I want to kind of dig into that. On one level, what’s important to be measured? What do you feel, that we should, as companies, what we should be measuring. And then we’ll kind of go into the, once we kind of agree on what we’re measuring, how do we align ourselves with programs that help us to then get to those things, those aspirations? And then lastly, how do we communicate, again, whether or not we get there or don’t. But how should we, the optimal way that we should be communicating, of where we’re trying to go, North star? How we’re trying to get there, programmatically? And whether or not we got there or not, or partially?

Annie:  15:57

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think in my mind, if I were to try to put into sort of a couple of simple buckets in terms of what to measure, I think about who do we have in the first place in the company. So a lot of that is on the hiring side, as well as on the attritionary retention side. Like who do we have in the company in the first place? Is this a diverse workplace, in the first place? And that’s one big category. And then the second big category is the people who are here, do they feel they belong? Do different employees from different backgrounds, with different points of view, do they feel like they can belong in this community at this company? And so, in that first category, some of the metrics that we look at are diversity of our recruiting pipeline. So at various stages of the hiring process, looking at our candidates across a couple different dimensions of demographics, other elements of diversity.

Annie:  17:00

We obviously, I love how we use our own products. We have a pretty robust sort of candidate survey, that can provide a lot of this type of self-reported anonymized information that we can use. And ultimately allows us to identify where there might be hotspots. Like where in our process, is there a drop off in diversity, and allowing us to therefore focus our efforts, on making that area better. We also look at attrition data, like who’s leaving the company. Are there any patterns there in who’s leaving the company, that quite frankly, we do not want to see. And then on the side of the people who are here, do they feel they belong? Can we sort of measure that in a couple different ways. There’s sort of employee surveys and pulse checks to get a sense from employees themselves, if they feel it’s an inclusive environment. And then from a more quantitative data perspective, we look at things like who’s getting promoted. Who’s getting raises. The performance ratings that different people are getting.

Annie:  18:04

My team, actually, we run a performance review. A 360 review, every six months. We also have comp review, that’s attached to that as well. And as part of that process, every round, every six months, my team actually runs a DEI analysis of the outcomes of that process before results are finalized. And we basically look at those things. Who’s getting promoted, who’s being put up for raise, et cetera. And performance ratings across like race, gender, age group, a couple of different dimensions. Again, to make sure that there’s not trends, that we don’t want to see. And where there are, where there are flags, we actually talk about it with the executive team and is, you know, is the based on actual impact? And it might be, or is it not? And so those are definitely some real conversations that we’ll have internally as well with our leadership team.

William:  18:59

I love that, and the usage of the word belong. Mentally, I’ve kind of moved over to thrive, so belong is kind of table stakes. Like, do I belong? But I think a lot of diverse candidates are looking at, “Will I belong?” And, “Can I belong?” And looking at people in the recruiting process, people in LinkedIn profiles, and really doing kind of a deep dive into researching who’s there, who’s thriving, et cetera.

William:  19:30

But I also, will they thrive? In that environment with that team, with that company, et cetera. How do you see companies communicating culture as it relates to DEI, today? Or ways that they need to improve communicating culture, so that they get candidates over that hump of not just thinking about that they can belong, but that they can thrive?

Annie:  20:01

Yeah. I think the first thing that comes to mind for me is who, to my point earlier, like who do you have in the company first place? And what positions are them in? I think candidates are extremely smart and they care about this and they want to do their research and they want to know what’s really going on. And honestly, this is one of the things that I think companies sometimes don’t do for the reason we talked about earlier, possibly for fear of failure.

Annie:  20:32

And I totally agree with you, that I think that’s very unhealthy. But I really would encourage companies, this is something Lever does as well, I would really encourage companies to share their DEI stats. The demographics of their team. What’s the makeup of your employees overall? What’s the makeup of your leadership team? What’s the makeup of your executive team, et cetera. Not so that you can show that everything is perfect. I mean, it’s unlikely that everything is perfect.

William:  21:05

In fact, if it is, I don’t trust it.

Annie:  21:07

Exactly. But one is, it’s incredible transparency, for candidates to be like, “Oh, this company cares enough and is open enough, about this topic that they’re willing to publish these types of numbers.” And two, it’s an amazing way to put some accountability, on companies to say, “Oh, these numbers we feel proud of. And these numbers, we don’t feel very proud of that. So what are we going to do about that, so that these numbers we can feel prouder of over time? So that’s a huge part of I think, making sure that you are communicating the right and the accurate message to your candidates, as well as holding yourself accountable.

William:  21:54

Yeah. And again, failures, it’s not your enemy. It’s not communicating, is actually your enemy. So you can actually on your careers page, talk openly about, “Hey, we’re struggling to find more female engineers. Here’s the things that we’re doing. If you have any ideas, we’re all ears. Because we have the ambition, we have the desire to increase this population. And for whatever reason, we’re coming up short, so please help.”

William:  22:32

If I read that I would go, you know what, two points. Because you know, you’re being, again, you’re not putting a lipstick on a pig. You’re telling your version of the truth. What do you make of the response that you kind of hear commonly about sources or recruiters that can’t find the talent? Like, and pick this any way you want, disabled veterans? So like any slice of diversity that you’d like to go through and they just can’t find the candidates. What’s your take on that?

Annie:  23:10

Yeah. I mean, I think the talent is out there. And it’s about how hard, quote, unquote, you’re willing to go, I suppose, to really find the talent. You know, we have found, and I think I would imagine this is true for a lot of talent teams as well, we have found that proactive sourcing is a secret weapon or not so secret weapon, it’s just something we should be doing. A lot. Because proactive sourcing we found to be one of the most effective, one of the most impactful tools that we have in our arsenal, to make sure that our pipelines are diverse.

Annie:  23:58

Depending on certain roles, you might get lucky and your inbound pipeline is already great and somehow happens to be diverse, great. In a very heated market like this, that is very unlikely. And especially if you are a company that is trying to make some real impact on the diversity side, you got to go out and look for people. You got to go out and be strategic about where you’re advertising your jobs, to make sure that it’s getting in front of different audiences. And you got to be strategic about sourcing candidates yourself as well. And so I think this isn’t something that is going to happen on its own, for companies that really do care about this. You got to work on it.

William:  24:45

You know, it’s funny because by and large, you find that people in the sourcing community, they’ve kind of figured out how, what something works. Like they’ll hack something and this is how they do it. And I think when you’re introduced you say, you know what, everyone’s responsible for diversity. And the pipeline, when you hand over a slate of five candidates, it has to be a diverse slate of five candidates.

William:  25:13

It means that they have to relearn. They have to actually, put some of the tools and techniques and tactics aside that have gotten them where they are, and they have to relearn how to source or to how to source differently. That’s audience. It’s doing all the things that you mentioned. But I think some of the barrier is that people just don’t want to relearn.

Annie:  25:40


William:  25:40

Got to a certain point and they’re very comfortable with that place of learning, and they’re like, “You know what? I know how to go into this tool, make it do these things to get these candidates.” But that’s not going to get us to a different outcome. It’ll just get us to the same outcome.

Annie:  25:56

Exactly. Continuing to do what we’ve done in the past is going to get us to where it has gotten us in the past.

William:  26:04

That’s right. That’s right.

Annie:  26:06

Exactly, if we’re trying to change things, then we have change what we do.

William:  26:08

So you mentioned pay equity, inequity a second ago, and I wanted to just kind of get, a take or your take on what questions are you seeing, or you think that we need to bring up to candidates around our, either where we are at our state of pay equity or pay inequities? Like what’s the conversation that we should be having with diverse talent?

Annie:  26:36

Yeah. I mean, one thing I would say is that a lot of pay inequity, from what I’ve seen in, often unintentionally, but the impact is just as damaging, can come from one anchoring to people’s previous pay. So essentially continuing passing inequities in into this job. And the second thing is sometime it comes down to how safe people feel about negotiating. And so one of the things that at least that we’ve tried, that we feel like has worked, is trying to take some of that subjectivity as much as possible out of decisions like pay.

Annie:  27:21

I think there will always be a little bit of subjectivity, especially if pay is directly linked to performance, et cetera. But I think there’s a lot of things that companies can do to take a little bit of that out. So one of them is using, for example, objective third party market benchmarks. That is basically just an aggregate sort of source of data, to show you for a role like this, at this level, at this location, at this type of company, et cetera, here’s what’s competitive. And using that objective data to inform all of your, quite frankly, compensation decisions. Whether that’s for internal raises or external offers candidates. And using that as your, maybe not the only, but certainly one of your main sort of factors to determine how much to pay someone.

Annie:  28:11

So it’s less about how much they negotiate, how much they push, what they made previously, but it’s just about, this is the job that this person is doing. Doesn’t matter who’s doing it. Whoever is doing this job should be paid this amount, and that’s what’s competitive and fair. And then the second thing is taking the effort to, every time you make an offer or want to give someone a raise internally, to check for peer equity. To make sure if there are other folks in the company who are doing comparable jobs, roughly the same performance sort of output, around the same location, et cetera, that they are paid in a way that reflects that. That it reflects those consistencies. So making sure part of the process is to explicitly check for peer equity. Go ahead.

William:  29:01

No, I love that you brought it back to skills and competencies, because again, you’re taking some of that subjectivity, negotiation stuff, Bob’s good at negotiating, Janet is not, they’re doing the same job, ultimately it’s $140,000 job period, in the story you’re paying for skills. Now performance, that comes down, that’s after the hire. And that’s a different conversation. You’re now paying for performance. But initially it’s $140,000 job, which leads me to ask you a question around pay and equity, as it relates to location. So take Janet and Bob, one lives in San Francisco, the other lives in Dallas, Texas. Cost of living is obviously different. However, the job’s still the same job. So how do you reconcile that Janet’s going to make 28% less doing the exact same job?

Annie:  30:08

Yeah. I mean, I think that’s honestly something that we are still figuring out ourselves. And I think it’s a question that all companies are probably confronting, especially in this new world of [crosstalk 00:30:19].

William:  30:19

Oh. And I don’t have any answers by the way.

Annie:  30:21

Yeah, no, for sure. I don’t think I’m going to answer on this one either. I think it ultimately comes down to the philosophy of each company. Where we currently are at least, is that we do sort of adjust pay based on location. And that’s because we believe there’s different sort of levels of cost of living in different locations. But we have made it a point to make sure that your equity, so your stock options in the company are location agnostic.

Annie:  30:54

Because we believe that if you’re doing the same job, you should have the same level of ownership in the company, regardless if you are in San Francisco or you are Toronto or anywhere else. So obviously that’s something we might evolve down the line. But I think the question for companies to think through is exactly what you’re asking. Like what is our philosophy? Why is that our philosophy? What does that serve? What does it not serve? And using that to guide policy and program decisions.

William:  31:24

It’s really going to be fascinating to see how remote work changes or disrupts that in the future. And again, there’s no answers here. It’s just really interesting. I would ask you about job descriptions and pay and putting salaries and those things. But I know you got to get onto the next thing. Is the report already, is it available right now?

Annie:  31:47

It is, in fact. We can definitely share with you, if you’re interested in taking a look at the details.

William:  31:53

I would, and more importantly, the audience would. Would love to download it, I’m sure. Annie, thank you so much for coming on the podcast and just taking us through this. I appreciate you.

Annie:  32:04

Yeah. Thanks you so much. Thanks for chatting William. I really enjoyed speaking with you.

William:  32:08

And thanks for everyone listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast, until next time.

Music:  32:14

You’ve been listening to the Recruiting Live Podcast, by RecruitingDaily. Check out the latest industry podcast, webinars, articles, and news at recruitingdaily.com.


The RecruitingDaily Podcast

William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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