Sourcing Underrepresented Talent at the Top of the Pipeline

Lauren Shufran

Lauren Shufran

Content Strategist

Posted on

July 8, 2019

In a recent survey Gem conducted, 56% of respondents cited “diversity” as the primary pain point their recruiting team is up against—a pain point that tied for first place with “sourcing.” Diversity and sourcing were also cited as two of the top priorities for talent teams for the remainder of the year—which is great news, given that 38% of respondents currently spend less than 25% of their energies on sourcing for diversity. 22% said they don’t currently source for diversity at all.

At Gem, we’re in an ongoing process of working through our own diversity initiatives, in terms of both our company culture and our product offering. We also recognize that the strongest diversity hiring initiatives begin at the top of the funnel. After all, if you’re not sourcing a diverse talent pool, you’re not going to see a diverse slate enter your interview process—and it’s tough to hire talent that doesn’t apply. In other words, sourcers and recruiters have perhaps the most important role to play in the “D” of a company’s DE&I initiatives. 

We recognize that this puts recruiting teams in an indelicate position, because diversity is one of the most difficult aspects to target early on in the funnel. During the hiring process, of course, candidates can self-identify. Indeed, many of these demographic self-declarations are formalized in applicant tracking systems, which request standard demographic data—such as race, gender, and veteran status—as defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

But what do sourcers do in the earliest stages of the funnel—before they’ve even connected with prospects, let alone given them the opportunity to self-identify? At Gem, we’re helping teams track some of those demographics: compiling aggregate gender and race/ethnicity stats so recruiters can see breakdowns of whom they’re reaching out to, for example: 

Sourcing Underrepresented Talent Outreach Stats 1

Your team may not have visibility into stats like this. And guessing a prospect’s demographic information based on their LinkedIn photo is a far-from-perfect strategy… despite the fact that it’s both legal and encouraged by the federal government to ensure companies are engaging with diverse talent. It’s a strategy further complicated by the fact that the vast majority of demographic data you can collect on someone isn’t “observable”: think sexual orientation, gender identity, or physical disability, for example.

But here’s the thing: top talent is already self-identifying, long before they enter your hiring funnel. They self-identify through the groups they belong to, the organizations they support, and the events they participate in. They self-identify through whom they follow, the content they share, and what they write on their social profiles. And there are strategies that sourcers can use—even the ones who are wholly committed to living on LinkedIn—to increase the chances that they’re reaching out to diverse talent. Here are some worth considering: 

Search for Prospects who Attended Schools with Diverse Student Bodies

There are plenty of schools out there that predominantly serve underrepresented students and minority populations. And when you source from diverse schools, you’re statistically more likely to come across diverse talent. Use the “Schools” filter in LinkedIn Recruiter to search for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), tribal colleges, and women’s colleges. Or take a look at Campus Ethnic Diversity Rankings, and choose schools that rank well and have departments for the role you’re looking to fill. 

Think Beyond Traditional Degrees

Not every great engineer has an engineering degree from a four-year college. Likewise, designers, product managers, and talent for many other roles you’re looking to fill may have received degrees or certifications in non-traditional learning environments. Consider bootcamps, for example. These are technical training programs that teach the same skills a college or university does. The difference? Because they offer the same training without the systemic barriers that often exist in analogous collegiate programs (collegiate programs with their own lamentable pipeline problems), they tend to attract students from non-traditional backgrounds.

Sourcing Underrepresented Talent at the Top of the Funnel

Consider the Startup Institute, which has partnered with New England College to offer an MBA in Digital Marketing. Or General Assembly, which offers courses in everything from product management, to web and mobile development, to data science and analytics. Or Product School, which offers part-time product management training courses. These organizations attract students from diverse financial backgrounds; they also attract talent—mothers or caretakers, for instance—who don’t (or didn’t) have the privilege of taking courses at all hours of the day.

What’s more, search for programs that explicitly serve underrepresented groups. The Grace Hopper Program at Fullstack Academy is a coding program for women that doesn't charge tuition upfront. offers coding courses to underrepresented minorities and underserved college students. These are just two of many organizations offering education on the technical side; but there are bootcamps out there for URMs across roles and skillsets. Do your research, or ask the employees in your organization with roles similar to the ones you’re looking to fill. Younger employees especially may have a sense of the parallel tracks talent is taking to learn those same skillsets.  

Look for Professional Organizations that Serve URMs

For filling technical roles, there’s the National Society of Black Engineers, the Society of Women Engineers, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, and Code2040. Look, too, for professional organizations that support LGBTQAI+ people in tech, like Lesbians who TechOut in Tech, and TransTech Social

For other roles, there’s the National Sales Network, the Association of Latino Professionals for America (ALPFA), and more. This may take a little research on your part, depending on the role you’re looking to fill… but the time it takes will be well worth it. 

Look for Community Organizations that Serve URMs

There may not be a professional organization for every URM group out there. But there are plenty of community organizations that support URMs; and if you search for these groups—or the communities they seek to supportalong with the role you’re trying to fill, you’ll discover more diversity of talent for your pool. Searching LinkedIn for “LGBT engineer” will serve you up results of professionals who belong to, or have done community work for, LGBTQIA+ organizations. And they’ve disclosed it in their profile. 

(We just tried that search ourselves. One of the first results that came up was of someone who’d managed a team that created a web app for LGBTQ+ and PoCs. When we replaced “LGBT” with “transgender,” we discovered a prospective candidate who works for Techtonica, a non-profit organization that provides "Bay Area women and non-binary adults with low incomes a pathway to careers in software engineering.” Now we have another organization to pay attention to in the coming months and years.

Do these results mean that these prospects self-identify as queer, trans, or PoC? By no means! But it does mean that they’re on the ground doing work to support diversity in other spheres. And these are the kinds of candidates you want.)

Get Offline and Ask For Underrepresented Referrals

Effective passive talent sourcing consists of more than direct sourcing efforts; it also entails proactively asking for referrals. Of course, you’ll probably end up back on LinkedIn to study the profiles of the talent referred to you… but step away from your screen and go spend some time with the folks who make your company tick first. 

The best sources for diverse referrals will likely be your company’s ERGs or minority employees. That’s because our social and professional networks tend to be made up of people who are demographically similar to us. It’s called the “affinity bias”; and it’s why asking for referrals from your non-diverse employees can spell problems with homogeneity and monoculture in the long run. But leveraging this “similarity effect” with underrepresented employees will likely increase diversity at the top of your funnel.

You can also encourage diverse referrals across the board, no matter which employees they come from. Research from the Kapor Center suggests that offering an employee bonus for referring URMs moves the needle on diversity initiatives more than other strategies do. This strategy works best when you communicate intentional messaging about the business case for having a diverse organization, and the importance your company is placing on diversity from both business and ethics perspectives.

When you return to LinkedIn Recruiter, search the connections of the underrepresented employees at your organization. These are connections employees might not think to refer: employees often only refer people they know are looking for work, rather than the best person they know who’s doing that job. And of course, you want the best person they know who’s doing that job.

There are a hundred other ways to source underrepresented talent outside of LinkedIn and your employees. Searching for, and following, hashtags associated with women, LGBTQIA+ people, and URMs in tech on social media; scouring platforms like Medium and Quora for professionals writing on topics and answering questions about the role you’re looking to fill; and attending meet-ups or conferences geared toward diverse talent are three that come to mind. These are more time-consuming—and, in some cases, longer-term—strategies; and we cover them elsewhere.

For now, these strategies are great places to start broadening your funnel for diverse candidates that are “self-identifying” before they even enter your recruiting funnel.


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