Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is a top priority for HR leaders. The combination of events that occurred in 2020 brought DEI to the forefront more than ever by exposing racial inequities, resulting in deeper self-reflection for individuals and companies alike. While DEI is not a new topic, this recent focus has allowed HR leaders an opportunity to refresh or refocus their approach to recruiting a more diverse talent pool, to be on the leading edge of diversity recruiting practices, and to take advantage of the organizational benefits of doing so.2
Many leaders are starting to understand that companies with higher rates of diversity in leadership and employees perform better in several ways,1 from increasing margins and profit to providing greater return on equity. They also recognize that diversity can improve retention, boost engagement, and increase the level of innovation among team members.2
Still, as many organizations reevaluate their employee demographics and HR practices to expand diversity, they struggle with increasing diversity levels and hitting their targets. They often don’t know where to begin when implementing DEI recruiting and hiring practices into their current systems and processes.
So how do you find and attract a diverse talent pool? Here are five steps to reexamine your organization’s existing recruiting practices using a DEI lens to identify changes you can make today that, with commitment, will pay long-term dividends.
Implement Policies That Control Unconscious Bias
Squashing unconscious bias in recruiting is the absolute first place to start, for one simple reason: Recruiting is the front door of your organization.
Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. And when you are making quick decisions on a lot of candidates whom you don’t know, it can really test your company’s individuals and recruiting practices for hidden bias.
You may be thinking, “We’ve already done companywide unconscious bias training,” but unconscious bias must be tackled at the business process level to reduce its impact on the way companies do business.
You should conduct unconscious bias training for Human Resources and those involved in recruiting and interviewing on an ongoing basis (at least annually). There’s a reason it’s called “unconscious,” so consistent retraining is needed to evolve our thinking.
Another method for controlling unconscious bias is to blind yourself. “What?” you may ask. “Why is this a problem?” In a study titled “Are Emily and Greg more employable than Lakisha and Jamal?” that examined discrimination in the labor market, researchers found that White-sounding names received 50 percent more callbacks than their African American–sounding counterparts.3 The study further identified that candidates who lived in better neighborhoods received more callbacks regardless of race.
The practice of blinding yourself, or your process, is a way of removing initial bias. This practice works well when you have people applying directly to your company. You can hide fields, such as name and address, which might give away demographic characteristics to allow focus on the skills and experience that will bring value to your company.
A final way you can control unconscious bias is by structuring your decision-making. A 1998 psychology study demonstrated that the amount of education and years of experience a candidate had did not predict job performance well, compared with assessment of work samples and a structured process.4 Additionally, racial and gender pay gaps are real and the lack of structured processes contributes to them. Structuring your decision-making throughout your recruiting process means being prepared with structured interviews and predefined staff levels, salary bands, and more. The goal is to make the process of evaluating candidates and creating an offer as objective as possible.
Reexamine Your Talent Channels and Acquisition Strategy
Every company’s talent acquisition strategy should include a thoughtful selection of talent channels based on your type of work, brand, and target profile. But it is important to also consider these channels from a diversity lens. Let’s examine a few common channels and the pitfalls to avoid.
Job boards or employment websites are a popular channel where employers can publish jobs and attract job seekers. The benefit of these sites is that they reach a large audience and utilize artificial intelligence to help advertise the job to perspective candidates. However, the hiring algorithms may allow bias to enter the process. A study by the Harvard Business Review found that the hiring algorithms used by job boards reinforce gender and racial stereotypes, even when employers have no such intent.5 The best way to avoid inherent bias in job boards is to not rely solely on this channel as a source for top talent. Also, most job boards allow for proactive sourcing where the employer can review resumes even though the candidate has not applied for a job. We suggest this activity to ensure that you are reaching all potential backgrounds and not overly relying on the technology algorithms.
Third-Party Recruiting Firms
Selecting the right third-party firm to assist in your recruiting efforts is very important, not only because they represent your firm externally, but because they perform the sourcing that is necessary to fill a particular position. It is critical that the agency you are partnering with understands the importance your company places on diversity and applies that to their efforts. Don’t shy away from asking if their firm has gone through unconscious bias training in recent months and requiring diversity as part of your candidate slates.
Schools and Universities
Whether your company requires a bachelor’s degree for certain roles or not, hiring directly from universities and colleges is an incredible source of candidates eager to start their professional careers. In recent years, many organizations have limited the number of universities and colleges they are visiting due to budget, making the decision to hire from a particular university or college an even more important one. When choosing the schools where you will establish relationships and commit time, seek to understand their student population and their DEI practices. Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) are an amazing way to reach large populations of diverse students, but don’t overlook other universities that may have a large percentage of diversity but do not fall into these categories. For example, Georgia State, located in the heart of Atlanta, has very high racial diversity, with 74 percent of its students being minorities or people of color.6
Group Affiliations and Participation
One way to broaden the reach of your company’s brand is to ensure that you identify organizations and associations that represent minority or underrepresented groups. This could be as simple as posting your job on LinkedIn groups like Hispanic Professionals or the Women in Business Network.7,8 Possibly a more long-lasting impact could be achieved by establishing relationships with organizations that help businesses gain greater access to diverse talent, like INROADS, a nonprofit that places high-performing Black, Latino, and Native American students in internships at leading corporations.9 Professional associations, such as the National Black MBA Association, typically host events, provide programming and resources for their members, and are a great way to reach a large audience of diverse talent.10 Diversity thrives in these types of organizations and groups. As a result, partnering with them is worthwhile for all those involved.
An article found on LinkedIn studying the statistics of employee referrals in 2020 stated that employee referrals are four times more likely to be hired, tend to stay at the company for longer, and save companies an average of $7,500 in productivity and sourcing costs. The study also found that smaller companies rely on employee referrals at a higher rate than larger organizations.11 There is no disputing that employee referrals are an impactful source for talent. However, because people tend to network with and refer people similar to themselves, it is important to be mindful that if your current employees do not represent the diversity you are seeking, you are unlikely to achieve that diversity if you rely too much on this channel.
Rewrite Job Descriptions
Your company’s job descriptions are an advertisement for your company, ways of working, and company values. But many companies unknowingly use biased language in job descriptions which discourages minority candidates from applying — causing you to miss out on diverse talent. This is easily remedied by examining the language used in job descriptions and candidate criteria. Here’s a quick list to get you started:
- Check for gendered wording which can influence perceived “fit.” Avoid relying overly on masculine (“aggressive”) language that can deter women from applying. There are free gender decoder tools that instantly check your word choices for gender influence.12
- Check pronouns: there has been focus recently to drive inclusivity here. Use “the ideal candidate” or “they/their” instead of “he/she”. Make sure inadvertent gender references aren’t popping up in other terminology: salesman, workmanship, “one of the good guys.”
- Use plain speech rather than corporate jargon to prevent barriers to understanding or inclusivity.
- Avoid phrases that imply a preference for young candidates, such as “fast-moving.”
- Avoid terminology which references physical abilities and detracts candidates with disabilities: “speak” (“communicate” is better), “see” (“identify” or “discover” are better), “carry” (“move” is better), “walk” (“traverse” is better).
- Consider eliminating a level of schooling or specific degree requirement, unless a candidate needs a degree to do the job, and don’t put too much emphasis on Grade Point Averages (GPAs). Many degrees bring bias with them. Focus instead on skills and demonstrable experience.
- Identify which requirements are “nice-to-have” versus “must-have” and eliminate the “nice-to-haves.” Harvard Business Review research shows men apply for a job when
they meet only 60 percent of the qualifications, whereas women apply only if they meet 100 percent of them.13 You can always scan for nice-to-haves during resume reviews and candidate contact.
- Express your company’s commitment to diversity, equality, and inclusion in the face of the job description — let candidates know they will be welcome even before they apply.
Engage Your Minority Employees
Prepare Your DEI Point of View
If your company has a solid DEI strategy, then a level-up consideration is to broaden your definition of diversity beyond what is observable. We encourage you to think about diversity in a broader sense: not only encompassing primary diversity characteristics such as gender, race, sexual orientation, veteran status, and age, but also secondary characteristics like disabilities, education, skills, background, and personality traits. Every company’s diversity profile can and should be different based on their goals and business needs.
Additionally, ways of working in the post-pandemic world are evolving, which creates new opportunities to engage diverse groups such as individuals with physical, mental, or other disabilities.
A journey to change your company’s diversity composition and establish a culture of DEI is long, but by taking the five key steps above you can and will see immediate improvements in your talent pipeline and will be creating an environment for continued DEI initiative success. We must highlight that it’s easier to recruit diverse talent in entry-level positions. You may have to work harder for mid-level and leadership positions, but the same principles and focus on reducing bias remain. Retaining diverse employees will be the long-term payoff for your investment in revamping your company’s recruiting practices (refer to the “Economics of Inclusion” article.)