Diversity recruitment: Big impact strategies and mistakes Part 1 [expert panel discussion]

Posted July 24, 2017 by


As demographics change in the United States, including at college campuses, employers should have more diverse new hires. So why is the needle moving so slowly? Here we explore strategies for talent acquisition professionals to improve their diversity recruitment. Our discussion touches on mistakes recruiters make, big impact strategies and becoming culturally confident.

We were joined by Alexandra Levit, a workplace consultant; Toni Newborn, J.D., Diversity and Consulting Services Manager at City of St. Paul; and Bruce Soltys, Director of University Relations at Travelers. This is Part 1 of our discussion. Part 2 discusses what an inclusive recruitment process looks like, differences between the government and private sectors, and concrete tips for talent acquisition professionals.

Read a summary of our discussion here, or watch the full conversation below. 

Common mistakes that employers make in diversity recruitment

Relying too heavily on employee referrals: It is a common practice for workplace experts to tell human resources and recruiters to use and rely greatly on employee referrals. While employee referrals can be a great way to get trustworthy and awesome candidates, it doesn’t come without its share of problems. Alexandra Levit, a workplace consultant, sheds light on some of the flaws with these referrals. “An employee will naturally refer people who are similar to them demographically.” Often times the referral is of someone of the same socioeconomic status. Levit makes clear that she wouldn’t tell a company not to ask for employee referrals at all, but she advises employers, however, to be aware that solely using referrals will bring a lack of diversity.

Nepotism: This is another common mistake made by employers when trying to expand diversity. Toni Newborn, Diversity and Consulting Services Manager with the City of St. Paul, shares how nepotism can play a big role in the lack of diversity. “St. Paul has a long history of nepotism. It is the practice of  employers favoring relatives or friends when it comes to getting the job. Newborn elaborates on how it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. She explains, “If your networks are diverse then when a position does open you will be able to reach people who are of different socioeconomic status, gender, race, etc.” Expanding your own personal networks to include people of other demographics than yourself can be a great help.

Not expanding from traditional sources: With changing diversity across college campuses it is important to acknowledge that not everyone is aware of their opportunities when it comes to career fairs and outreach. Bruce Soltys, Director of University Relations for Travelers, reminds us of the importance to keep in mind the students who might be the first in their family to go to college. He wants employers to know that they can’t just assume that if they go to the campus there will be a lot of diversity right in front of them. Students who are the first in their family to go to college are not necessarily as prepared as other students who might have help from their parents or siblings. Soltys says “companies need to take the opportunity to work with those first generation students to make sure that when it comes time for the interview they’re prepared.”

Often times, employers just stick to the general career fairs. It might not occur to first generation students that they need to even attend those, let alone be assertive and proactive. Levit recommends that employers expand out of just these general fairs and go to some college groups where they can gain visibility with diverse candidates. Recruiting is not one size fits all. It’s on employers to aim their recruitment to targeted groups.

Fitting in perfectly is not the goalSeeking candidates who are a perfect cultural fit: This is a delicate mistake, because organizations tend to do this entirely on purpose. Of course hiring managers want to hire people who “gel” on their team. But company culture can mean a vast amount of things. It oftentimes leans towards the dominant culture present in the office. Employers need to broaden their perspectives around defining what is a “good fit”. You want to have a qualified candidate who’s going to enhance your department or the organization. The cultural fit sometimes doesn’t allow the company to grow in diversity.

Try not to overly focus on whether applicant will ‘fit in’ perfectly, recognizing that if they don’t feel like they belong right away, your team must make an effort to include him or her. A lot of hiring managers choose people who will fit in because they want employees to do well. They want people with values that match the values of the organization. But what they don’t keep in mind is that they should also find people who have those values but still push the organization in a new way.

Big impact strategies for diversity recruitment

One strategy that has been taking place recently is removing names from resumes. There have been lots of studies proving that resumes with “white sounding” names get further along in the processes than those with non-white sounding names. When you remove names from the resume, resumes of diverse candidates get further along in a pile. There is a substantial amount of bias against certain names, whether it is conscious or unconscious. So by just removing the name off the resume, you are possibly opening yourself up to more diversity. Also you are, by default, going to be more focused on the attributes and skills of the candidate.

Your applicant tracking system may offer a feature that removes the name from a resume. For example, Newborn describes how their ATS assigns a number to the applicant’s resume. However, one flaw is that once she clicks on an application she can go in and see the original resume with the person’s name on it. So your system may offer features, but it is up to the human being to make it work.

Talent acquisition professionals should become more culturally confident themselves

Maybe the biggest impact strategy there is, is for the TA team to increase their cultural confidence. Here is what the experts advise:

Get out there. Really. You won’t increase your cultural competence to a desirable level by just reading up on different cultures and community. You need personal and real experiences with people from different walks of life. You’ll achieve an understanding of different values when you go learn first-hand about them. Recruitment strategies in other cultures are different as well. Bring those different techniques into your everyday recruiting. Levit advises everyone to:

Go out and find out for yourself, talk to people who are recruiting in that region, to people who have done it in the past, and to people who are living there. Become schooled in it individually because unfortunately there is no training that can teach you these things as well as first-hand experience… I think that you have to engage in your own internal bootcamp.

For example, in Latin America, many people there think of their careers within the context of their industry and not necessarily just their company. So, when recruiting from somewhere else it is important to explain the larger industry goal and achievement versus just what your company is doing.

Everyone has room for more awareness. Soltys adds that awareness is a key factor. He says employers should be aware of the gaps their own knowledge. Even the most educated and experienced people have more to learn about certain communities. There is always room to grow. “Try to reach out to people,” he says. Increase your knowledge around a certain topic or even educate someone else on your culture. Soltys explains that you can only be successful when you realize there could be areas for improvement in your own knowledge.

Get ready to dive outside your comfort zoneBuild relationships where you have none. (That means getting out of your comfort zone.) Relationship building and broadening of your network is a great way to increase your cultural confidence. Newborn describes her own experience with this when she was asked to do event planning for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a national Muslim civil rights advocacy organization. This was new to Newborn and she learned so much from this community. While in the meantime she also expanded her network. Newborn elaborates a bit, “I was able to information share and learn from a different culture. When I’m doing outreach and engagement in that particular community I can now speak more from a standpoint of knowledge and understanding instead of ignorance.”

When broadening your network and attempting to increase your cultural confidence you will have to get out of your comfort zone. Anyone who wants to learn about something or some group will have to get a little uncomfortable. It’s important for recruiting and for community building. It is important to build relationships to people of different races, ethnicities, genders, religions, and locations.

It can be intimidating for someone to assume that they must be “culturally competent” with any or all cultures in their area. That’s why “cultural confidence” can be a better term. It’s impossible to know everything about everyone’s culture. However, it is important to have the social confidence to ask questions and build a relationship. Confidence will help you learn. Join different boards, find different community groups, and be a part of their conversations. We benefit from diverse perspectives and the fact that things are done differently elsewhere.

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