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Greenhouse OPEN Speaker Series: How a Women’s Rights Lawyer Started A Movement, with Joelle Emerson, CEO of Paradigm

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and discussing diversity and inclusion (D&I). I know I’m not alone.

In one form or another, from the #MeToo (then #MeTooWhatsNext) movement to the “decent work” agenda to female leaders making strides to solve tech’s diversity problem, D&I has caught the world’s attention.

And it’s about time.

This narrative is not new, and it’s not going anywhere. Companies across every industry are doing more than paying closer attention to diversity and inclusion in People Team meetings. They are taking action by measuring key data points around diversity, designing people practices to limit bias and promote inclusion, implementing unconscious bias training, creating D&I task forces, and keeping the conversation going.

We had the chance to sit down and talk with Greenhouse OPEN speaker Joelle Emerson, the CEO of Paradigm, a consultancy she created that partners with companies who are prioritizing building more inclusive organizations. She tells us about her career as a women’s rights lawyer, why she started Paradigm, and offers valuable advice for anyone who doesn’t know where to get started.

Greenhouse: How did your career start, and how did you find your way to Paradigm?

Joelle Emerson: I started my career as a women’s rights lawyer, suing companies for things like pay and promotion discrimination, pregnancy discrimination, and sexual harassment. I grew frustrated by the reactive nature of litigation and founded Paradigm to take a more proactive approach to building more inclusive, equitable organizations. We partner with companies who believe that building inclusive organizations is core to their success as a business, and we help them design systems, processes, and cultures that advance those goals.

That’s an inspiring and impressive career trajectory. I know a lot of our readers will take your story as a call to action to tap into what they’re passionate about to make a difference for societal good.

GH: Can you share how you and Paradigm have seen the successful and meaningful impact of diversity and inclusion programs?

JE: We’ve worked with over 200 companies to design and execute diversity and inclusion strategies, and we’ve been excited to see successes that reach all points in the employee experience. We’ve seen companies redesign their recruiting strategy to cultivate a more diverse applicant funnel, tweak their hiring process to ensure applicants from all backgrounds are evaluated fairly, improve their internal growth and development processes to close gaps in promotion rates, and roll out cultural changes that influence retention. I get especially excited by the impact of changes to systems and processes. For example, when we see companies change their interviewing practices, and that change reduces disparities in hiring outcomes, that is particularly compelling. It really highlights how barriers to diversity and inclusion aren’t just individual-level issues: they’re structural and systemic issues that demand structural and systemic solutions.

Hiring is frequently cited as a big area of opportunity for companies to adjust processes to be more inclusive and addresses D&I shortcomings. It’s a helpful reminder that D&I needs to be integrated in a structural and systemic way in a business.

Greenhouse: For companies that haven’t started any diversity & inclusion programming, where do you recommend they start?

JE: If the company as a whole isn’t yet sure that diversity and inclusion are a priority, I would start with leader education. It’s critically important that leaders support and advance inclusion efforts, and this often requires initial awareness-raising among leaders as to why this is important for the organization. From there, I think organizations often go wrong by deploying a bunch of programs without clearly identifying existing gaps, or articulating measures of success for their efforts. At Paradigm, we recommend starting with a diagnostic - take a look at your employee experience today, how you attract, select, develop, and retain your workforce. Identify where barriers might exist across that lifecycle, and design your D&I strategy to address those barriers.

Joelle also will be speaking at our Greenhouse OPEN 2018 conference April 2-4. To hear Joelle speak and attend all of our sessions and interactive workshops, you can buy your OPEN 218 tickets here.

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Dinah Alobeid is Director of Communications at Greenhouse. She helps shape and share the Greenhouse brand story and keeps its audiences informed on company news and industry knowledge. Dinah has 10 years of communications experience in the technology field and prior to Greenhouse, she built and ran the communications team at Brandwatch. She's an avid writer, dancer, foodie and book nerd. You can connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn

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