How to Recruit a Diverse and Inclusive Workforce

Diversity hiring and recruiting

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Diversity and inclusion are no longer “nice to haves;” they are critical to a company’s value creation. If companies are not being intentional in attracting and retaining diverse talents, they will be missing out on the potential to innovate, compete, and thrive. It is not enough to pay lip service and publish performative statements supporting diversity and inclusion if these are not followed up with concrete actions. In the current atmosphere of social unrest and high unemployment, it’s time for employers to expand their workforce, hire people based on their skills and abilities, and make the most of the wealth that diversity brings.

The Workplace Impact of Diversity and Inclusion 

A diverse and inclusive workplace has many advantages. For instance, it reduces homogenous thinking and benefits from the richness of talented people with different backgrounds, ideas, and viewpoints who tend to solve problems faster and spur innovation. An inclusive workplace also builds morale, bolsters creativity and innovation, encourages engagement, and lessens the desire of employees to quit. 

A Gallup report on the “Three Requirements of a Diverse and Inclusive Culture” confirms this, stating, “Organizations with diverse and inclusive team cultures actively create a competitive advantage for themselves by inviting and welcoming a myriad of backgrounds, experiences, and viewpoints into their workforce.”

The Economic Impact of Diversity and Inclusion

It’s well known that diversity is a driver of a company’s economic success and its prosperity hinges on its ability to effectively recruit, integrate, and retain a diverse and inclusive workforce. Such an organization aims to build a welcoming culture where employees feel that they belong, that their contributions matter, and that there are no limits to their ambitions.

A McKinsey study on the importance of diversity found that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 30% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians, while those in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to financially outperform their respective national industry medians. 

In addition to McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group discovered that companies that reported above-average diversity on their management teams also reported that innovation revenue accounted for 45% of total revenue, which was 19 percentage points higher than the 26% reported by companies with below-average leadership diversity. 

Both studies above are encouraging. However, companies often have policies and procedures that meet compliance standards, but they don’t necessarily have buy-in from leadership. “Diversity and inclusion initiatives must be championed at the top, enforced at the mid-management level, and experienced at the lower level,” said Dr. Lily Benjamin, a financial industry executive, in an interview with The Balance. “The commitment from the top must be evident through resources, behaviors, and actions aligned with the diversity and inclusion vision; then it should be disseminated throughout the organization, in order to be experienced by all employees.”

Questions for HR Leaders to Consider

“Too many times I have heard companies say that they have job opportunities, but that nobody diverse applied or was qualified,” Tanya Sinclair, Chief People Officer at Toronto-based Artscape, and Founder, Black HR Professionals of Canada Inc., told The Balance via email. 

“Organizations that aspire to have a diverse and inclusive workforce must be intentional about this,” HR executive Tanya Sinclair told The Balance. “They must commit to engaging in activities that would help create and maintain a diverse and inclusive workforce.”

As someone who has spent 18 years in HR, Sinclair offered 10 initial questions that companies should consider when preparing to recruit a diverse and inclusive workforce:

  1. Is your executive team diverse? Is your board diverse? 
  2. Do your company photos show a diverse group of employees or does everyone look the same? 
  3. Do the staff events that you post on social media look welcoming to diverse communities? 
  4. Does your organization attend, support, and promote a variety of diverse community causes? 
  5. Do you have ads on your website showing inclusiveness? Do you use inclusive language? 
  6. Have you asked your diverse employees and members of the public for their feedback and assessment on the inclusiveness of your organization? 
  7. When candidates attend an interview, is the interview panel diverse and welcoming? 
  8. Can applicants and members of the public see a range of diverse workers and signage as they enter the workplace?
  9. Do you offer flexibility in your work arrangements and group benefits? 
  10. Do you sponsor employee resource groups, mentorships, coops, and networks for equity-seeking groups in the workplace?

Steps to Recruit a Diverse and Inclusive Workforce

In another McKinsey study, “Delivering Through Diversity,” companies surveyed admitted that materially improving the representation of diverse talent within their ranks, as well as effectively utilizing inclusion and diversity as an enabler of business impact, are particularly challenging goals. Despite this, businesses worldwide have succeeded in “making sizable improvements to inclusion and diversity across their organizations, and they have been reaping tangible benefits for their efforts.” Most recruiters and hiring managers understand this. They know that there are no quick fixes to this problem, but there are steps they can take to mitigate the situation.

Examine the Company’s Structure 

Who are the people occupying the seats at the top? Do they reflect the demographics of the communities they serve? What does their succession planning pipeline look like? When it comes to women of color, are they in the line or staff roles?

Studies have shown that women are underrepresented in corporate America despite being more likely to have a college degree than men. And, when it comes to women of color—specifically Black women—it’s even worse. They face a double burden: bias that keeps them from the upper echelons of corporate leadership, and underrepresentation on executive teams in general. According to the U.S. sample in McKinsey’s Delivering Through Diversity report, Black female executives specifically are more than twice as likely to be in staff roles than in line roles—which are revenue-generating and feed into the executive suite—and the sample also denotes an absence of Black female CEOs. This is one area that needs to be addressed if a company is serious about recruiting a diverse and inclusive workforce.

Dispel the Myth That There’s a Lack of Talent 

Wells Fargo CEO Charles Scharf came under fire recently when he said, “the unfortunate reality is that there is a very limited pool of Black talent to recruit from." This is an excuse. Scharf should instead be asking, “Where are we looking for talent?” 

Sinclair told The Balance, “Don’t expect that all diverse candidates will come to your organization. Companies have to do the work it takes to attract a wider talent pool. Putting up a job posting and waiting to see what happens is not enough. Companies need to constantly work at ensuring that they seek out, engage with, and invite diverse applicants to apply.”

A Women in the Workplace report by Lean In and McKinsey notes that, “Women of color face more obstacles and a steeper path to leadership, from receiving less support from managers to getting promoted more slowly.” It’s time to make a cultural shift, and one way to do this is to create a diversity outreach plan that goes beyond the organization’s traditional recruiting paths. 

Be Aware of Unconscious Biases 

Sometimes it’s someone’s name on a resume, or a particular zip code—none of which has any bearing on a candidate’s ability to perform in a role. Studies have shown that job applicants with English-sounding names have a much greater chance of receiving callbacks than those with, say, Indian or Chinese names. A name is an important part of one’s identity, and candidates shouldn’t be forced to change theirs. Companies owe it to themselves to train their staff to identify their biases, learn to modify their behavior, and, at minimum, keep these biases in check.

Our unconscious biases are largely shaped by our experiences. We make automatic assumptions, and sometimes these turn out to be wrong. 

Avoid Biased Language in Job Descriptions

When writing job descriptions, filter them through a diverse and inclusive lens. Check to see if the description contains gender-biased language such as “aggressive”, “supportive,” or “competitive.” Limit the number of qualifications in a job description, or list only the skills that are absolutely necessary for the role. Keep in mind that the job description might be the first interaction that a candidate has with the company. So, why not make the experience a positive one?

Be Honest and Transparent

There are no quick fixes and there will be missteps. People will feel uncomfortable or awkward, but companies should be open about their shortcomings. They should not be afraid to share diversity numbers even if they fall short. People appreciate authenticity, even from a corporation.

Recruit With the Intention of Retaining 

Recruiting a diverse and inclusive workforce shouldn’t be about checking a box, meeting quotas, or having one token “first.” When a company focuses on such optics, they miss the talents, accomplishments, and potential of great employees. 

Think of what you can do to retain employees. Ask yourself, are they entering a workplace where they will feel a sense of belonging, or do they have to mask their authenticity at work? Is the environment one where they can thrive?

Experiment With Blind Hiring 

When it comes to judging job candidates, recruiter bias can sometimes come into play, as noted above. 

Blind hiring, while not a perfect system, is a tool that a company could use to reduce unconscious bias in its hiring process. 

When identifying features such as names, schools attended, and country of birth are eliminated from resumes or CVs, it allows recruiters to tap into the skills, talents, and expertise of all applicants—not only those that sound familiar to them. According to some experts, blind hiring can open the door to unexpected hires, which in turn can impact your employee makeup and help to ensure that women, minorities, and individuals with completely different backgrounds have the opportunity to bring their talents to a team. 

In a 2019 report on diversity and inclusion, Karimah Es Sabar, CEO & Partner at Quark Venture LP, said that diversity and inclusion is not only a main priority, but a mindset. “We live it, we practice it, and we have a culture of diversity and inclusion that is just there—which attracts people to us.” She went on to say that companies should be diligent in actively seeking out people who are the best fit, rather than filling quotas. “You need to be open to giving opportunity to people who you’re not typically hiring.”

Evaluate Your Progress and Move Forward

The McKinsey “Delivering Through Diversity” report states that many companies struggle to materially increase representation levels of diverse talent, gain an understanding of where in their organizations diversity matters most, and create truly inclusive organizational cultures to reap the benefits of diversity. 

According to Dr. Benjamin, diversity and inclusion is fundamentally not about targets or numbers, but giving equal opportunity to all. “In order to provide equal opportunity across the organization, managers should get to know employees through having [one-on-one] conversations to better understand the unique skill set, aspirations, and learning gaps each employee must have,” she said. “It is essential that opportunities are individualized, and the individual is supported so everyone can thrive; that is what equality is about.”

Diversity and inclusion is not always a comfortable discussion to have, but when owned by senior leadership, it gives credence to the fact that the company is committed to the process. 

Now is the time for organizations to assess where they stand with their diversity and inclusion goals and determine if they have made real progress with their recruiting initiatives. 

Everything might not have gone perfect, but companies can learn from their missteps, generate many benefits and growth, and be rewarded in significant ways.