How to launch your equity, diversity, and inclusion strategy at work

By Elly Bradley, Director of Talent at TextNow

Recruitment professionals are used to candidates inquiring about compensation, company perks, and vacation policy during the interview process. Yet, many are stumped when candidates ask detailed questions about the state of diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging in their respective workplaces. These conversations are becoming more common than ever before and the human side of hiring can no longer be ignored.

The human side of hiring can no longer be ignored.

Candidates want to work for companies that share their values and demonstrate an effort to effect real change. According to ZipRecruiter, 86% of job seekers say workplace diversity is an important factor in their job search. Monster states that 62% of job seekers would turn down a job offer if they felt the company did not value diversity & inclusion. No matter your size, every business needs an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) strategy that goes beyond social media statements if they hope to attract and retain top employees and build world class companies.

EDI initiatives have been a critical component of organizations and HR functions for many years, but the events of 2020 have made them company-wide priorities and catapulted anti-racism efforts to the forefront as well. The pandemic, the resulting economic hardship, and the widespread protests of systemic racial injustice sparked by tragic events like the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police accelerated the prioritization of company culture, EDI programs and anti-racism efforts for prospective candidates looking to work for an inclusive, safe employer.

Many large enterprises, like Manulife, are hiring senior leaders to drive EDI initiatives across the company and committing to hiring goals that strengthen diversity. This is a huge step towards bridging the diversity representation gap, however, most companies don’t have the human and economic resources of a global financial enterprise like Manulife.

For smaller companies, there are still many ways to make real progress towards a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive workplace. EDI initiatives are investments, not expenses, and according to CEO Caitlin MacGregor, they are a competitive advantage.

“Tech companies should be at the forefront of taking advantage of all the untapped potential in the market to help them solve problems from new and unexplored perspectives," Caitlin MacGregor, CEO of

“As tech CEOs, we’re solving problems and doing things that have never been done before, while constantly trying to balance risks. Given those risks, many in our industry stick to hiring people who they think will be ‘safe’,” says Caitlin. “Tech companies should be at the forefront of taking advantage of all the untapped potential in the market to help them solve problems from new and unexplored perspectives… If you want the best people, you have to look beyond a resume and past experience.”

“If we’re always looking backward, we’ll never be able to drive forward and conquer new ground,” she continued.

I’ve spent over three years as the director of recruitment for TextNow, the leading mobile app providing free voice calling and texting. It’s our mission to bring affordable communication to everyone and the spirit of inclusivity, fairness, and equal access is in our founding DNA.

In 2020, TextNow decided to take concrete steps to ensure that our principles around inclusivity were reflected in how we operate as a culture and workplace. To begin, we formed our first EDI Committee with passionate volunteers from across disciplines and teams. We conducted research and spoke with our own networks to understand how other professionals were approaching their EDI strategy.

By compiling all of the research and feedback we were able to craft a roadmap that would guide us to achieving our desired outcomes. The roadmap was populated with various activities, including awareness-raising initiatives (such as the celebration of various cultural events), a book and movie club dedicated to exploring EDI and anti-racism themes, and auditing our HR and recruitment processes to ensure they included best practices for supporting and promoting EDI.

We were proud of the changes we made together, but we recognized that some of our critical goals, like a company-wide audit, would require external expertise if they were going to have an effective and lasting impact. We acknowledged that our committee still didn’t know enough to have a sustainable impact at TextNow so we decided to solicit help from an external organization dedicated to EDI strategy that would help us achieve these goals.

After reviewing proposals from multiple interested parties, we decided to work with Michelle Grocholsky, Founder and Principal of Empowered EDI, to help us take the next steps on our journey. Empowered EDI is a boutique consulting firm that specializes in designing sustainable EDI strategies with impact. Michelle and her team of experts are currently helping us develop a clear understanding of how equitable, diverse, and inclusive we are today, where our gaps and strengths are, and what actions we can take to embed EDI into all aspects of our culture, including our daily interactions, and people practices.

I recognize that expert consultants are a luxury that many small businesses can’t afford. However, After connecting with a variety of EDI and anti-racism experts, we identified 3 things every company can do to lay the foundation of a strong EDI program.

Three things every company can do to kickstart an EDI program

1) Establish channels for honest communication

The first step is to establish channels and forums for honest communication. Companies and their leaders need to be open to vulnerable and transparent conversations and listen with humility. As New York Times bestselling author Brene Brown says, “integrity is choosing courage over comfort.” Not having all of the answers is uncomfortable, but open communication is an important step in acknowledging the necessity of EDI and being an ally for change.

By working with Michelle at Empowered EDI I learned that people naturally feel uncomfortable speaking about topics of exclusion, discrimination, and inequity in the workplace. When we feel that discomfort, our instinctive tendency is to become defensive - comparing someone else’s experiences to our own and even contrasting their experiences to our intentions to be good, fair people. Despite our best efforts, these deep-seated feelings are unhelpful to achieving our EDI goals. What we end up doing is further marginalizing people, when what we should be doing is listening to them with an open and non-judgmental mind.

So, how can you foster open dialogue at your company? Michelle has created a helpful template (which you can access here) to support these open conversations in the workplace and help you to pinpoint where you can focus your efforts. You can use this framework to start an open, inclusive dialogue about EDI within your team, helping you to see possible areas where focus and action are needed.

2) Normalize discussions about diversity

Another action you can take to improve EDI in your company is to be proactive about helping your team members get to know each other and to start normalizing discussions about diversity. Create safe spaces for employees to share more about themselves, including personal and professional stories. For example, you can use your existing communication channels, like an internal newsletter, Slack channel, or all staff meetings, to showcase new members of your team. Our stories can reveal important aspects of our identity or experience in the world and provide helpful insight for people to work more inclusively together.

For example, perhaps you have dyslexia, or were raised in a multigenerational home. Maybe you’ve felt pigeonholed by stereotypes about your gender identity or race, or are really proud to be a Millennial. Whatever your story is, there is power in sharing it. When we open up about who we are, we empower others to do the same. “This vulnerability and openness is essential to true inclusion” Michelle adds, “we cannot embrace difference if we are not willing to talk about it.”

3) Incorporate EDI into your onboarding process

If you work at a smaller company, you have the unique opportunity to ensure that EDI and anti-racism are built-in as you grow. I connected with anti-racism and equity consultant Teneile Warren to get a sense of how startups and scaling companies can set themselves up for EDI success.

“Onboarding is a critical component to building a strong foundation of EDI and anti-racism into your company,” says Teneile, “Onboarding will establish the principles and expectations towards anti-racism and EDI at the beginning of an employee's journey with you. It’s also important to have a six-month check in to ensure a sense of belonging and inclusivity is prevalent across your workforce.”

She recommends your onboarding also include the following:

  • Make anti-racism training a part of onboarding (videos, courses, or updates about what your organization is doing).

  • Provide resources for support so new hires know their full wellbeing is supported immediately.

  • Create an expectation that you are committed to continued growth and development in the area of EDI and anti-racism.

Ultimately, Teneile says that no one should wonder where your organization stands. Be specific and have regular restorative conversations led by senior leaders. Finally, she says it’s ok to make mistakes along the way; it’s not ok to leave them unaddressed – it’s a part of growth.

"It’s ok to make mistakes along the way; it’s not ok to leave them unaddressed – it’s a part of growth," Teneile Warren, Anti-Racism, & Equity Consultant

The world is constantly evolving. Organizations need EDI programs that are iterative and respond to the current environment. It is not good enough to implement a program and assume you have delivered on your commitment. You must be willing to continue learning and evolving, to adapt your approach as the company changes, to have honest conversations, and to prioritize onboarding new team members with EDI and anti-racism front of mind. Your commitment to an evolving EDI strategy is key to building a strong, resilient culture and team.

Elly Bradley is the Director of Talent at TextNow, a Kitchener-Waterloo tech startup that uses technology to create new ways for people to communicate that are free, or as close to free as possible.