Attracting diverse candidates is a challenge at every step of the recruiting process.
From the candidate’s perspective, a team’s diversity hiring goals can come across as inauthentic or self-serving, when diversity itself is, at its core, a concept at the service of a global human ideal of fairness, equality, inclusion.
This is not surprising; putting a cold metric on a concept like diversity makes it harder to talk about it to candidates. It requires switching from thinking in terms of quotas and percentages and messaging and PR issues, to trying to relate to people, and showing them you share some of their values and beliefs. Hard not to be worried about saying the wrong thing. Hard also to not fall into a highly doctored spiel that reeks of insincerity and corporate spinning.
Attracting diverse candidates the wrong way
The current talent market is extremely liquid these days partly because information flows so, so quickly and at very little cost. Even the most junior, inexperienced candidates can easily google your company and know how bad you’ve been recently.
Not only that, it’s also much easier for current employees to share with the outside world all the dirty little secrets that were previously confined to watercooler gossip. You want your latest scandal to make it to the top of Hacker News list or to the the front page of a worldwide newspaper, just try covering it up.
You might have guessed where I’m going with this: trying to hide things is the worst possible way to attract diverse candidates. Misleading candidate about the reasons you are hiring them, or misrepresenting how diverse your company currently is, is how you get headlines like this one: “Oracle and Palantir said diversity figures were trade secrets. The real secret: Embarrassing numbers”.
One general rule for attracting diverse candidates
As long as they’re doing it by the book and with honest intentions, recruiters should feel comfortable with every aspect of diversity hiring, both the metrics and business-oriented ones, and the human and values-driven one.
They might be worried about coming across to candidates as just trying to “tick a box” and fill a quota, but these candidates are perfectly aware of the existence of those diversity goals. The key is to make it very clear to them that the reason behind this metrics-driven approach is purely to obtain positive results, and stems from a genuine conviction that the company will thrive only by hiring people from every nationality, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and background.
This is where aligning with your team on the drivers behind diversity hiring is important. Hopefully, the primary motivation for all the stakeholders in the process is a desire to create fairness, equality and inclusion in the workplace, but there are also clear business incentives to hiring diverse employees.
A lot of research on the impact of diversity on the bottom line has been done in recent years. MIT and McKinsey have both published reports that show a correlation between diversity and profits that is hard to ignore. The Harvard Business Review recently published the results of research that specifically looks at the causal relationship between diversity and financial performance.
The value of sharing those strong business motivations has the advantage of lending weight to the company’s commitment, and making it clear it is not only a passing “business initiative” or some sort of short-sighted corporate PR campaign. When that is clearly laid out to the rest of the team, that conviction comes across very clearly to candidates.
It doesn’t hurt either if you set up a few messaging sessions, where the team brainstorms possible questions from candidates about diversity and inclusion at your organization, and then discusses possible answers that will clearly convey those convictions.
And a few practical tips as well
Openness and aligned messaging are a great place to start. They’re applicable to every aspect of recruiting that touches on culture and employer branding, really, but they are especially important when trying to attract diverse candidates. However, it doesn’t hurt to have a few tactical tips to guide the team day-to-day as well.
Like with any specific group of candidates, you want to go where you are likely to find talent that meets your specifications. Reach out to affinity groups and organizations like the National Black MBA Association, Prospanica, or Reaching Out MBA. For campus recruiting, look for schools that are not usually on your hiring list and be okay with spending more time interviewing if necessary.
Talk to talent leaders in your industry. Yes, you compete for the same pool of talent, but you can combine resources and insights for the benefit of the whole industry if you share your particular challenges and concerns, and be able to make the industry in general more attractive to one type of candidate or another. A good example of that is how campaigns to attract more women into STEM fields are equally benefiting a wide range of different industries.
Be transparent and blunt about the underlying issues behind the lack of diversity of your organization, both internally and externally. Some industries are just totally behind in terms of diversity, and there is no need to sugarcoat it. Talk about the common incidents or problems that people who are diverse in any way face in these industries. Being explicit about them, showing your awareness, helps candidates understand that you are addressing them head-on where you can.
Finally, look at what your neighbors are doing. We keep seeing companies experiment with all sorts of programs and initiatives to widen their talent pool, like what Balfour Beatty is doing to help more women grow their careers in construction.
There is a lot of interest in solving the Diversity and Inclusion challenge in business right now, and it’s a great time for Talent Acquisition teams to invest resources in hauling up their hiring process.
If, sometimes, it seems like executive backing is hard to obtain for that sort of initiative, then there is nothing like cold hard data to make your case, and fortunately, there is plenty of it all around.
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We've invited Mitzi Shafar, an experienced talent acquisition leader and currently lead partner at Talent Collective, to tell us about how companies can start implementing an agile recruiting methodology, a driver of talent transformation.