Our inclusion blunders — and what you can learn from them

Co-founder & Chief People Officer

Over the last year, Pitch has doubled in size. As our team has grown, so too has our understanding of the social responsibility we have when it comes to inclusion. 

Inclusion has always been important to us as a company, but we know there is still a lot to do. We wanted to take a moment to reflect on what we've learned so far, so other companies can avoid stumbling where we tripped up.

In this post, we're sharing a few experiences that have shaped our internal approach around diversity and inclusion. For each scenario, we’ll outline what happened, the impact it had on teammates, and what factors companies can consider to improve their processes — and outcomes.

Do your due diligence when integrating company-wide tools

Recently, Pitch introduced a company-wide tool to unify authentication for other tools like Slack and Personio. The goal was worthy, but we overlooked how names were handled in this context.

When the tool was rolled out, it unintentionally used people’s legal names. This affected team members with dead names, longer names that are usually abbreviated, and reversed family and given names. A colleague from the LGBTQIA+ community raised the issue, which led to numerous microfrictions with every message and interaction. Imagine trying to tag someone and not being able to find them, or seeing a name that you don’t identify with pop up every time you’re tagged!

We worked with the colleague who raised the issue to address it. But the whole situation could have been avoided if we’d simply factored name handling into our vendor procurement and integration processes from the start. We’re using this opportunity to reflect on the limitations of current software tools through the lens of diversity and inclusion. Rather than think of “edge cases” as such, it’s important for all companies to design with the most vulnerable communities in mind.

Design recruitment to encourage diverse applicants

A screenshot of Pitch's Recruiting D&I Pledge

When we redesigned our jobs page last year, we overlooked a basic consideration that makes a huge difference for candidates from diverse backgrounds: word choice.

Our previous job descriptions weren’t attracting the quality of candidates we wanted. They had strongly gender-coded language and a long list of requirements. Through candidate feedback, we discovered that these factors were intimidating.

We decided to try something different — and noticed an immediate improvement. After changing the language used in the job description for a Frontend Engineer position, we had a 64% conversion rate compared to 29% for our next highest converting post. The applicants for that position were also incredibly qualified and inspiring individuals. 

Our recommendation for other companies is to focus on the basics. Run your job specifications through a gender decoder like this one, reduce the number of requirements for an initial application, and build a solid pipeline by proactively reaching out to diverse candidates. We don’t ask applicants to disclose identities but want to make sure we speak to them, so we now spend two weeks sourcing diverse candidates before opening a role to the public.

Be specific about diversity stats

We recently reported that we’ve seen an increase in diversity at Pitch over the last two years. However, as some teammates pointed out, the only diversity metric we track in our HR system is gender.

Because we value transparency, Pitch’s reports are available to the whole company. So the statistic prompted questions: What did the percentage increase in diversity really mean? Was the company assigning diversity-related labels to individuals without their knowledge? Had people missed out on opportunities to participate in a survey that captured this data? 

We’d made the common misstep of having gender (in this case, mostly ciswomen) represent diversity overall. In the end, this word choice was solved in minutes by clarifying that the percentage increase only reflected the gender ratios in our HR system. 

By being transparent about our available data, we can honestly address what we do and don’t know. At Pitch, we’re still figuring out how to strike the right balance between wanting to analyze and understand which groups are represented within our team and respecting people’s privacy. Our current solution, at least for recruitment, is to set up an interview journey with a variety of interviewers — and to offer candidates a chance to speak to Pitchers from similar communities at any point during the process. We also train hiring teams to remove unconscious bias as much as possible.

Have the difficult conversations before projects start

In March, we launched our Female-Founded Startups pitch deck collection as a way to profile thriving companies with female-identifying and nonbinary founders. Publicly, we achieved over 1.8 million views, received the support of influencers like Karlie Kloss, and connected startups to interested investors and resources. Internally, we realized how difficult it was to work on social causes before we'd clarified our company’s position.

We started building our campaign messaging after the project was already underway. This resulted in a lot of tough conversations around key issues. A fundamental question — Who does Pitch count as female? — was raised but then left unanswered until we had to decide on the collection title. By then, we’d spoken to at least two openly nonbinary startup founders. They’d agreed to participate, knowing the campaign messaging was focused on International Women’s Day. 

How would we choose a collection title without erasing their identities or alienating other influential partners? What terms should we use in our social media copy? We often had to answer these questions on the spot, when the focus should have been on campaign execution.

The public nature of the campaign forced us to reflect on accountability — how we thought literally determined what we published. And this prompted the challenging conversations that are necessary for companies to build open, resilient, and diverse teams. But our recommendation is to have these discussions over the course of months, not weeks!

Add checks to avoid overlooking cultural considerations

Building an inclusive environment in a remote culture creates hiccups all the time. With team members in many different time zones, we have to carefully consider how to conduct company events and frame holidays like our two-week, company-wide shutdown in December. 

It's a continuous learning process for us, and sometimes we stumble. One example of this is when we sent out company T-shirts to everyone. After the fact, we were made aware that some of our teammates can't wear the color black for religious reasons. 

While we don't have a perfect checklist or formula to avoid these kinds of blunders, we do have some suggestions for how to be as culturally inclusive as possible. For instance, we use calendar tools to keep track of global cultural holidays. We also try to reduce meetings and focus on documentation so that everyone feels like they're part of the team regardless of their timezone. And we encourage team members to self-educate and gracefully accept critical feedback.

It's impossible to know everything. But by building a trusting company culture where people feel free to raise issues, you can learn from missteps and create an open dialogue.

How Pitch has moved forward

In the past, Pitch has chosen to focus on quietly incorporating inclusion into our activities. We considered aspects of diversity when creating our illustrations, visual language, and digital sticker packs. We also activated features to learn candidate pronouns and name pronunciations during the recruitment process. But there’s more work to be done.

Through these experiences, we’ve learned how much we take for granted — and how what we take for granted can impact the whole team culture. It’s important to embrace unlearning as part of the growth process, and to recognize that inclusion is a practice and not a status. 

We hope these scenarios provide other companies with the context to build a more inclusive future of work. And, in the spirit of sharing resources, here are three great reference decks: We all have pronouns by Ada (they/them), Reducing unconscious biases in hiring by Sara (she/her) and Anaïs (she/her), and Pride 2.0 for companies by Athena. 

Check out our Inclusion at Work collection for more, and submit your deck through this form if you'd like to be included too!

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