March 16, 2023
How to think about recruitment spend and ROI during a downturn
July 25, 2022
Gemsights is a monthly series where we bring you unique industry insights with commentary from top leaders in the field.
This month we dug into data on time-to-hire by demographic, and we noted some surprising statistics from Q1 of this year: women passed through the hiring funnel, on average, 5 days faster than men did. Black and Hispanic/Latinx talent passed through the hiring funnel 6 days faster than White talent did, and 15 days faster than Asian talent did.
We had a lot of initial thoughts about these metrics: perhaps they had something to do with the extra effort companies are making to hire underrepresented talent; perhaps they require we rethink the familiar argument that “speed and diversity are mutually exclusive”; perhaps the numbers would be more equitable if they accounted for the time it takes to source underrepresented talent at the very top of the funnel. So we asked our friends at Growth by Design Talent, as well as our very own Head of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging, Sheilesha Willis, to weigh in.
“When it comes to hiring, many companies view speed and quality as mutually exclusive: you have to sacrifice one for the other when recruiting the best talent. This is something we often hear leaders assert when it comes to recruiting underrepresented groups as well: we can't slow down or we can't “lower the bar.” We fundamentally disagree with the premise of both of these statements. We believe companies that win are those that follow an intentional and consistent recruiting process that focuses on defining clear requirements, designing thoughtful interview questions that assess for those requirements, getting alignment with the interview panel before starting a search, and making hiring decisions based on the evidence gathered from assessing against the role requirements. While these things take more investment up-front, they don’t have to impact overall speed.
This seems simple, and it is. When we assess organizations’ recruiting processes we often find more complicated models in place with extra interviews, attributes being assessed that aren’t explicitly called out as requirements for the job, and quite a few interviews that sound like “do you like them?” interviews. These unstructured processes lead to lower-quality decisions, poor candidate experiences, and protracted hiring timelines as decision-making is significantly slower when criteria are not clear. (We share more details in a recent newsletter about how structured interviewing can improve outcomes.)
High-quality talent has choices in any type of market, and the lower representation of talent from URGs means there's even more competition there. The great news is that whether you’re hiring dozens of generalists, a leadership role, or focusing on improving diversity, this approach will lead you to faster and higher-quality results.
So you’ve designed a consistent interview process that drives speed and quality. But what does it mean to have an intentional process and how can that improve diversity?
Being intentional can improve diversity in your pipeline across every channel:
Inbound. When clear requirements have been defined, it’s easier to craft a job description and be clear on the real requirements vs. a long list of every nice-to-have presented in a way that makes potential candidates believe they could never be successful in that role. An emphasis on transferable skills vs. specific experiences can open the aperture for truly qualified candidates to consider. This is critical for driving diversity for inbound, because we know that candidates from URGs are far less likely to apply if they don’t meet all the stated “requirements." Companies that go a step further make explicit statements on job postings, knowing this research. Here are some examples we love:
Non-profit: “Frequently cited statistics show that historical biases in hiring lead to less applications from women and underrepresented groups unless they have 100% of the qualifications. We are committed to removing bias in hiring; as such, we encourage you to break that statistic and apply. No one ever meets 100% of the qualifications! We look forward to your application.”
Tech: “We know the confidence gap and imposter syndrome can get in the way of meeting spectacular candidates, so please don’t hesitate to apply—we’d love to hear from you.”
PassiveOutbound. Passive candidates are often pre-qualified because you’re already applying requirements to reach out to those that match. This allows you to position the opportunity in the most compelling and personalized way. Being intentional with passive sourcing and outreach means looking first at your employee population and identifying where there’s the greatest need for more representation with the most opportunities (open reqs) to have an impact. Focusing sourcing efforts on these strategic pipelines will give you the best chance at driving more diversity in the funnel. If you aren’t able to attract a diverse pool of candidates through inbound, it’s especially important to do so through passive outbound. Research shows that the more diversity you can drive in the candidate slate, the higher the likelihood of having diversity in your hiring outcomes. Even focusing on setting a target or goal—20% of candidates from URGs—in the finalist stages can have a dramatic impact on outcomes.
There are no silver bullets when it comes to improving representation at companies. But there are many things organizations can do across both the candidate and employee experience that contribute to improving outcomes—things we dive into at length in the Diversity Recruiting course at GBD’s Recruiting Leadership Academy. Here are some practices to consider putting into place:
Inclusive job descriptions with clear requirements separated from what’s nice-to-have, and explicit statements that encourage people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ talent, veterans, and parents to apply.
Attention to candidate engagement, which improves incrementally when each of these is true:
The most senior person is reaching out and involved in closing. Having a hiring manager reach out is great, a VP even better, and the CEO even better.
Ongoing relationship-building to understand candidate motivations and timing rather than only reaching out when there’s a job to fill.
Personalized outreach, which signals that there’s genuine interest vs. just checking a box; having balanced representation on the interview panel; having current employees with interests and backgrounds like your candidates’ who can speak to your culture and what it's like to work at your company as a member of that community.
Measuring to get it done. Companies that have measurable diversity goals are driving accountability and a sense of urgency to find the best candidate to align with the role and your company's values.
Prioritizing to get it done faster. When diversity is a priority, companies will take additional steps to quickly schedule, get interview feedback, make hiring decisions, and pull in execs/leaders to help with closing. (Of course, when diversity is a priority, companies will be cultivating it 365 days a year and not just when they open a role. That’s why we emphasize constantly expanding networks through sourcing.)
Being location-flexible, which creates a wider aperture. Expansion to remote and other locations offers greater opportunities to increase diversity within your organization. Hybrid work provides greater flexibility for people with disabilities, neurodivergent talent, and caregivers, which tend to have a greater impact on women, women of color, and talent from other underrepresented groups.
Reconsidering offer-negotiation. Research shows that women and URG candidates are less likely to negotiate offers, so standardizing offers or publishing compensation bands provides more transparency, fairness, and speed-to-close. (Transparency in the interview process is also critical. Prepare candidates by sharing the purpose of each interview, whom they'll be meeting with and what that person’s role is, what they'll be assessed on, and how to best prepare.)
The data points Gem has pulled are encouraging because they're counter to a common objection we hear leaders make when it comes to focusing on diversity in recruiting.”
- Mike Joyner, Jill Macri, and Adam Ward, Partners @ Growth by Design Talent
“One question these data points can’t answer is: how long did it take to source those candidates from underrepresented groups? The top of the funnel is where speed and diversity can often be mutually exclusive because it takes time to source candidates from the places you don’t tend to source them from. Especially when—intentionally or not—you’re looking for talent that has a certain pedigree or fits a specific background.
I did a double-take when I saw these numbers, because I’d expect and hope for there to be parity across groups. Yet these are substantial differences in time-to-hire. I’d hypothesize that the shorter time it’s taking to move URG candidates through has to do with a more conservative approach to sourcing at the top of the funnel. Here’s what I mean by that: recruiters are remarkably perceptive when it comes to knowing what their hiring managers want. And while we all love to say that skills are our top priority, the truth is it’s hard not to be susceptive to what schools or what companies talent comes from. It’s a sort of unspoken heuristic for what a great candidate is.
My guess is that recruiters are responding to these marks of pedigree—the ones we shouldn’t be prizing—to ensure underrepresented groups will pass through. They take a more conservative approach so that the URG talent they bring into the funnel fits the precise "markers of success" they've observed from candidates who have historically passed through the funnel. For talent who are well-represented in the organization, on the other hand, recruiters may be more open to moving them into the funnel even if they don't fit the exact profile of candidates who have passed through the funnel previously. The criteria for majority talent may be more subjective, or recruiters make certain concessions with them from the beginning. What ends up happening is a more homogenous group of URG talent moves quickly through the pipeline because of the institutions they come from (meaning teams become narrow-minded in their definition of “great talent” when it comes to these groups), while well-represented talent doesn’t pass through as quickly because sourcers and recruiters were less discriminating at the top.
When it comes to diversity and hiring speed, my general philosophy is: slow down in order to speed up. Your velocity will ultimately be contingent upon how diverse your network is. If you’ve invested in building a diverse network, if you’ve done the work of nurturing and building trust, if you’ve put time into fellowships or internships and intentionally sought out other ways to meet underrepresented groups where they are, you’ll have a vibrant, heterogenous pool to tap into. Sourcing will be less difficult—and even less necessary because you’ll have a whole network of referrals. But that requires time and intentionality up-front.
Bringing intentionality around increasing top-of-funnel diversity in our day-to-day is one of the things I’m advocating for as I step into my role at Gem. I’m not an advocate of playing musical chairs. I don’t want to recruit talent from the same handful of tech companies, because that isn't a true commitment to diversity and rarely leads to the retention of talent from underrepresented groups. Sometimes this means finding talent earlier—providing opportunities for high school talent, helping them envision the pathways they have into engineering, or design, or product management. It means broadening our scope: bootcamps, HBCUs and HSIs—and not only the “elite” ones. It means recognizing that someone could have led in, or acquired critical skills and experiences from, a lot of different industries—not just tech—to be an exceptional contributor here. Ultimately it’s being honest with ourselves: does our heuristic suggest that great talent only comes from certain places? If so, how do we dismantle that mindset? From there, it’s talent discovery, exposing hiring managers and leadership to exceptional talent they wouldn’t otherwise have exposure to, and long-term nurture. Talent may not be willing to come to Gem immediately; but if we continue to demonstrate who we are as an organization through outreach, they’ll come.
Ultimately I’d want sourcers and recruiters to take a less conservative approach to underrepresented talent at the top of the funnel. Be as open to possibility as you are with majority talent. Of course, the question then becomes: how do you ensure that a less conservative approach isn’t thwarted by biases further down the funnel? And the answer is twofold: start with the data to understand where candidates from URGs may be falling out of the funnel, and build a clear and consistent hiring process—otherwise you’re bound to assess candidates on your own preferences and biases. Explicitly define your required skills versus your nice-to-haves. Craft questions and rubrics that meaningfully assess for those skills. Hire a role like mine—someone whose job it is to ensure your process is equitable—or implement what I call “bias disruptors”: folks who sit in on the process to hold the hiring team accountable for identifying and challenging bias. Include values interviews. Ensure you’re hiring exceptional talent that aligns with your values—not just for a role but for the company. Because if you want them to stay long-term, you’ll want to facilitate their movement through the organization over time.
If you design a truly consistent, standardized process that prioritizes skills and values, you’ll naturally increase hiring velocity not just for underrepresented groups, but for all candidates. It doesn’t make sense to me that URGs would pass through the funnel at significantly higher rates if they’re being considered equitably. If you have a genuinely standardized and inclusive process, the demographic makeup of your very top-of-funnel should look a lot like the demographic makeup at the offer-extend and offer-accept stages.”
- Sheilesha Willis, Head of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging @ Gem
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