What a diversity recruiting strategy is — and how to improve it

November 1, 2021 - 14 min read

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What is a diversity recruitment strategy?

The importance of a diversity recruitment strategy

5 ways to recruit for a diverse workplace 

How to get started – or update – your diversity recruitment strategy

As companies recognize and emphasize the importance of workplace diversity, they need to set metrics to measure impact and success. A diversity recruitment strategy helps organizations prioritize, track, and deliver on their goals.

Of course, recruiting for diversity is just one part of creating a vibrant, agile, and diverse workforce in your company. Whether or not you create a high-performing, agile, innovative company also depends on what you do once you hire diverse candidates and bring them in the door.

The culture, the manager's ability to lead inclusively, and colleagues' openness all play a big part in whether employees experience a work environment where they can do their best work and feel good about it. 

Often set as a promise towards greater equity, accountability, and integrity, a diversity recruiting strategy is a key part of an inclusion and belonging strategy. It ensures that you are reaching a more diverse talent pool, giving real consideration to more diverse candidates, and doing it in a way that is really welcoming and attractive to the best talent. 

What is a diversity recruitment strategy?

As the saying goes in business, “What got you here won't get you there.” And the same is true for diversity within your organization.

Many companies make the mistake of thinking that diversity — or any initiative — is all about metrics. However, metrics are just one part of an overall strategy. While it's impossible to tell whether or not your strategy is successful without metrics, a goal is not a strategy.

For example, say that you want to run a marathon. Running the marathon is the goal. Your training program is your strategy. After all, most of us don’t just wake up one day and run 26 miles. It takes work, effort, planning, and a willingness to change to train for a marathon.

Similarly, your diversity recruitment strategy is how you plan for a truly diverse workforce — one that is welcoming and fosters a sense of belonging for every individual that steps through the door.

However, depending on where you start, you may have to run a little farther or train a little more to get there — but that doesn't mean it's a race not worth running. As any marathoner will tell you, the training itself makes a difference, and the benefits of success are incomparable. 

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The importance of a diversity recruitment strategy

People want to work where they feel comfortable.

As issues of company culture, lack of diversity, and harassment at work become more prevalent, job seekers are beginning to do more research on the diversity present in an employer's existing workforce and leadership board.

Right now, it's a candidate's market. That means that if people feel that they won't be welcomed, they simply won't choose to work for you.

Companies should be prioritizing diversity because it's the right thing to do, but it has a tangible positive impact on the bottom line, too.

When employees bring their entire, authentic selves to work, they're free to be more creative, energetic, and collaborate more with their coworkers. Creating a more diverse workforce helps to build trust and allows people to learn from their coworkers.

Companies that are more diverse have better retention and are more likely to be seen as innovators in their industry.

Since the front line of your company's talent acquisition strategy are the recruiters and hiring managers, it's important to make sure they understand the importance of diversity and have had adequate training before they go into the interview process.

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5 ways to recruit for a diverse workplace 

1. Be where the people are

(Some of) the same rules that apply in dating apply in hiring. If you continually go to the same places, you'll meet the same people. Reach out to organizations with diverse teams, ask employees for recommendations and referrals from their networks, and in general, be willing to try something new to get a new result.

2. Review your job requirements

Job postings and descriptions are an oft-overlooked area that may be affecting your diversity initiatives. Are you unintentionally narrowing the field of qualified candidates by implying, no matter how subtly, that people from diverse backgrounds may not be welcome? 

Have someone — preferably a professional — get fresh eyes on your job postings. Remove gender-specific and ableist language, and strike all uses of the word “normal.”

Then look for needlessly specific demographic requirements. Do you really need someone from an Ivy League college or who lives in an expensive urban area? If so, is that requirement worth restricting your candidate pool to only the people who can afford to work at your company?

3. Reflect diversity at all stages of the recruitment process

Since it's impossible to test everyone, social science researchers often take a representative sample and use it to make conclusions about the general population.

For example, if the population they’re studying is 55% women and 45% men, they’ll test a sample with a similar composition. People tend to do the same thing with your organization. They'll assume that what they'll see is what they'll get.

If they go through the hiring process without meeting a diverse range of employees — from recruiting all the way to their offer letter — they’ll assume that the same is true of the entire workplace. As a result, candidates are more likely to turn down the offer, reasoning that they won’t feel comfortable working with you

4. Diversity inwards, diversity outwards

Just as it's important to reflect diversity in the hiring team — because candidates will definitely be looking for it — it's also important to have it reflected in the pool of candidates for any open position.

Research from the Colorado Leeds School of Business found that including just one person from an underrepresented group in a hiring pool lowers their odds of getting the position to a statistical zero. When people are the “only one" of their race, gender, or background in a given group of candidates, they tend to be seen as a "token” — which makes them less likely to be hired at all.

Moreover, if the candidate is aware of this, it can make them feel pretty self-conscious and uncomfortable — not a great recipe for belonging or retention even if they do join. 

5. Consider standardizing your interview questions

Research has found that when people are reminded of stereotypes, even in subtle ways, before an interview, assessment, or other performance, they don't perform as well.

It could be something as innocuous as asking where they went to school or complimenting them on their outfit. If you are asking questions innocently that trigger these stereotypes, you're setting your candidates up for failure before you even get to know them. 

It may help to have a set of questions that you ask every single candidate that have been reviewed to eliminate coded language, stereotypes, and other potential unconscious biases and triggers.

Have a "best practices" meeting with your hiring team (and ideally, with a DEI professional) to teach them the importance of asking the standardized questions as written. Offer training on stereotype threat and discuss why it’s important. Encourage them to avoid compliments, unrelated questions, or anything else that may trigger stereotype threat in the hiring process. 

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How to get started – or update – your diversity recruitment strategy 

Be willing to throw your existing strategy out the window

Recruiting is quite literally a full-time job. Many recruiters feel that while broadening their candidate pool is important, they don't have the time to do outreach to specific candidates, under-represented groups, or troubleshoot what exactly is going wrong in their process to reach more diverse pools.

In fact, over a third of HR professionals say that they simply don’t have time to engage with candidates.

However, there isn’t a quick way to increase diversity.

More diverse recruiting demands investing some time and attention, especially if you haven't been doing it up until now. You probably won't be able to “just fix it” by tacking something on to your existing recruitment strategy. Be prepared to put in the time — and maybe even create something completely new.

Get buy-in from leadership 

It’s really important to get leaders involved in the overall diversity and inclusion strategy. They have to be committed to developing a more diverse workforce and understand how vital it is for the business and their culture. Leadership should understand the difference between cultural fit and culture add. 

You can't get workforce diversity without changing the way you make hiring decisions and ultimately changing the selection process for internal hires and promotions as well. Changing the way you hire and retain people will likely take significant resources, and may even trigger some pushback from your current staff. Having senior leaders onboard will help you navigate these changes.

It’s just as important for your new hires to feel supported and welcomed by the leadership team — if not even more so.

People are more likely to stick around when they see representation at all levels of the company.

Having support from leadership is the only way to secure both time and financial resources, and sets your new strategy up for long-term success. This buy-in empowers your team to take potentially larger gambles, like changing how you recruit, the candidate pool you traditionally draw from, or hiring DEIB professionals to join your human resources team. 

Determine how you’ll measure success

You won't be able to determine whether or not your diversity recruiting efforts are successful unless you measure it. In order to do that, you have to set clear goals and create a strategy for meeting them. Determine your key performance indicators (KPIs) and track them on a consistent basis. For added insight, cross reference them with metrics outside of recruiting. For example, you may find that hiring diverse talent also improves employee engagement. 

Get really honest with yourself and your employees

If this is an area that you're not doing well in, you're probably not hiding it very well. (If you're not sure if you have a diverse organization, go look at your executive board. If even you can't tell them apart, keep reading).

Ask your employees for their honest feedback. This can be done anonymously. Hire a DEIB consultant to tell you what other companies are doing to improve diversity hiring, and how you can change the culture in your company to be more welcoming. 

Getting an outside voice is really important because an objective party may be willing to tell you things that nobody else is comfortable saying. Job seekers and people that depend on you for a paycheck are likely to sugarcoat the reality of the situation. You may be able to check Glassdoor and LinkedIn for (brutally) honest feedback on what it's like to interview at and work for your company. 

Do the Inner Work®

Bias can be president at any stage in the recruiting process. Companies that provide training to increase awareness of cultural differences, microaggressions, and implicit biases have better overall diversity. 

The work of getting better at diversity hiring applies across many dimensions of diversity. Whether your team is trying to increase the representation of underrepresented racial or ethnic groups, female candidates, be more inclusive of different sexual orientations, or expand the range of socio-economic backgrounds, the same work to understand explicit and implicit biases and barriers will prove fruitful.

Ensuring that your hiring team is trained to be aware of their own biases will help to minimize the impact that these unconscious prejudices have on sourcing candidates and making hiring decisions. Providing spaces for them to work on this when they're not with candidates, such as unconscious bias workshops and one-on-one coaching, is a critical and valuable part of embedding diversity into the DNA of any growing organization.

Final thoughts 

Most organizations only think of diversity in one or two ways. But this kind of performative diversity doesn’t really benefit your company — and, in fact, can make people feel uncomfortable.

Developing a strong diversity recruiting strategy helps you avoid falling into this trap. Remember, there is no “rush to the finish line” when it comes to diversity and inclusion. The company that you build has to care more about people and developing an environment where everyone feels welcome and empowered to do their best work — not one that just looks like it does.

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Published November 1, 2021

Allaya Cooks-Campbell

BetterUp Staff Writer

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