If the last weeks of the year have taught us anything, it’s that the change and uncertainty in our world are here to stay. As organizations strive to compete for talent, the need for recruiting practices that embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) becomes even more important to ensure all talent feels a sense of belonging and well-being.
You might have stories that recount how your race, age, or gender felt like a barrier to winning a position or promotion. Inclusion requires that employers consider how underrepresented groups (such as individuals with a disability, those with various ethics or religious backgrounds and practices, veterans, or LGBTQAA++) have equal access to opportunities. When organizations successfully embrace DEI, they outperform their counterparts in a number of ways through financial growth, profitability, and innovation.
In partnership with leaders, HR professionals co-create the conditions necessary to attract, hire, and retain a competitive and diverse workforce. HR teams play a critical part and are pivotal to cultivating a culture where DEI can thrive. This is done by deepening our understanding of all employees’ needs, challenging our assumptions, creatively designing strategies to promote DEI, and implementing it flawlessly. When successful, organizations can sustain an adaptive and agile environment.
The Changing Landscape of Diversity and Inclusion
As we adjust goals for the coming year, it’s important to recognize the changing definitions and landscape of DEI in the workplace. Research continues to reinforce that people want to work in diverse organizations. Millennials, the most diverse generation in U.S. history, define inclusion and diversity in many different ways. While diversity was once viewed through the lens of merely gender, race, or age, the current definition incorporates underrepresented groups and aspects such as personality, experience, and knowledge.
Companies are embracing the value of diversity and inclusion but not without adversity. Our firm’s consultants reveal that the DEI conversations they have with clients can be emotionally charged. Employees often hesitate to express their negative experiences and avoid the uncomfortable conversations meant for igniting meaningful change.
On a national scale, the political environment also impacts DEI discussions, decisions, and the strategic focus of organizations. In 2021, discussions about the Black Lives Matter movement, Critical Race Theory, privilege, affirmative action, microaggressions, and “Leading with Race” created controversy and misunderstanding. This is a challenge for leaders and organizations wanting to move forward with conversations necessary to implement strategic DEI action plans.
In the past, DEI efforts were accomplished using educational training sessions. Little was done to change the underlying systems and structures that prevented organizations from achieving the benefits of diverse and inclusive workplaces. A complacent organization halts any progress, and a “do nothing” approach takes hold. If we want to systematically address DEI, it demands challenging previous assumptions. This requires effort from HR and team leaders to foster conversations that help build DEI awareness among employees.
How can HR take steps to improve diversity and inclusion in selection and hiring? Access to a diverse candidate pool begins with the recruitment and identification of the need for new hires. Because every step of the process is at risk of bias, DEI should be addressed at each critical phase.
Strategies for Recruiting a New Hire
- Address the Existing Bias
Hiring decisions are driven by critical business needs. Even at this phase, leaders introduce bias into the decision-making process. Experience might make us believe that a successful candidate will possess certain traits and have expertise that mirrors our own. This “affinity bias” leads individuals to start the process in a problematic way.
- What assumptions am I making that need to be challenged or examined? Take one of our clients for example. This client firmly believed that candidates could not learn on the job. While that may be true, it is an assumption worth reconsidering.
- Can I restructure the team or workload in a way that further supports inclusion?
- Does my current team environment support or hinder my goals for improving DEI?
2. Evaluate Your Job Description and Job Postings
Job descriptions can be riddled with biases that prevent qualified applicants from even considering submitting their résumé. An inclusive hiring process ensures you get the best applicants from a diverse pool of candidates. Some tips to follow include:
- Consider your use of language, and avoid words that promote bias.Use gender-neutral language (i.e., chairperson instead of chairman). Avoid exclusionary words that lend themselves to stereotypes (i.e., veterans and their widows, master/slave in the IT realm, handicap, native English speaker).
- Emphasize job responsibilities rather than requirements. Remove degree requirements that are not essential and that can be demonstrated in other ways.
- Use Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) language that encourages underrepresented individuals to apply.
- Identify benefits demonstrating your commitment to inclusion and diversity, such as parental leave, flexible work, or child care.
3. Offer Hiring Orientation for All Individuals Involved in the Hiring and Interviewing Process
Implement a new hire orientation that sets leaders and their teams up for successful recruitment. Your HR team should address the following to have a successful orientation:
- The vision, policies, and practices of your organization.
- How your company actively supports DEI (i.e., community involvement).
- Hiring process tips to emphasize employee commitment to inclusion and diversity.
- Topics to avoid during the hiring process.
- Identify common biases that interviewers should avoid.
4. Strategic Sourcing
Finding a qualified applicant pool is a challenge, but encouraging diverse sourcing can improve your chances of getting the best candidates. Consider the following:
- Technology can be unpredictable. Optimize your career website to be user-friendly.
- Partner with organizations and colleges serving underrepresented populations, including historically black colleges; science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs; or women and Latino chambers of commerce. Expand your opportunities for promotion, and consciously seek options to improve your candidate pool.
- Leverage employee referrals, but avoid affinity bias.
- Use applicant tracking systems that minimize bias and avoid algorithms that introduce bias.
5. Managing the Candidate Experience
The screening, interview, and job offer process is an opportunity to stand out as a leader, a team, and an organization. Create an environment where candidates feel welcome, and encourage anyone involved in the interview process to create an allyship with all potential candidates. Data shows that when people feel understood, they are more comfortable during the process.
At this stage, consider the following:
- Do not move forward with interviews until you reach your goals for a diverse enough candidate pool.
- Establish the relationship between candidates and their prospective hiring managers.
- Ensure your interview panel is diverse.
- Use a structured interview process that is consistent for all candidates. Use the same questions, and follow the same procedures to avoid bias.
- Provide candidates with interview questions in advance. While this might be controversial, it gives everyone the opportunity to show up at their best.
Employees are changing jobs at an unprecedented rate. As we enter 2022, updating and adjusting these critical processes will position your team to bring on the best talent in a diverse and inclusive way.
Laurie Cure is the founder and CEO of Innovative Connections, a consulting company based in Colorado, and Virginie Bodescot, Executive Coach of Sense Making Consulting in Paris, France, partnered on this discussion to support leaders and teams to leverage their diversity and multicultural environments to improve team dynamics and performance.