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4 Steps Talent Leaders Can Take for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Given their role, talent leaders have an especially important part to play in a company's diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Here's how.

2020 will be remembered for a few things, one of which is the urgency of recognizing, honoring, and mitigating the struggles of Black folks and other underrepresented groups. If the events of this year have taught recruitment anything, it’s that diversity isn’t just about meeting quotas. It’s literally about lives. The public conversation about diversity in tech, which began in earnest in 2014, has only become more crucial by the year. In 2018, 78% of talent leaders said diversity was the most important trend shaping the future of recruiting and hiring. By early 2020, it was 80%. We’d wager that number has only gone up since May.

Sourcers and recruiters have perhaps the most important role to play in the “D” of a company’s diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. But as a talent leader, you don’t get to ignore the other two letters in that acronym: equity and inclusion. Talent acquisition leaders occupy a crucial space between recruiters and upper management. As such, they’re in a position to affect the kinds of organizational change essential to inclusive environments: holding hiring teams accountable for checking their biases during interviews, or strategizing with managers to cultivate cultures of belonging on their respective teams. After all, if new hires don’t stick around, the burden is back on recruitment to uncover more talent for the company’s diversity initiatives. And so begins a vicious circle of getting more candidates in the door who walk out as quickly as they walked in—because there are no structures to support them once they’re there.

For TA leaders, recruiting for an organization that values and prioritizes diversity, equity, and inclusion may mean adding a few more elements to your job description. But they’re elements that will make your job easier—and your organization better—in the long run. Here are four steps you can take for DEI in your company before recruiters even send that first outreach.

1. Clear Up Some Common Misconceptions about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

There’s no better place to begin than with recruiters’ and employees’ mindsets. If your TA team or other employees can’t fully get behind your organization's DEI initiatives—whether consciously or subconsciously—you’ll encounter obstacles at every step of your hiring process. Here are two misunderstandings worth clearing up:

Diversity hiring doesn’t “lower the bar.” The real goal of diversity hiring is to identify and—as thoroughly as possible—to eliminate the procedures and biases that have kept some of the best and most qualified talent from your organization until now. In that sense, diversity hiring is more merit-based than hiring practices that don’t take diversity into account. If anything, companies that continuously favor candidates who’ve enjoyed the most privilege are lowering the bar: they’re bringing on talent that hasn’t been forced to think critically about the intersectional political implications of systems, or how the products they make affect people’s lives. (See Faruk Ateş’ “Open Letter to Tech Companies.”)

There’s a reason that study after study shows diverse teams are more productive, more innovative, and more profitable than those that aren’t. If you need to share that data with the team members who ask about “lowering the bar,” do so.

Just because you believe in, and support, diversity initiatives doesn’t mean you don’t hold unconscious bias. Educate yourself on unconscious biases, and identify where your own lie. One valuable resource is Harvard’s Project Implicit, which offers a series of Implicit Association Tests to bring the unconscious into the conscious. Facebook offers a training called “Managing Unconscious Bias” with a series of video modules, each of which covers a different bias. These are great starting points; but there are a wealth of resources out there—from Catalyst, to Paradigm, to other organizations that can offer team-wide unconscious bias trainings. Share these resources with your recruiting team, hiring managers, upper management—anyone in the organization you can.

2. Gauge Inclusion and Belonging in Your Company

Recent studies show that less than 30% of underrepresented groups report feeling a sense of representation or belonging at their respective companies. This explains why the second biggest barrier talent professionals cite to improving diversity is “retaining diverse employees.” An organization that takes equity and inclusion into account fosters a community of team players who respect and support each other… and stick around.To determine how broad your organization’s commitment to inclusion and equity is, sit down with HR and management—and in some cases, simply look around—and get the answers to these questions (this is a shortlist, by the way):

  • Does the company have a code of conduct and a non-discrimination policy in place? Does it have a diversity mission statement?
  • Have those at the highest levels of management formally opted in to the commitment?
  • Do you have employee resource groups or affinity groups? How about formal mentoring and sponsorship programs?
  • What safeguards are in place to ensure leadership assessments and promotion processes are as free of bias as possible?
  • How frequently does underrepresented talent get promoted? What do their career trajectories look like compared to their White/male/cisgender/heterosexual counterparts?
  • How much are underrepresented employees paid compared to majority employees who hold similar roles?
  • Are company benefits inclusive of underrepresented talent (coverage for domestic partners, for example; or appropriate health care plans for transgender employees)?
  • Are the bathroom signs in your office/s inclusive?
  • Do employees use their pronouns in email signatures? Are they pronoun-forward when introducing themselves?

Use your answers to these questions—in tandem with external research and guidance from D&I professionals—to help upper management strategize policies and programs to increase feelings of inclusion in the organization.

3. Identify the Gaps in Your Organization

You can’t start sourcing underrepresented talent until you know where you’re deficient. Think broadly. Adding female-identified talent to your teams is a great start; but a “gender-add” initiative won’t have the same impact as an initiative that looks for—and honors—diversity of race, ethnicity, age, socioeconomic background, education, sexuality, ability, life experience, veteran status, and more. The more diverse identities your organization employs, the stronger it will be.

So take a demographic survey of your organization. Disaggregated data should be available from your HR department (it should exist in compliance with the EEOC and Civil Rights law). Ask for the numbers from the last ten years. Slice the data by race, age, gender, professional experience, personality type, LGBTQIA+ identity. Some of these metrics will be imperfect—indeed, some aren’t quantitatively measurable. Team leaders will be valuable resources to call in at this point, since they know their employees more intimately.

Dig deeper than company-level metrics. It’s one thing for your organization to realize a 50/50 split of male and female employees; but if your male employees are all C-levels and your female employees are all in HR, your organization isn’t nearly as equitable as it appears with surface-level statistics. Slice by department, role, and seniority level to give yourself the complete view of your diversity landscape. This way you can come up with a sourcing strategy for each role you have to fill, based on what that team currently lacks in representation.

Initially, you’ll compare those numbers to industry averages, or the demographics of your company’s location or its customers. Eventually, you’ll be comparing your own numbers, year-over-year. Sit down with your sourcers/recruiters and come up with a sourcing strategy for each role you have to fill based on what that team currently lacks in representation. Your recruiters should know how to create candidate personas from there. (Note that recruiters will need to give special consideration to what might attract underrepresented talent to your organization—and, conversely, what signals might send them in the other direction. We’ve got some best practices on creating inclusive job descriptions and nurturing underrepresented talent if they need those.) Map out a 1-year plan and a 5-year plan so you can see how your efforts will evolve and build on each other over time.

4. Define Success with Diversity Recruiting/Hiring KPIs

It’s hard to know what “success” is if you have nothing to measure it by; so sit down with recruiters, hiring managers, and upper management to define what “end composition” success looks like in a particular initiative. Maybe it’s “increasing the number of female employees in tech-related roles by 15% within the next 8 months.” Maybe it’s “doubling the number of minorities on our sales team this year.” These bottom-of-funnel goals should be realistic, but ambitious.

Your TA team will use these end-composition goals to guide its own goals for the top of the funnel. Naturally, each initiative will have a unique top-of-funnel quota. Maybe it’s “50% diversity in initial phone screens for our VP of Sales role.” Maybe it’s “3 onsites with female engineers in Q3.” Remember, you’ll be getting both referrals and inbound applicants all the while. Since those channels tend to be less diverse, you’ll want to offset those numbers by targeting and sourcing passive talent. Metrics will alert you to how roles typically get filled. If you observe that some roles are strongly driven by referrals—and that those referrals tend to make it through process—you might raise the quota for out-of-network diversity sourcing at the top of the funnel. After all, this is the only part of the funnel in which you can exert control. Once candidates are interviewing, you’ll have to evaluate them all equally.

Once explicit goals are in place, create action items and strategies to meet them. Include key milestones in your map so you know—and can celebrate—when you’re making progress. To tie sourcer and recruiter performance to your hiring KPIs, look at the number of hires your organization makes through diversity sourcing strategies and divide that number by the total number of hires per quarter. Use this number to analyze the overall effectiveness of your strategy. For more detailed insight into what is and isn’t working in your outreach, have your recruiters look at email open rates, click-through rates, and reply rates. These analytics will help them fine-tune their outreach strategies for talent of all kinds.

We can’t stress the importance of looking at hiring data enough once you put your diversity hiring strategies into place. Consistently ask about the “why” behind the numbers: why certain KPIs aren’t being met; why the demographic makeup of certain roles is what it is; why retention of underrepresented talent is so difficult for certain teams; and so on. (You might get some of the answers to these questions directly from your talent CRM, from exit interviews, or from one-on-ones with underrepresented talent that’s still with you.) Which groups aren’t accepting offers? Which have the highest attrition rates? What’s the current culture failing to offer?

Perhaps the two most important elements of any diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative are never to stop asking questions, and always to remain open to learning something new. This is how you’ll refine not only your diversity hiring strategy, but also the felt—and real—sense of equity, inclusion, and belonging at your organization.

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