It’s worthwhile for companies to attract and retain diverse talent for a number of reasons. For one, it’s what most Americans expect of the private sector. 92% of Americans think it’s important that companies promote racial diversity and equity, and 68% think that companies still have more work to do.
In addition, current and potential employees want to work long-term where all employees are treated fairly and well regardless of who they are and what they look like. Among job seekers, 76% report that a diverse workforce is important when evaluating employers. More than one-third of job seekers would not apply for a job at a company that lacks diversity in its workforce.
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Typical DE&I Initiatives Are Ineffective
The usual diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives, such as diversity statements or bias training, are ineffective and don’t bring about lasting organizational change. A recent report from Josh Bersin — a Deloitte corporate research partner — states that around 80% of companies are going through the motions of touting a diverse and inclusive workplace.
Though well-intentioned, companies run the risk of signaling a commitment to DE&I without meaningful actions to back it up. Putting forth a façade of inclusivity sometimes involves tokenism, which hurts minority employees and damages the company’s reputation. Tokenism describes the policy or practice of making only a symbolic effort to increase diversity or otherwise include underrepresented groups.
Alternatively, some companies set goals without holding themselves accountable for their DE&I initiatives.
Start From Within
If a company wants to make meaningful DE&I changes that will appeal to potential job candidates, the first steps come from within. A company should consider the needs of a diverse workforce before it can actually hire and nurture one.
A company’s leadership can learn a lot by listening to and acting on employee concerns about discrimination, harrassment, and complex social issues that impact the workplace.
Active listening is an effective yet difficult communication skill that leaders should try to master. Active listening means more than just hearing someone’s words; it involves an attempt at understanding someone else’s perspective and the intent behind their words.
Business leaders that actively listen to employees are eight times more likely to inspire a sense of belonging and 12 times more likely to engage and retain employees. Company leadership should institute routine town hall meetings or forum discussions, not simply as a reactive, ad hoc measure.
Interactive, real-time dialogue is ideal. However, if that’s not feasible, anonymous surveys are another way to collect valuable employee feedback. Use employee engagement software such as 15Five, Assembly, Culture Amp, or Leapsome to understand what employees care about.
While surveys are a step in the right direction, it’s even more important for a company to act on that feedback to establish trust between leaders and employees.
A company’s leadership is a huge determinant of company culture, yet 75% of companies lack DE&I elements in their leadership development programs. By implementing a bottom-up approach, leaders can learn about and focus on what employees care about most. Then they have a better understanding of how they can act on employee concerns.
Leaders should also work in conjunction with HR to develop and implement DE&I initiatives. 40% of companies view DE&I as an HR-led and HR-enforced compliance initiative that prevents litigation or negative press for the company, but DE&I isn’t solely HR’s responsibility.
Research shows how ill-equipped HR professionals are in understanding DE&I, let alone advocating for it in a corporate setting. Out of 20 HR assessment categories, HR professionals showed the lowest proficiency in DE&I. Though HR plays an integral role in ensuring an equitable workplace, it’s everyone’s responsibility.
Business strategy and goals
Any company that’s serious about championing DE&I makes it a constitutive part of its business strategy. In fact, high-performing organizations are 10 times more likely to incorporate DE&I into their business strategies.
To measure progress towards fostering a more inclusive workplace, company-wide goal setting is key. Think beyond quotas to include detailed, meaningful goals, such as:
- Generating X number of ideas from employees in DEI-focused conversations on a recurring basis
- Developing X percentage of the above ideas into concrete action plans as part of company priorities
- Creating X number of career paths for clear talent development pipelines
- Reviewing processes that determine pay and promotion
- Conducting a pay equity audit within a certain timeframe
Most large companies now disclose diversity data. It’s therefore easy and insightful to also compare a company’s baseline metrics — such as demographic representation in employees and leadership — with those of competitors. Doing so contextualizes and sets more accurate benchmarks for a company’s DE&I efforts.
Accountability: Announce and act
Goal setting is ineffective unless the company is held accountable at all levels. Be transparent to the entire company as well as job candidates about goals and benchmarks. Doing so signals to employees that the company takes DE&I seriously and that everyone can and should play a role in creating an inclusive workplace.
Institutionalize DE&I into the company’s operations by creating a voluntary DE&I task force in the company. This committee can:
- Establish subtasks that roll up into broader DE&I goals
- Check in with each other routinely to discuss relevant issues and progress toward those goals
- Report updates and goal progress at routine, company-wide meetings
Routine employee surveys can also surface insights as to the company’s effectiveness in cultivating an inclusive workplace. This information should then be used to identify milestones and re-prioritize DE&I goals if needed.
Rethink Recruiting and Hiring Strategies
When hiring for a particular role, a hiring team might have a specific educational background, socioeconomic standing, or even gender in mind.
In tech, for instance, women are still sorely underrepresented, occupying just over a quarter of tech positions. The statistics are even worse for women of color, with only 2%, 3%, and 6% of tech jobs held by Hispanic, Black, and Asian women, respectively.
Underrepresentation stems from a number of factors. However, one to call out is the lack of support for underrepresented demographics that are interested in but do not have access to training for tech. In addition, unconscious bias in hiring committees may deem unconventional candidates as unqualified for a role.
To cultivate a diverse talent pool for job openings, consider these recruiting and hiring tips to cultivate a more diverse talent pool.
Companies should initiate and maintain partnerships with camps or programs that train for their industry. For example, organizations like Black Girls Code and Girls Who Code prepare girls, young women, and non-binary students with the technical skills and experience they need to pursue a career in tech.
Leading tech companies like IBM, Google, Microsoft, Meta, and Apple have partnerships with these organizations because they recognize the need for increased representation of marginalized communities in the tech industry.
Prioritize performance over resume
AI-powered applicant tracking systems usually do a good job of parsing out unqualified candidates from the applicant pool. As useful as these tools are, not all talent can be captured in a resume. GapJumpers is a blind hiring solution that lets employers screen applicants based on “performance over privilege and pedigree.”
Post job ads beyond conventional boards
Look beyond conventional job boards to reach underrepresented talent. Breezy HR enables employers to post jobs to premium, DEI-focused job site partners, such as Apres, Circa Network, and Disability Connect, to name a few.
ZipRecruiter also syndicates job ads to a wide network of job sites including niche job boards. Veteran’s Job Exchange or Seniors Flourish, for example, help employers connect with applicants that may be harder to reach on conventional job boards.
Specialized recruiting platforms help companies reach diverse talent as well. Door of Clubs is a recruiting platform that helps employers find up-and-coming talented leaders at colleges and universities. Entelo’s recruiting platform helps companies discover and hire candidates from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.
Check out more job boards at Fit Small Business: Top 25 Diversity Job Boards
Use software tools that help mitigate bias in screening and interviewing
Implicit biases might be negatively influencing recruiting strategy. Hiring team members might make assumptions about a candidate’s ability to perform or the kind of support they may or may not need as an employee.
- Masking identifying information like names or addresses in the resume evaluation stage
- Setting up interview questions beforehand to ensure fair interviewing
Read more at Fit Small Business: Blind Hiring: What It Is & How to Reduce Bias in the Hiring Process
Diversity and Inclusion Is a Journey, Not a Destination
Attracting candidates from a range of backgrounds doesn’t mean that those individuals will feel a sense of belonging in the organization. Incorporating DE&I into the company strategy and culture sets it up for success in hiring and retaining employees of various identities, orientations, and abilities.
A number of software categories on the market today help make a company’s DE&I vision and goals a reality. Employee engagement software sets up avenues of communication about the direction and effectiveness of a company’s DE&I work. Performance management software keeps companies accountable to their DE&I goals, and recruiting platforms include features that help employers cultivate a more diversified workforce.