HR Mavericks

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DEI Recruiting
Talent acquisition is a strategic, necessary function in building more inclusive and diverse teams. Along with HR and leadership, recruiting teams can combat homogeneity and bias in the workplace. There is no perfect science to recruiting for diversity, equity and inclusion, but there are steps, strategies and best practices YOU can implement to head in the right direction.

What Is DEI Recruiting?

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) recruiting is a mix of strategies, tactics and process changes to increase the representation and hiring of diverse backgrounds to build a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace. DEI recruiting goes beyond gender and ethnic groups. Effective DEI recruiting also considers groups of people with visible and invisible disabilities, different religious and political beliefs, cultures and sexual orientations. While there has been an increase in discussion about DEI in the workplace since the 2020 murder of George Floyd, many companies still struggle to increase representation, inclusion and belonging of historically marginalized communities in their recruiting and workplaces. This article can support your company’s DEI recruiting strategies, and hopefully help you build a more inclusive recruiting funnel. This is not an exhaustive step-by-step playbook. Rather, this is a starting place to help guide your organization.

Why Is It Important for Employers to Recruit for DEI?

If you’re reading this article, you likely already understand and value the importance of diversity in the workplace. But just in case you or your leadership team need more convincing, here are a few reasons why recruiting for diversity, equity and inclusion is crucial.
  • Diverse companies perform better. Full stop. Having a more diverse team means more diverse experiences, perspectives, opinions and skills to build and grow your products and services. According to a 2018 study, diverse leadership teams drive 19% more revenue. A more recent report (2021) from McKinsey shows that companies in the top quarter for gender and racial/ethnic diversity are respectively 25% and 36% more likely to achieve higher financial gains. Fundera compiled several diversity workplace statistics that demonstrate that diverse teams penetrate new markets and make better decisions.
  • Diversity promotes emotional safety in the workplace. Increasing representation of historically marginalized communities, especially in leadership positions, drive performance through belonging and emotional safety. Boston Consulting Group (BCG) found that 85% of employees feel a sense of workplace belonging at companies with diverse senior leadership compared to just 53% of employees at companies without diversity in leadership. Belonging at work is linked to an increase in job performance and a decrease in turnover. Finally, emotional safety has been proven to increase collaboration, communication and innovation.
  • Inclusive hiring practices combat homogeneity hires. While the concept of a “homogeneity hire” can be linked to this Twitter user, there is proof that hiring homogeneously does not benefit your organization. Over 80% of employers rely on referrals when hiring, and referrals are four times more likely to be hired than direct applicants. That’s a lot of overlooked talent. Homogeneity is not attractive to job seekers AND companies that embrace diversity drive more innovation. Using skills-based hiring practices (which is an inclusive hiring practice) is a way to beat or “hack” the increasingly difficult labor market.
  • There’s still a lot of work to do. No matter what an executive or a report may tell you, there is still disproportionate representation, acceptance and compensation across different communities. Black and Hispanic women are still underrepresented in STEM fields AND Black and Hispanic women are still the most underpaid in STEM fields. On average, one in four adult Americans has a disability, yet people with disabilities experience higher rates of unemployment and lower labor force participation rates. Finally, “Black workers receive extra scrutiny from bosses, which can lead to worse performance reviews, lower wages and even job loss” (Source: The Atlantic).
A company’s most valuable asset is not its products, services or brand. It’s their people. Therefore, compliant, inclusive people practices (like DEI recruiting) are critical to a company’s success. In short, BCG sums it up best by saying, “Inclusion isn’t just nice. It’s necessary.”

How to Identify DEI Recruiting Needs

Now that you have irrefutable proof to infuse more intentionality toward DEI recruiting, how can you get the ball rolling?

Step 1: Lock in Leadership

As learned from the data above, leadership teams play a massive role in the efficacy and success of DEI work. Enlist the help of an executive-level sponsor(s), preferably outside of your HR department, to support representation and belonging in your workplace. While they do not need to be involved in the tactical operations, get buy-in as soon as possible. Include them in future progress updates. Ask for their support when identifying and unblocking systemic issues within your processes. Have them recognize, amplify and celebrate diversity and inclusion outside of HR and recruiting teams. Set expectations that this will be a team effort early on and include them on the journey.

Step 2: Assess Your Current State

Look at your leadership team, employees, people data, and qualitative feedback. You won’t know where to steer the ship if you don’t know your starting point. To build the most effective DEI recruiting plan, you have to understand the current state of diversity at your company. Aim for a mix of hard data and employee sentiments (AKA quantitative and qualitative). Review aggregated data on gender identity, ethnicity, sexual orientation and disability status. Take this a step further and explore historical data as well. Has diversity increased as your company scales? Additionally, reflect on feedback from HR exit interviews, engagement surveys and informal conversations. Every company will have varying levels of data. Regardless, it is both prudent and imperative to ensure confidentiality and discretion when compiling, reviewing and sharing this data—even within the HR department. Be sure to review and uphold your company’s policy on data governance and stay abreast of federal, state and local laws too.

Step 3: Take Accountability

Now that you have a fuller picture of your company’s diversity (or lack thereof), it’s time to take responsibility along with action. Instead of finger pointing or placing blame on one process or problem, vow to be the change. Understand what groups are not represented at your company, have a dialogue and take action:
  • Remember that ethnic and racial diversity aren’t the same thing. Are you accounting for candidates across biological and cultural factors? Are you actively sourcing across levels of education, geographies and employment history? Do you give different treatment to referred candidates?
  • Understand that until the 90s, there was little to no legislation protecting people with disabilities in the workplace (thank you, 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act!). Are you offering accommodations to candidates with disabilities? From the job description to offer accepted, is your process accessible to and equitable for everyone?
  • Consider the nature and intentionality of your branding. For example, do you ask candidates for their pronouns or their preferred pronouns? Do you offer preparation materials to candidates? Are you proactively mentioning your pronouns or that accommodations are offered, or is it an afterthought in your email signature?
  • Contemplate your company’s hiring methods and see what factors drive hiring decisions. Not everyone has equal access to education or mentorship. Do you evaluate candidates based on their skills and potential, or are certain educational pedigrees placed at a higher value? Do your hiring managers have a measurable rubric to gauge interview performance, or do they hire based on a “vibe?”
This by no means is a complete list, but it can be a helpful starting place to know where your company needs to take accountability. DEI sourcing and recruiting can only be successful in conjunction with equitable and accessible hiring practices. Once you recognize and fully grasp the gaps, you can empower your hiring teams and executives to address the changes and make progress.

Step 4: Set Goals

Before you put any DEI recruiting into motion, set “SMART” goals: Specific. Measurable. Attainable. Relevant. Timebound.
  • Specific. Pick the ethnic, racial, gender, etc. groups you want to focus on. If you seek results across all communities, pick 2-3 groups to start.
  • Measurable. You won’t know if you reach a target unless you have a target to start with and measure progress. Set metrics and checkpoints to gauge both improvements and roadblocks.
  • Attainable. DEI recruiting does not have a “finish line” or certification of completion. Much like personal goals, setting yourself up for success starts with realistic, possible and achievable benchmarks.
  • Relevant. Ensure that your goal is specific enough but also relevant. For example, increasing gender diversity could be easier in certain professions like HR. Therefore, it might be more meaningful to target increasing female representation in a non-HR-related department like engineering.
  • Timebound. Give it a deadline. This will help you to stay accountable, identify blockers, and also evaluate progress.
Rather than a goal like, “hire more diverse candidates,” a SMART goal might look like:
  • “Grow female and non-binary gender representation by 10% in individual contributor sales hires in 2023 Q3 and Q4.”
  • “Increase self-ID data of people with disabilities from 0 to 7% across North America recruiting funnels in the next 12 months.”
  • “Expand manager-level diversity across engineering and professional services teams by Q2 2024.”
Once you’ve set SMART goal(s), be sure to create an accountability cadence. For some, this may look like weekly meetings or a shared document or Asana project. Set a practical pace that keeps DEI recruiting a priority but also suits your organization’s goals and bandwidth. If you need assistance to maximize asynchronous time within your team, check out this guide from Oyster.

Step 5: Do the Work

As Maxine Williams, Chief Diversity Officer at Meta, once said, “A goal without a strategy is just a statement. A statement without execution is not progress.” Conversation alone will not yield more diverse hires. Setting goals won’t either. In other words, don’t just talk about it. Be about it. This is where the real work begins. Along with setting SMART goals, here are some actions your team can take.
  • Create an inclusive sourcing plan. Develop a week-to-week souring focus across a variety of backgrounds. Carve out time for yourself or your team to actively source more inclusively.
  • Provide accommodations. Be sure to mention accommodations proactively by including them in job descriptions and screening calls and interview requests. Talk about them before a candidate asks for them.
  • Advocate for candidates. Encourage hiring managers to adhere to inclusive, skills-based hiring. Review their interview feedback and give them feedback on evaluating and writing more inclusively. Call out internal hiring bias and leverage your executive sponsors for support.
  • Provide best-in-class candidate experiences. Focus on being kind and organized, but also transparent. Be honest with candidates each step of the way regarding timeline, expectations and sentiments. Provide salary ranges for all roles, even if your state doesn’t require them. Give feedback if you choose to move forward with other candidates.
  • Continue to educate yourself. Learn about the challenges and experiences of underrepresented groups and bring others along on that journey. Enhance your process internally and externally to acknowledge and celebrate the experiences of everyone.

Step 6: Listen. Evaluate. Repeat.

As you do the work and measure your progress, it’s important to evaluate the success of initiatives against your SMART goal. It’s even more important to listen to qualitative feedback from candidates, hiring managers and employees. Repeat Steps 2-6 regularly, and ensure that active listening, honesty and action are all present. You may find that DEI recruiting demonstrates a need to change other HR and operational processes outside of recruiting.

Effective DEI Recruiting Strategies

Step 5 calls out different actions to take when focusing on DEI recruiting. Here are strategies your team can leverage.

Boosting Top-of-Funnel

Focusing top-of-funnel activity to be more inclusive is a good starting place when implementing DEI in recruiting. Often a major reason a company lacks diversity is because their sourcing strategy lacks diversity. They may disproportionately hire from referrals or simply don’t dedicate the time to changing sourcing tactics. Instead of dropping in the same boolean terms into your search string, consider:
  • A wide variety of educational backgrounds. Not everyone has the same access to education. Build search strings that aren’t based solely on “top-tier” education. Go beyond historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), women’s colleges or Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs). Identify candidates that receive training from community colleges, bootcamps or certifications, or candidates that have no formal education!
  • Expanding the location of your search. If your company offers remote roles, look for candidates outside of the major “hubs.” While areas like NYC can be quite diverse, consider sourcing from cities and regions that are more ethnically diverse or have high veteran/military spouse populations.
  • Building search strings with organizations. Consider both professional and student groups. You can identify groups by community (like Women in Technology or Fraternities for Latinx students), or drill down into professions as well (like Black Girls Code or American Indian Engineering Societies).
  • Including a different type of keyword. Rather than using search terms for company or education, compile a search string that has more vernacular terms. For example, according to a 2022 LinkedIn survey, 69% of American women have taken a career break at some point in their professional years. Therefore, consider searching for candidates that have a career gap. Try searching for terms like “Returner,” “Returnship,” “Career Break,” “Relauncher,” etc.
  • Leveraging tools outside of LinkedIn Recruiter. While LinkedIn can be wonderful, you limit your results by using only one tool. Source and connect with candidates in groups on other free sites like Reddit, Twitter, Stack Overflow, Github or Meetup. Learn about X-ray searches or programmable search engines. If you have an available budget, consider leveraging diversity-driven platforms like Seekout, Inclusively or Native Current.
These strategies demonstrate where your sourcing can start to innovate and be more inclusive.

Engagement and Connection

Now that you are sourcing more inclusively, examine where and how you connect with potential candidates. Here are more sourcing and top-of-funnel strategies:
  • Build partnerships with diverse communities and organizations. Don’t just look to “get candidates” from these communities. Understand which groups your team and funnels would like to support and support them. While these organizations can offer resume books or candidate databases, seek to build a true partnership. Learn about the communities they support. Offer help at job fairs or events without expectations. Promote their work on LinkedIn. Back their mission. Not sure what companies to connect with? Alex Lahmeyer, founder of Boundless Arc, compiled a comprehensive list of equitable tools and resources.
  • Review the language in your funnel. From job descriptions to candidate emails to screening questions, assess the adjectives and clarity of your messages. For example, don’t use biased terms like “marketing guru” or “rockstar” in a job description. Be sure to use person-first language, especially when discussing accommodations. If you have a budget, consider investing in a tool like Textio to evaluate the inclusivity of your recruiting messages.
  • Provide feedback to candidates. There are ways to do this for even high-volume pipelines. Rather than pushing candidates in and out of your process, give them objective and honest feedback as to why you are not moving forward with their candidacy. Consider sending exclusive employer branding and prep resources to the candidates who don’t get the job. This allows you to build relationships with candidates and promote openness. Chances are you will receive feedback from candidates to improve the equitability and accessibility of your hiring processes.

Process Improvement

Recruiting is a highly subjective practice that can be riddled with bias. To recruit more diversely, be sure to:
  • Conduct an accessibility audit of your hiring funnels. Review everything in job descriptions, branding materials, scheduling tools and interview questions. Would someone that is blind or has low vision be able to maneuver the process? Are your workflows and questions fair for someone with intellectual disabilities? Understand where your process could be more inclusive and make the necessary changes. Inclusion benefits everyone, not just people with disabilities.
  • Practice skills-based hiring. Rather than hiring candidates based on employment history, this practice screens and evaluates candidates based on raw capabilities in accordance with the successful skills needed for a specific role. While this practice can indicate on-the-job success, it also expands the talent pool and helps build more diverse workforces.
  • Provide pre- and post-interview preparation. Not all candidates have the same access to education and mentorship. If you are hiring candidates based on skills, providing prep resources to candidates provides an extra layer of support and positive experience, reduces anxiety and potentially boosts performance. When rejecting a candidate, providing post-interview resources can influence their sentiments about your employer brand. More importantly, it demonstrates your care for them as humans, not just human capital. Create a scalable, informative resource to send to candidates. Share a page of interview topics or record an introductory Loom video.
Successful DEI recruiting goes beyond sourcing. Effective DEI recruiting includes changing your processes and behaviors internally—not just externally.

Education

To hire more diversely, we must educate ourselves on more than just “trends.” Set up action along with education. This can be as simple as hosting weekly or monthly “learning sessions.” Seek to understand and learn about the experiences and history of marginalized groups. Attend events in honor of Asian Pacific Heritage Month. Read texts about dismantling racism. Connect with and support non-profits. Hold yourself and your team accountable to not only identify and engage with diverse candidates, but to truly learn in order to influence real change.

Best Practices for DEI Recruiting

Hopefully these strategies can support you and your organization in recruiting more inclusively. Here are some general best practices to help in your journey.

It’s a Group Effort Marathon, Not a Sprint

The work does not stop with recruiting tactics. Leadership has a duty to their employees, investors and customers to build inclusively. Much like most work in HR and recruiting, there is no “bandaid” or one answer. There is no “perfect” way to increase representation within your organization. Enacting real change requires strength in numbers. It warrants deep, systemic changes, not just performative “fixes.” Be patient. Be honest. And be relentless.

Active Listening: The Unsung Superpower

There are many ways to articulate the practice of active listening, but the message remains the same. Be open and receptive to the responses and critiques you receive from candidates and employees. Promote emotional safety and listen to understand; don’t just wait for your turn to speak. Stay in tune with the feedback that you do—or don’t—receive. Both have powerful lessons.

Build Resources Along With Relationships

As you learn about historically marginalized communities and measure your DEI recruiting, develop internal resources. For example, consider building an organized toolkit with DEI sourcing strings, but also partnership databases, educational content lists and hyperlinked research.

Prioritize Transparency and Inclusion

Honesty always wins. Seek to be as transparent as possible with both candidates and hiring managers. Never inflate data or sentiments when speaking with candidates. Be forthright in your company’s goals, sponsorship, partnerships and action. Internally, never share sensitive data or details that can compromise a candidate or employee’s confidentiality. Balance intentionality with discretion.
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Lindsay Hildebrandt

Lindsay Hildebrandt

Lindsay Hildebrandt is an inclusion-focused global talent acquisition and recruiting operations professional. She’s recruited candidates at all levels for hundreds hiring managers across technology, financial, retail, and creative industries in North America and EMEA. Throughout her career, she has also spearheaded several cross-functional global initiatives to increase recruiting and interviewer efficiency, support DEIB in recruiting, and enhance the candidate experience.
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