Diversity recruitment lessons from law enforcement: Inside the research

Posted March 06, 2017 by


College Recruiter is introducing a regular feature called “Inside the research”. We will dive into recent research that can be applied to practitioners in recruitment, HR and talent acquisition. 

Policing and race relations are topics of national interest these days. A study from the Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice1 looked at how several law enforcement agencies market their opportunities to communities of color, and their success in diversity recruitment. Drawing a parallel between police and corporate recruitment highlights just how much effort recruiters must put into hiring diversity. That is, if you want results. Here are six lessons that recruiters can glean from this study.

Understand that institutional racism is around us. “Police agencies have been criticized for what is perceived as institutional racism in the recruitment, retention and promotion of Blacks and other racial minorities,” write the authors of the study, titled “Recruiting for Diversity in Law Enforcement: An Evaluation of Practices Used by State and Local Agencies.” While police have been in the hot seat, recruiters of all sectors and industries must turn the mirror upon themselves. Many would agree that institutional racism exists in business across the board.

Put your money where your mouth is. The authors write, “Today’s typical police recruitment campaign is managed almost exclusively using advertisements in those news publications that cater to the greater (White) community at large.” As a recruiter you might be thinking, but we advertise across many different channels, including Facebook, which is very diverse! That may be true, but try doing a little exercise. Compare all the places where you advertise, and how much money you spend on each channel, to your recruitment goals. If you have a goal around diversity, you have to put your advertising dollars where your mouth is.

Police agencies desperately want to hire diversity, precisely because they know they have a trust problem with communities of color, particularly the African American community. The study points out what should be common sense: “When citizens see that a police department has personnel who reflect a cross-section of the community, they have greater confidence that police offers will understand their problems and concerns” (Streit, 2001). The study found, however, that these agencies are just not putting their money where their mouths are. There are points of contact in the community where recruiters may connect with more of their targeted candidates—churches, hair salons, shopping malls, for example—and yet the agencies studied here did not take advantage these opportunities.

Be aware of hypocrisy. Companies who include diversity in their core values, and especially companies who flaunt their inclusive environments, would be wise to check their authenticity. The study reminds us of what we already know about policing: “when community partnerships are seen as being superficial, agencies risk alienating candidates who might be aware of hypocrisy where such activities are inconsistent with reality.” (Syrett & Lammiman, 2004). You should communicate your commitment to diversity, but just saying it doesn’t make it so. Effective diversity recruitment makes it so.

Treat your customers well because it comes back to recruitment. It’s safe to say that the relationship is strained between police and African American communities, who are their “customers”. It’s no surprise that this strained relationship would hinder the agencies’ efforts to recruit Black police officers. The lesson for business here is that your reputation among your customers can and will affect how badly people want to work for you. Do you know whether your company’s name is respected among customers of color? Or are you associated with prejudice and bias?

The positive side of that coin is true too. As you increase diversity, you may see improved customer relations. The study found this to be true among police. The authors write, “Black officers gain more cooperation than White officers from Black citizens, are less prejudiced against Blacks, [and] know more about the Black community.”

Don’t be afraid to target. If you think that you can apply the same methods to all populations, you probably haven’t been too successful in hiring much diversity yet. Targeting a certain community is not wrong or prejudiced. How will you attract someone if you don’t look specifically for that person? With the rise of programmatic advertising and the volume of digital demographic data available, you have no excuse for not going after the exact audiences you hope to recruit. From the study:

“Simply placing employment advertisements in news publications that are read by the wider community does not suffice as a means of dissemination of recruitment information… And placing information in those publications that cater to only the localized community or in those areas that form a comfort zone for that same demographic, ultimately diminishes the pool of available targeted candidates.”

Face the hard truth. What do your recruitment metrics say about the effectiveness of your diversity recruiting efforts? You’ve heard what Einstein said: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is, well, insane. According to the study, police recruiters who “use the same unproductive recruiting strategies while hoping for different results” produces a seriously homogenous organization. We have seen how a deficiency of outreach to communities of color have helped to put police departments in the hot seat across the country. Your company may not be anywhere near that level of controversy, but your struggle to hire diversity probably stems from the same reasons.


1 Wilson, C.P, Wilson, S.A., Luthar, H.K. & Bridges, M.R. (2013). “Recruiting for Diversity in Law Enforcement: An Evaluation of Practices Used by State and Local Agencies.” Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice, 11: 238-255.


Want more recruitment advice? Stay connected to College Recruiter by visiting our blog, and connecting with us on LinkedInTwitterFacebook, and YouTube.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Posted in Advice for Employers and Recruiters, Industry News and Information | Tagged Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,