Interview with Joanna Woo of Mappedin
We had the chance to sit down with Joanna Woo, who is a Certified Human Resources Leader and Director of People Operations at Mappedin. She shares tips on hiring strategies, building a comfortable company culture and environment for employees, and the role of diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
Throughout the piece we dive into topics like:
How she helped build Mappedin’s culture
How she blends diversity & inclusion work with her regular HR tasks
How she has removed bias from their hiring process
How diversity and inclusion has benefited Mappedin
Interview with Joanna Woo
Stefan: Could you tell me a little bit about yourself and your current role?
Joanna: I studied HR at the University of Waterloo and started my HR career working for larger corporations and eventually moved towards smaller companies before joining Mappedin.
I started at Mappedin when we were at 24 employees and today, we're at over 60. I was hired about 2 years ago to build out the People Operations function from the ground up. The vision for the role from the senior leadership team was that I'd help plan events, do some office management, and hire people. It became so much more.
I always say my role is enabling others to do their best work. That ranges from everyday things like having the microwave fixed to dealing with serious issues like mental health issues.
I came in and redid the recruitment strategy. I also did further work on employer branding, social media, and employee engagement and retention. I started building Mappedin's culture a little bit more. We didn't start off having values or goals so we worked on that. We've come a long way!
Creating Company Culture
Stefan: That's exciting! You mentioned how you helped in creating the company culture. What did that process look like?
Joanna: I started with putting people first; my philosophy around HR has always been take care of the people and the people will take care of the business. A lot of people view HR as something where a person in my role is always on the company's side and doesn’t care about employees. I flip it the other way around. If I can take care of the people and do what is best for them, this translates into a better organization.
Mappedin already had a great culture but we wanted to make it scaleable. The first step was to look at our recruitment and onboarding strategies to make sure we brought in people who are the right fit - by right fit, we mean people who are aligned with our values. We are clear about our values and setting people up for success.
We revamped the way we did our job ads - we did a lot to remove barriers for people applying. We revamped the interview process to improve it and remove bias. We are also very lucky in the people we hired; they have helped shape our culture.
“If I can take care of the people and do what is best for them, this translates into a better organization.”
Working Diversity and Inclusion Into the Company
Stefan: What type of diversity and inclusion work does Mappedin do? Maybe a diversity and inclusion committee or group?
Joanna: That's me! Some days, I get pushback on initiatives because things have improved so much and it’s not considered a problem . From my point of view, these things are not a problem because we have been talking about it. We have taken the right steps to make sure it does not become a problem.
I’m a visible minority, I’m a woman, and I have depression. I understand a lot of different groups because I talk to people and try to understand them. I do a lot of work with people with disabilities. I volunteer with the LGBTQ community here. There are just so many different levels and complexities to diversity. I try to reach out to all of those areas in which we could do better, and make progress overall.
I don't focus on one area - it's an overall whole. It's considering: what can we do to make it better for everyone? We take that designed-for-all principle. If it's a building entrance for example - you can have a ramp, and that will work for everyone. You don't need stairs. So in the same vein, if we design strategies and procedures really well and they work for all, that's the ideal we want to aim towards.
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Stefan: Very interesting. You mentioned you talk about diversity. What exactly does that entail?
Joanna: Most of it is informal. I would say it's doing a lot of work with people who are hiring. For example, informing or reminding those who are hiring that people who are humble, or traditionally have been taken advantage of, that this is how you should approach interviewing them or asking information of them. It entails making a comfortable atmosphere for them to be able to answer.
For instance, women have typically been paid a lower salary in a range of positions. Another example is, people who are bad at negotiating are often underpaid. So I present a choice to them. In relation to pay grades, I tell them I can either let them know the salary range for the position, or they can let me know what their salary expectations are.
In that way, it works for everyone because people who may be uncomfortable with negotiating can just slot themselves into the range I provide. For people who think they have an advantage in negotiating, they can tell me their expectations. This way, everyone feels like they have a voice in the process. It works for everyone.
Revamping the Hiring Process
“I don't try to hit quotas. It's just a process that is very inclusive.”
Stefan: You've done some good work in creating a structured hiring process. Can you talk a bit more about how you encourage gender diversity in your hiring process?
Joanna: In terms of the job postings, we did a lot of revamping to the posts themselves and to the process:
We removed requirements from the postings for people who are more modest.
Some people will apply for a job based on meeting one listed requirement, whereas others are apprehensive and want to meet every single requirement before they even consider applying. We removed that altogether to emphasize that as long as you are willing to learn, we want you to apply.
We do work on our end to screen out people who we don't think are qualified for the role instead of letting them self-select out of applying.
Even then, there is a chance there. So if it's for a technical role position, I still send them a technical assessment, to give them the opportunity to change my mind.
We expedite people who seem to have the skill-set. In that case, I will do a phone call.
After interviewing, we tell them right away if we think they are a fit or not.
If they feel we have made a mistake, we allow applicants the opportunity to show us if they feel they are a fit - we call them second chance interviews. We present this opportunity and admit that we can be wrong. It has created more confidence in our interviewing process.
We do a lot of training with our interviewers, and we are selective with how we set up interview questions.
Every single interview question we ask, we test it out - especially if it is a technical question. We ask within the Mappedin organization and outside of it, across different levels of experience. We remove a lot of bias that way.
Where to Start in Improving the Hiring Process
Stefan: If someone is not sure where to start with improving their hiring process, what would you suggest?
Joanna: That's a great question. I’d recommend that they talk to more companies who you have publicly identified they are implementing these strategies to their hiring process. Also doing research to find material that discusses how to remove bias from the process, how to conduct interviews correctly, etc. For me, I went to university for HR, so I approach HR with a scientific approach where I have read the studies. I learn from the studies, and I have the research to back up all of the ideas I have.
On the other hand, others might ‘fall’ into HR. For example, someone might have been in office admin and is now asked to do more HR-type tasks but hasn’t seen the research or is unfamiliar with it.
I say, start with the research. Figure out what research has been done, what it says, talk to people who do have an educational background in HR, and see what advice they have.
There's also tactical HR versus strategic HR - the diversity and inclusion and belonging side is definitely more towards the strategic side of HR. It's not just figuring out what to do, but why you're doing it. What are the benefits of having a diverse workforce? What's the difference between diversity versus inclusion versus belonging? It's knowing how it would benefit the company. These are good starting points, and of course keeping an open mind at all times.
Stefan: What would you say are the benefits of a diverse and inclusive workplace for Mappedin?
Joanna: We are starting to expand globally, so one of the challenges is that we now need to do language accommodations. If we only hired white male programmers who didn't speak any language other than English, they might not understand all of the intricacies of implementing different language support. We have many languages covered so far at Mappedin.
Similarly, if we only hired designers who are 6 feet tall to create kiosks, how could those of other heights make use of our kiosks? We are a B2B company, so yes, we sell to enterprises. However, at the same time, it is a very consumer-facing product as well.
We need to cater to everyone and by having a diverse workforce - it makes it an easier sell to our clients. It is a better reflection of our clients who do need to service all sorts of people. We can do this because we have been able to diversify. There are many benefits beyond that.
Stefan: Bringing in people who speak so many different languages - has that been challenging?
Joanna: We didn't do it on purpose. It just so happens that we have been able attract different people. We were really lucky. It's really just about being open-minded to hiring anyone. In the last 2 months, we were able to hire 2 Spanish-speaking and 1 German-speaking employee just coincidentally. We make it a point to tell candidates that we celebrate diversity and that speaking another language is a bonus for us; whereas, sometimes candidates feel like if they’re not from Canada, they’re at a disadvantage and that companies won’t want to hire them.
We do a lot of work around disabilities as well. We have been able to consider how user experience may be impacted for those who are colour-blind, or for those with dyslexia, to name some examples. When we launched our healthcare product, understanding that users may have a higher chance of limited mobility, we put our directories on accessible mode by default.
We haven't done anything to specifically target certain people - it's just as a whole, we have been so accommodating and open that we've either attracted certain people or we didn't filter them out.
Stefan: Have you done international hiring at all?
Joanna: Yes! We hired a software developer from India and we brought in someone from Germany. We hired another individual from the U.S. as well and would be open to bringing in talent from all over the world.
Stefan: Do you have any insights or advice on that for someone going through international hiring for the first time?
Joanna: Don't be afraid of it. Many companies won't hire someone who isn't a Canadian citizen or doesn't already have their permanent resident status. Lots of people won't consider these candidates because it seems like a big scary process. It's really paying legal fees for the process and that's it - it's really not a big deal.
The most important thing is to start with empathy - I cannot stress that enough. Think about what you can do to make people feel like they belong.
Don't assume things about them. It is important to remember as well that appearance-wise, it may seem to you that someone does not bring diversity to your company, but this is based on your own preconceived notions.
Create your practices in a way that is inclusive. It is true that you might want to pipeline. I do a lot of work to speak to the women in tech groups and try to get more applications that way, but at the same time, I don't try to hit quotas. It's just a process that is very inclusive.
Listen to people's stories. Sometimes they may not seem like they're the right fit at first, but people can surprise you. Be open to that.
When someone is considered by managers to not be the right fit - examine that. Poke holes. Dig deeper. Ask managers why. Make sure there are reasons there to back it up.
Take an analytical approach to HR. With your processes, put research into them. Test them out. Run a retro and iterate on the process. Never stop improving.
Thank you so much for sharing your insights with us Joanna. It was a pleasure speaking with you!
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