Diversity and inclusion in university relations: From compliance to increased productivity

Posted April 11, 2018 by


SHRM18 Blogger GraphicFor years, I’ve been hearing employers talk about the importance of hiring a diverse workforce. Probably my first encounter with a formalized approach to attain this goal was way back in 1989 when I worked for Honeywell as a student. Down the hall from my department was our Office of Affirmative Action. Typical for that era, the reason for the existence of the office was far more about compliance than furthering any other business objective.

Now let’s flash forward a couple of decades. Not only were the names of these offices changing to include words like diversity but so were the objectives. Some of the world’s largest and most respected employers of college and university students and recent graduates were diversifying their candidate pools. They weren’t doing it just for compliance. More importantly, they were seeing data showing that more diverse workforces were more productive workforces.

Expanding beyond top schools can transform diversity and inclusion initiatives

If everyone recruiters from top schools you miss out on diversityDespite these progressive actions, few employers were doing more than just tweaking their college and university employment programs. The vast majority of employers with formalized university relations programs recruited virtually all of their interns and entry-level hires from the same schools and majors. And they recruited from those schools and majors year after year after year.

Making matters worse, employers who targeted STEM majors tended to overwhelmingly hire males. Similarly, employers targeting nursing and education majors tended to overwhelmingly hire females. Further compounding this lack of diverse talent was the reality that schools tend to have little diversity when it comes to socioeconomic, geographic, and other such backgrounds. If you were male, middle-class, white, and attended an engineering school in the Midwest, chances were that a very large proportion of your classmates were also male, middle-class, and white.

Eventually, the productivity gains seen by talent acquisition leaders from their efforts to create more diverse and inclusive workforces began to percolate into their college and university programs. Employers began to slowly expand their recruitment beyond their top schools to be more welcoming to well-qualified candidates from those who applied online through the employers’ career sites, job boards like College Recruiter, and other virtual channels. For the first time, these employers were actually able to measure the effectiveness of their legacy recruiting channels. Many were shocked to discover just how poorly their traditionally hired employees performed when compared against employees hired through these new (at least new to these employers) virtual channels.

Productivity of elite vs. scrapper candidates

Why would traditionally hired entry-level employees be less productive than hires from non-traditional sources? The reasons varied, but a typical one I heard when talking with these employers was far lower turnover. Hires from elite suburbs who attended elite schools and who had elite grades often stayed with their first employer for only a year or two. “Scrappers” from non-traditional backgrounds who attended second or even third tier schools often stayed for five or ten years or even more.

Tamara Seiler of Hudsonmann

Tamara Seiler of Hudsonmann

According to Tamara Seiler of Hudsonmann, a human resources company that specializes in consulting federal contractors and subcontractors on a variety of topics including OFCCP compliant hiring practices, “recruiting from different ‘ponds’ ensures that the applicant pool remains diverse and fresh.” Targeted, meaningful outreach to minority, veteran, female, and other such organizations is necessary, according to Tamara, “not only because of their goals but because it is a good business practice. Diversity is key for businesses to stay competitive, stay compliant, and to afford all qualified individuals the opportunity for employment.”

Call me a nerd if you wish, but something I find really exciting is how very large, very well respected employers have moved far beyond affirmative action compliance programs and diversity programs to fully embrace inclusion. They do this not just because they’re required to do so, and not even because it is the right thing to do, but also because these non-traditional, virtually-hired employees have proven to be more productive. Some of these employers are moving toward an agnostic approach when targeting schools and even majors, because they’ve found poor and even negative correlations between the perceived quality of the schools and majors and the productivity of their workforce.

Imagine your university relations program as school agnostic

To be school agnostic is quite simply that you have no preference regarding what school a candidate attended. Consider the typical college recruiting programs.  They focus on sending recruiters and hiring managers from campus to campus, attending career fairs, conducting on-campus interviews, wining-and-dining professors, and even attending homecoming football games. You can imagine just how profoundly different it would be to run a program which is school agnostic. Almost completely different, in fact. Rather than focusing on the process of going from one school to another to  hire students, a virtual and school agnostic program focuses on outcomes. That is: hire those who promise to be the most productive employees. That must sound crazy to some, but it seems quite rational to me.

SHRM18 Blogger GraphicLearn more at SHRM 2018

I’m anxious to learn more about how today’s employers are hiring for tomorrow by recruiting from different ponds. In just a couple of months, I’ll have that opportunity and so will you. The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) is hosting their annual, national conference in June in Chicago. As one of the official #SHRM18 bloggers, I’m looking forward to speaking with the hundreds of presenters, moderators, panelists, and exhibitors and the thousands of attendees. I’ll be on the look-out for people like Tamara and organizations like Hudsonmann as they’re already seeing results from the work they’ve done with over 450 employer clients to shift hiring processes from diversity to inclusion, using tactics such as school agnostic college recruiting programs and other tactics that vary with each employer.

Will you be at SHRM? Do you have a story to tell?

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