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Recruiting Wisdom

8 Steps for Building a Diversity Recruiting Program

min read

I have been in the recruiting industry for over 15 years, and as a person of color myself, I always take pride in being a more inclusive recruiter. However, just because I am a person of color, doesn’t mean I am better than anyone else in this initiative. As cultural awareness changes over time, I have come to realize there is always an opportunity to learn, listen, reflect and unlearn things we may have believed to be true in the past yet were, in fact, biased or even racist in some way. 

I have spent the last several months scrutinizing what I know to be true, pressure testing it against my peers, and doing extensive research on diversity recruiting best practices. As simple as it sounds, the first step to being an inclusive recruiting professional is to recognize bias exists.

How we were raised, where we grew up, the people around us and what we are taught to believe all cause us to develop individual biases in many different forms. If the neighbor next door to where you grew up was always playing loud music, left trash out and annoyed your parents, you probably learned to place judgement on them in some capacity. And if they were people of color, disabled or marginalized in some way, a subtle connection to their actions and how they identified can solidify opinions of what you think about them, and by extent, anyone similar to them. 

As we reflect on our lives and identify where our beliefs trickle into our professional careers, it is our responsibility to take deliberate action to break any systemic barriers we can that hinder equity for all. As a recruiting leader, I have made a commitment to myself, the companies I work for and the candidates I meet that I will be aware of the brief pause I might have when bias enters my mind and fight with all my might to set my intentions straight. 

Creating a diverse work environment starts with the recruiting program. As recruiters, we serve as the gatekeepers of the company we represent. For better or worse, we have a lot of power to either build a diverse work environment or a homogeneous one. Over my last 15 years, I have learned a lot about creating a diverse recruitment program, and I have done my best to boil down everything I know to just 8 cores principles.

1. Recognize That Bias Exists

Bias in recruiting comes in many forms. It can be as obvious as being nervous to call someone with a difficult to pronounce name to thinking someone with an Ivy League degree has a harder work ethic than someone with no degree at all.

Groups of people looking through a colored lens at another person
Bias is like looking at someone through a colored lens. You see them, but not as they truly are. Image credit to Donghyun Lim.

Another form of bias that actively exists in recruiting these days, especially in tech companies, is  age bias. Because these companies tout themselves as “cutting edge” and innovative, there is a bias that an older person may not be as nimble or possess the agility to change directions quickly. 

And yet another powerful but subtle bias is network bias. This is when we favor someone because they came through a trusted network. For example, if the CEO of your company referred someone for one of your open roles, you would most likely feel obligated to pull their resume from the stack and ensure they get an interview. 

As you can see, there are no shortages of biases.

We have to ask ourselves why these biases exist and with an empathetic lens think about every angle. Consider those who may not have an extended network or financial backing to go to an Ivy League school. Does that make them less qualified and less deserving for an interview if their skill set is comparable to those more privileged? The answer is no. It's our responsibility to hire for merit and qualifications, and to not be swayed by bias. We can allow for more equity in the recruiting process because we treat everyone the same. 

2. Know Your Customer Base

I once worked for a company where the majority of our end users and customers were care taking females, but the majority of the leadership, product and engineering team was comprised of white men without children. Certainly, every employee at this company was technically qualified and intelligent in their own way, but what was missing was diversity of thought and perspective.

Different perspectives enable healthy debate, inspired conversations and different angles to come into conversation. Harvard Business Review found that when at least one member of a team has traits in common with the end user, the entire team better understands that user.

Robot breaking from the crowd because he cares
All it takes is one person to show empathy. Image credit to Byron Elliot.

By increasing the diversity of its employees, this company could have unearthed new innovations to their products or unique strategies that would have otherwise remained untapped. This is why it’s critical to ensure your employee population represents the community who you serve.

3. Craft Gender Neutral Job Descriptions

You may have heard the statistic before that men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them. Pay attention to who your job descriptions are speaking to and if it’s more masculine take deliberate action to rewrite them to be more inclusive.

Bar chart of the percent of qualifications met before different genders apply

Some words are simply more masculine than others, so it can be a difficult task. Scrutinize the content in the requirements and day to day section and even your perks and benefits section. Does your job description tout the friday happy hours, ping pong table and free beer on top?

Although it may be extremely appealing to one group of people, it may be a turn off to another. Avoid bragging about perks that are stereotypical of a single culture. Instead, tout your learning and development opportunities, training, resources and commitment to growing the careers of your employees. 

4. Screen Candidate In, Not Out

When I first started my recruiting career, I had a manager tell me that I should always start the recruiting call thinking they are a “No” and the candidate had to convince me they were qualified enough to get past my gate. I later learned that this type of thinking can be found in all corners of the recruiting community.

I’ve sat in on interview debriefs with interview teams where they wanted to reject a candidate, not because they didn't have the skills, but because they lived 45 minutes away from the office. Their concern was they would be late to work, burnt out and would duck out early. The candidate never indicated they would do those things. The interview team just made those assumptions.

Focus on attributes required for the job and only reject candidates because they lack the qualifications. It’s not up to the recruiting team to decide if the individual who lives far away isn’t 100% committed and prepared for the daily commute. We don't know their personal life circumstance and have to respect their decision and personal circumstance to apply for jobs far from their home. 

5. Be Weary Of Self Assessment Questions

Be mindful when candidates assess themselves because any answer they give back is subjective. For example, if you ask someone, “From a scale of 1-10, how competent are you in Salesforce?” I have found women tend to be more modest while men feel more confident rating themselves higher. It’s on us as recruiters to create an interview process that isn’t biased in any way and equitable to every candidate..

Strive to understand what the interview teams will be asking and coach them to focus on skills and qualifications. Dive deep on examples the candidates share to gain insight into what their strengths and weaknesses are. Simply asking “ On a scale of 1-10, how well versed are you in Hubspot?” I may be an advanced user and report I am a “4” while another person can also be an advanced user with similar qualifications as mine may report they are an “8”. 

6. Utilize ERGs Internally

The traditional definition of an ERG is an “employer-recognized group of employees who share the concerns of a common race, gender, national origin or sexual orientation– characteristics protected in some instances by law and in many organizations as a matter of company policy.” According to a 2014 survey conducted by Software Advice, 70% of U.S. respondents who were 18 to 24 years old and 52% of respondents between 25 and 34 reported they would be more likely to apply for a role at a company that had ERGs. 50% of survey respondents stated they would remain at a company because it had an ERG.

At my company, our ERG is empowered to give feedback on all content that would be seen by our end users. Our marketing teams share editorial content with our Diversity ERG to get extra pairs of eyes on it to ensure nothing is racist and biased. I share job descriptions with our diversity ERG to push back on any content in the job description that feels anything less than equitable in speaking to all audiences. 

Group of hands stacked on top of each other

7. Don’t Bend the Rules

If you are recruiting for a product marketing manager who has created a go-to-market strategy for a product in your industry, you have to stick to your own rules. If a VP at your company refers a friend of a friend who doesn’t have the qualifications, don’t treat that candidate any differently. This is a prime example of network bias.

Recruiters have to treat everyone the same. It’s the right thing to do and if the VP is perplexed why their referral did not make it through the process in light of the connection, it’s on us as recruiters to educate people like the VP on what network bias is and how it can be harmful to the creation of a diverse workplace.

8. Diversify Your Recruiting Team

Take a look at your recruiting team. Is everyone similar to some capacity? Are a large handful of the team from the same college, sorority, fraternity, part of town or social circle? If so, your company will struggle to create a diverse work environment. Making an effort to hire a diverse recruiting team will open up doors for candidates interviewing for other departments. 

My biggest learning in the recent path is to bring more empathy into my recruiting practice. The American Heritage Dictionary definition of empathy is “the ability to identify with or understand the perspective, experiences, or motivations of another individual and to comprehend and share another individual’s emotional state.” Candidate screening requires interacting with people from different backgrounds. The people we meet during the recruiting process have a wide range of perspectives and realities based on individual experiences with which we may not personally – or even professionally – be familiar with.

large group of diverse people together

Closing Thoughts

We have to break the line of thinking that recommends hiring people we like personally, which is easier said than done. I have found myself in interviews many times where we quickly found personal commonalities and spent the majority of the allotted time talking about that vs the requirements for the role and diving into their qualifications.

I have made a pledge to myself to review all candidates on the same playing field and be equitable and inclusive. I wholeheartedly believe the overall outcome will yield not only a diverse work environment but one excels in innovation and empathy.

Christina Wells

Christina has been working in the HR industry for over 15 years and is committed to helping recruiters make the transition to virtual events.

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