In 2020 it’s no longer a question whether having a diverse workforce is beneficial to your organisation. It’s likely that you’ve had many conversations about diversity and inclusion at the workplace, perhaps attended a number of events on the topic or even, ideally, started implementing a D&I strategy. Many things tie into an organisation’s ability to build an inclusive workforce and there are no quick fixes that will solve all your challenges. Success is dependent on the contribution of all employees, nonetheless, of course, some have more fundamental responsibilities than others - with this article I mainly aim to help those who are involved in making hiring decisions. Just before I detail some of the strategies you can start implementing today to hire more diverse candidates, it’s important to discuss what diversity actually is and why is it vital to any organisation.
Matyas is a co-founder of Increw
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What is diversity?
We commonly think about diversity as a set of observance characteristics, such as race, age or gender. However, to accomplish true diversity, many other factors need to be considered, such as socioeconomic status, educational background, sexual orientation - and others. The argument is that in order to harvest the benefits of diversity we have to look beyond the observable characteristics. Although organisational KPIs built on these have their purpose, the principal aim is not to “just” meet certain D&I targets but to hire employees based solely on skills and suitability to the job, which, as a result, will lead to a fair recruitment process and ultimately, a diverse workforce that reflects the demographics of society.
Why is diversity important?
There are generally two underlying principles that guide D&I strategies. First, there are obvious moral reasons - it's simply the right thing to do, period. Second, it has been found times and times again that diversity leads to better organisational outcomes and therefore it’s in the economic interest of all stakeholders to have a diverse workforce - not just the candidates. Better problem-solving capabilities, larger talent pools, boosted creativity, a wider range of perspectives, enhanced employee experience and retention are among the key benefits. Ultimately, through one way or another, diversity leads to improved productivity and financial outcomes, making a strong business case.
How can those involved in hiring contribute to diversity?
Firstly, it’s important to clarify that recruitment is an activity that’s influenced by every single employee within the organisation and therefore D&I success or failure, even when linked to hiring related activities, should be viewed as such. Leadership is responsible for creating a forward-looking culture that promotes diversity and fosters inclusion, not to mention the hiring of recruitment professionals who can make a positive impact on D&I. All employees themselves contribute to this culture, which directly impacts employee experience, the organisation’s employer brand and hence ability to attract, and perhaps more importantly, retain diverse candidates. Unless newcomers are included fully, desired D&I outcomes will never be met since those who don’t feel included will not be ableto perform to their best ability and eventually leave the organisation, reinforcing the core issue. Therefore, it’s vital that all stakeholders do their bit. Nevertheless, it goes without saying that those involved in hiring do have an outstanding responsibility. So what can we do to make a positive contribution?
Diversify your talent pool
The basic argument here is that you can only hire diverse employees if you have a diverse talent pool. From an advertising point of view, you can accomplish this by promoting your opportunities through a wide range of channels, ensuring that your communications are not only getting in from of candidates from certain backgrounds. This is essential since each method you use can be indirectly discriminatory: referrals, for instance, might limit the range of candidates you reach if you’re at an early stage of your D&I journey, whereas social media advertising can exclude some age groups you might want to reach. As a general rule, challenge each recruitment marketing activity you do from a diversity perspective - will using X or Y help you get closer to your goals? There are also some specialist platforms you can use that target candidates from different backgrounds. Lastly, if you are working with external recruiters such as Increw, make sure to ask about their strategies on D&I and how they will be able to acquire a diverse pool of candidates for your organisation. Chances are, if they don’t have a specific answer and strategy, you’ll be worse off trusting them over other, more strategic recruitment partners that can help you in your D&I journey.
Apply a data-driven approach
Just like with recruitment marketing in general, put data to the core of everything you do. Track time-to-hire, cost-to-hire and source-of-hire of all the channels you use to get a good understanding of where you are getting diverse candidates from and how you can improve your strategy. Is it job boards, is it actually referrals or is it something else? There is no ultimate answer and you need to find out what works best for your organisation. I can’t stress enough how crucial this is. If you have limited resources and you’re not yet collecting and managing data to the extent you’d ideally want to, I’d recommend you start doing it as soon as possible. Of course, it takes time to get this right, so don’t be discouraged by early setbacks - it will be an effortful process worth all your time investment in the end.
Only ask for things that matter
An arguably common mistake you should avoid is requiring too much from applicants, especially experience that is not essential for the role. This not only lowers applicant conversion rates but can indirectly discriminate against certain groups of people and decrease your applicant pool in numbers as well as diversity. Is a university degree really, really important? Are there systems candidates need to be familiar with, and is it key that they do? Make sure that you only look at the vital things. Research finds that men, compared to women, statistically, for one reason or another, are more likely to apply for jobs when they don’t meet 100% of the job requirements. Why is this important? If you have a long list of things you’re asking for, odds are that you’ll receive more male applications. Have a go at this article if you’re interested to learn more about this phenomenon. If you expect a high volume of applications and need further (and fair!) criteria to judge applicants against, include performance-based elements in your selection process, such as situational judgment tests or mini-projects - rather than potentially discriminatory and not-so-important criteria.
Get your job descriptions right
At some point, you’re going to hand out a job description to potential candidates - and it’s crucial that you create one responsibly to achieve diversity. Use gender-neutral language and avoid masculine wording, but also pay attention to words that can discourage candidates with disabilities to apply. The devil is in the details - make sure you ask colleagues of different backgrounds to give you feedback to get a wide range of opinions, as the terminology is often quite subjective. You can also look into some data-driven tools to help you with this, such as Textio (disclaimer: I’m not affiliated with Textio, just generally found their software useful). Include an equal opportunities statement and if you can, go the extra mile and explain in what ways you are making sure that your organisation provides equal opportunities. There are a lot of companies out there who claim they care but in practice, they don’t do much about diversity. How is your organisation different?
Actively think about attracting diverse candidates
Again, the devil is in the details. At each point in your hiring process, actively put yourself in the shoes of underrepresented candidates and ask whether what you are doing encourages or discourages a potential application. Are you showing a picture of all-male colleagues on social media and your company website? Do you use inclusive terminology across your communications? Try to constantly ask similar questions. Lastly, be transparent about your company’s D&I progress to candidates. Especially in tech, potential applicants know it is a huge ongoing issue and are not expecting you to solve it within a fortnight. However, being transparent encourages diverse candidates to apply because it shows you care about the issue and are not afraid to be held accountable. It also allows you to explain how you’re trying to improve, which can go a long way. The best thing you can do is be honest and do your best to improve - candidates will value this more than anything else.
Create a fair selection process
Once you’ve reached and attracted a diverse pool of candidates, your next task is assessing them fairly. Your aim at this stage is to remove any kind of discrimination. Only focus on the essential skills and attributes for the job and avoid criteria that can lead to biased decisions. An avoidable common mistake is requiring a university degree in cases where in fact it’s not vital to performance and hence should not be assessed. Evidently, there are professions where higher education is necessary - are the ones you’re hiring for qualify? We know that the demographics of universities are not as diverse as they could be, especially as we move higher up the rankings, therefore by only recruiting graduates you’re missing out on valuable talent groups and holding back D&I progress. Besides, you add another unimportant criterion based on which you’ll likely end up making judgements. Imagine you have a candidate from a top university versus someone who went to a mediocre one. Chance are, you’re going to be biased and you might make a decision that has nothing to do with what’s required for the job. The same applies to any other things you look at - so make sure you support the fairness of your assessment process by removing such criteria.
Include multiple decision-makers
Research has shown that we as humans have unconscious biases, whether we like it or not. I personally believe it is simply impossible to eliminate even if you try your hardest - your upbringing, life experiences and many other things are going to affect your judgement and hence limit fair candidate assessment (here is a great article on how this happens in practice). However, this doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about it, rather the opposite - being aware is the first step to implement strategies that can combat this effect. So what are these? Firstly, you can blind CVs and applications to the point when you only see and assess relevant information - exclude names, addresses and any other information you deem irrelevant. Training assessors on how to limit unconscious biases is another course of action you can take. Lastly, involve multiple decision-makers in the process to get a variety of opinions. This can be especially crucial for interviews, which are arguably the most prone to discrimination. If you do include a panel interview in your selection process, try to make it as diverse as possible, which in turn will lead to fairer decisions and an improved ability to convince diverse candidates to join your organisation. Win-win.
Flexibility and remote working
Offering flexible working schedules can go a long way in diversifying your workforce, allowing applicants with parental and other responsibilities to do the job otherwise not possible when attendance is required every working day. As technology evolves, I believe fully remote working and employing globally distributed teams will be the future of work and perhaps more relevant to this article, one of the key factors to having a truly diverse workforce of age, gender, race, religion, socioeconomic background, education, sexual orientation, but also culture. Of course, this comes with its own set of challenges but if managed well, can lead to outstanding outcomes in terms of diversity and beyond - perhaps a topic for another time.
Achieving diversity is not only the right thing to do but one that leads to improved organisational performance. It is a complex issue that needs buy-in and more importantly action from all stakeholders, requiring everyone within the business to get involved. From a recruitment perspective, you can do a lot to contribute positively as I have tried to suggest some strategies you can start implementing today. Diversity needs to be prioritised and if you do not want to be left behind, start acting today.