Let’s Get Serious about Ziversity | OUTVisions for LGBT Professionals

Let’s Get Serious about Ziversity

ziversity - with stefan palios - part 1

Let’s Get Serious about Ziversity

We at OUTVisions recently had the pleasure of chatting with Stefan Palios, a Grimsby, Ontario native, Yale grad, and founder of Ziversity, a company that is offering solutions to help employers find and hire a truly diverse work force.

Stefan was great to chat with, and had a lot to say. We listened!

This is the first of a three part interview, with this article focusing on his company.

OUTVisions: What is your background and how has that led you to founding Ziversity?

Stefan Palios: I was born and raised in small town Southern Ontario (Grimsby), and was scouting to start track and field (throwing shot put and discus) at the age of 12. This led to me being recruited to Yale, where I majored in Sociology with Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality studies. During my time at Yale, I was on the varsity track and field team but also took on many LGBTQ causes after coming out in my first year. I was co-president of Yale’s LGBT athlete group, Athletes and Allies, but my largest LGBTQ community involvement was running fundraising for IvyQ, an annual conference with 500 LGBTQ students in attendance.

In my professional career I did management consulting, with a focus on people and culture. I loved the space and did strategy work on talent acquisition, HR strategy, and diversity & inclusion. Throughout this time, I kept a pulse on what was going on, and realized that recruiting is an important lever in changing the way companies look at diversity and inclusion.

The best way to change a company is from within – its employees demanding it – so I figured that if I could start a company to help companies diversify their workforces in a way that was empowering to candidates (instead of tokenizing), then I could make a real dent in the problem.

The founding team – Camilla, Nate, and myself – all have a similar story with our own unique angles. Each of us looked at the way diversity was being done in large corporations and realized the importance of bringing together a community of high quality candidates. We all got told by recruiters, “I want to hire more diverse candidates but I cannot find them”. So we came together to build that solution.

OV: Ziversity is catchy name for your company, why did you choose it?

SP: I wanted a name that truly represented not only my beliefs on diversity and inclusion but also was a name that was inclusive of multiple community groups.

With that in mind, I did take inspiration from the LGBTQ community. Of course, I wanted “diversity” to be in the name – after all, it’s what I’m here for. But I looked for unique pieces of language and came across “Ze”, a gender neutral pronoun that could be used to describe anyone.

That’s when the name clicked for me; “Ze” + “Diversity” = Ziversity = “diversity for everyone” (or “everyone is diverse”)

OV: What is your main goal for Ziversity?

SP: My main goal for Ziversity is to build a talent platform that focuses on the human behind the resume. I firmly believe that the perspectives we bring to the workforce are not only valuable but influenced and created by our identities, so we should be able to talk about how we gained our perspectives during the recruiting process and at work without a second thought.

OV: Diversity and Inclusion are hot topics in the LGBTQ community and the basis of your company – and you’ve upped it to another level by embracing complete inclusion for all, regardless of race/ethnicity, gender, or (dis)ability. Has the community welcomed you with open arms?

SP: Overall, I have received positive feedback from people. A few folks have asked how we are able to delve so deep into all of these communities (women, LGBT, Indigenous, Black, PWD etc.) because each community has such unique struggles, and I appreciate people bringing up those concerns because they are valid – we have a long way to go to reach true equity and each one of us/each community has our own journey.

Where I’ve noticed people giving me the most positive response is on two areas:

Intersectionality - Our platform empowers candidates to self identify with the communities they belong to. We don’t presume what community a candidate has the strongest allegiances to, but instead offer an online platform where each person can be unique – even if they share an identity category with someone else. This is important because a human cannot be boiled down to one identity; every person has a race, a gender, a sexuality, and an ability status, and on Ziversity you can talk about all of them while talking about your merits and skillsets, making you a “human” candidate instead of a “categorized” candidate.

Recruiting focus - Each community absolutely has their own unique struggles and challenges. We partner with nonprofits and community organizations who are doing amazing on-the-ground work. Our platform uniquely focuses on one aspect – job hunting – an area that many communities can find common ground. Problems are similar: unconscious bias, inability to connect with decision makers due to social challenges, etc. By focusing on the recruiting aspect we bring many identities together, but on common ground.

OV: What is the single biggest barrier Ziversity is facing right now and how are you working to break it down?

SP: I think the biggest barrier is still around education. I speak to people all the time who still believe companies only “do diversity” because they are mandated to by law – never mind that Employment Equity affects less than 10% of Canadian companies and, according to a 2015 Deloitte study, 49% of Canadian companies that “do diversity” have started looking at diversity as a business strategy, not a compliance initiative, since 2012. The fact that so many companies started doing this only a few years ago shows me that there is huge progress being made in a short period of time that will continue into the future.

This also ties into the notion that many feel Canada is more conservative than the US when it comes to diversity issues. “We are more accepting, but we don’t like to talk about it” is the rhetoric that I often hear. Some stats back this up – that same Deloitte study noted 89% of American companies look at diversity from a business perspective.

However, I think this is combatted by Canada’s growth – we have seen a huge change in perspectives in the past 5 years, with more millennials coming into the workplace and demanding change. Millennials want to talk about identity because they feel it is part of their merit – a sentiment I share – and we are creating a company for those people (since millennials will be 75% of the workforce in just a few years as boomers and gen X/Y move into retirement).

We are also actively tackling this education gap by publicly discussing diversity and inclusion through our blog (Ziversity.com/blog), through public speaking, and through one-on-one meetings. In-keeping with my personal motto of “always take the meeting”, all three of the Founders have had the chance to talk with company Founders, CEO’s, Chief Diversity Officers, and many other folks about diversity and inclusion. And that’s how I think real progress will be made; one conversation, and one heart, at a time.

With those conversations in mind, we are also working on a few new features on Ziversity that will enable that education to spread more quickly – so that one mind convinced has the power to convince a further 10. Stay tuned for those updates when they come out!

OV: How do you measure success for Ziversity?

SP: We measure success in terms of our community finding jobs they love and thrive in. That’s really it for us. If we can place our awesome candidates with inclusive corporations so that the individual gets to do work in an environment where they are valued and respected as an individual (all while the company gets to be better at what they do for having such awesome employees), we’re happy campers.

Every single person who comes from diverse backgrounds and uses Ziversity to find a job they love at a company that respects them is one step closer to the world we want to create.

It also sends a signal to the market – top talent is diverse and wants to talk about diversity. The companies that embrace that do better. If enough companies see the tangible results of inclusion, we can change the world for the better.

OV: Thanks Stefan! We look forward to sharing more of your thoughts and to learn more about you as a person in our next article!

Check out www.ziversity.com for more info on the company, and follow Stefan on Twitter @stefanpalios.

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