“Why did you start Canvas?”
This is a question I get asked daily. I always give the same answer and it goes something like this.
When I was sixteen years old, I dropped out of high school and fell into recruiting. At the age of twenty-one, I started my own company and had spent a total of thirteen years recruiting for investment banks and hedge funds in the United States. During this time, these organizations would tell me about the importance of diversity. I’d read insightful articles they would write about DE&I (diversity, equity, and inclusion). But one big thing stood out to me—what these companies did versus what they said. It was a whole different story.
Instead of being diverse, I saw how undiverse they were. They’d never interviewed someone like me, let alone hire someone like me. I grew sick of what I saw. I knew there was more to someone than the school they went to and the company they worked for.
If I, a privileged white person, wasn’t willing to stand up and do something about, who else would? Even though I’m not diverse by gender or ethnicity, that doesn’t mean I can’t help the problem. Diversity is more than that—and so I want to explain my perspective and how I strive to make the world more equitable.
Diversity—What is it?
Before starting Canvas, I decided to really dig into this problem. What did organizations mean by “diversity”? What are companies actually trying to achieve?
I’d hear, we need to “diversify our pipeline” or “we need to hire more diverse talent.” But to be honest, I didn’t even know what that meant, and I don’t think they did either. When I dug in more, they went on to explain they had to interview a certain number of women or they needed to show they have Black talent in the process. When it went further, it seemed like they were doing what was asked of them, but they didn’t actually care. I found it hard to believe that it was actually important to them.
What I witnessed was a different story from what they had been asked to do. Even if they tried to “diversify their pipeline,” they didn’t actually care about that person getting the job or be given a fair shot. That individual was simply a number to them.
When you think about recruiting, it’s interesting to think about how many people are involved in the process. It’s even more interesting when you think about the impact their own biased behaviors can have on one person’s career. I always found this to be astonishing and decided to dig in more. I’d ask about the resume review process. The hiring managers would go through the resumes that the recruiters would highlight as worthwhile to consider. Well, I’d say, “who checks the resumes that the recruiters reject?” Their response: nobody.
When we think about the problem, it’s that recruiters and sourcers ultimately control who gets a chance and who doesn't. Think about that for a minute. If I’m racist, or I don’t think a certain company or school is good, or I’m completely unaware of my biases, I can simply ignore that talent.
It goes so much deeper though. Ask a recruiter if they actually review the resumes of people that apply. I spoke with ten recruiters I knew internally and they’d say “no we don’t have the time” — what does that even mean? Individuals take the time to show you they are interested in working at your company and you don’t even review their application?
What do they do instead? They go on LinkedIn and put in different search strings to bring back results. The recruiter is then left with a group of candidates who they don’t even know are interested in working at their company. To put this into perspective, it’s like dating and you only speak to people with a wedding ring on. It honestly makes no sense. And in addition to that, when they do search on LinkedIn, what do you think they are typing into the search? It certainly isn’t “motivated” and “ambitious”. I’ve seen what these searches look like—It’s “Facebook” + “software engineer” + “Stanford”. This is total BS.
Let’s be honest, we’re all biased. But we can’t continue with the same methods we’ve historically used because they haven’t worked. Instead, they have made the industry worse.
The Oxford dictionary defines diversity as: the practice or quality of including or involving people from a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds and of different genders, sexual orientations, etc
To me, what this means is everyone, regardless of their background, should be given an opportunity. It doesn’t matter what you look like, what you believe in, or where you come from. Instead, it’s about your interests, passions, work ethic, values, and what you stand for.
Times are changing. I cannot wait for the people that weren’t previously given the opportunity turn out to be the successors of the people that always were given the opportunity.
So, what’s my definition of diversity?
Diversity means understanding and appreciating the differences each individual brings to the workplace, including but not limited to national origin, language, race, color, disability, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, veteran status, and family structures. Everyone.
— Ben Herman, CEO