Diversity Hiring is More Than a Checkbox. How to Develop a Better Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Recruiting Strategy

Hiring for diverse candidates should be a no-brainer and shouldn’t require a reason. However, if it’s not super obvious to your company or just hasn’t been happening at your organization, there are several strong business cases for centering Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) at the core of your business.

In fact, the business case only gains increasing merit as both candidates and consumers demand that companies reflect them and their values. It’s becoming increasingly clear that organizations that are not already inclusive need to work on becoming more diverse and inclusive. Diverse companies perform 33% better than companies that are not. Maybe not being diverse isn’t a problem for some businesses yet, but when customers and employees start taking themselves elsewhere, companies will begin taking the need for multiple perspectives seriously.

Maybe you’ve already realized the value of DEI and don’t know where to start – increasing diversity and equity can feel very nebulous. Maybe it’s been difficult to take action in the areas you’ve identified as lacking on your teams. Maybe, like many companies, you’ve been struggling to find ways to recruit and retain diverse candidates.

There is no silver bullet to succeeding at DEI and benefiting from the returns on your bottom line in terms of employee engagement, better products and services, and creativity. However, here are a few places to start hiring more diverse candidates.

What is Diversity Hiring?

The best place to begin creating a hiring process that leads to more diverse candidates is to understand what it means to hire for diversity.

We love the definitions we’ve heard from Stephanie Ghoston, an Equity Consultant at the Center for Equity and Inclusion:

“Diversity: the range of differences that make people unique, both seen and unseen.”

“Inclusion: an environment that engages multiple perspectives, different ideas, and individuals in order to define organizational policy and culture.”

“Let’s be clear: diversity and inclusion are not the same things,” Janet Stovall, Executive Communications Manager at UPS, clarified in a recent TED talk. “Diversity is a numbers game. Inclusion is about impact. Companies can mandate diversity, but they have to cultivate inclusion.”  

Confusion over diversity hiring sometimes often stems from the mistaken perception that the goal of diversity recruitment is to increase workplace diversity for the sake of diversity. However, we like to think of it this way: you hire for diversity to get the benefits of inclusion.

And, as you might have discovered, it’s not always easy to hire diverse candidates, even when you have the intention to do so. There are so many structural issues and unconscious biases in hiring that you have to be incredibly intentional about it.

Just a few quick examples:

  • Resumes with a white-sounding name (e.g. Greg, Molly) receive 25% more callbacks than the same resumes with black-sounding names (e.g. Lakisha, Jamal).
  • When the final candidate pool has only one minority candidate, he or she has virtually no chance of being hired. If there are least two minority candidates in the final candidate pool, the odds of hiring a minority candidate are 194 times greater.
  • The same story of a successful entrepreneur—with the only variance of gender difference—received different impressions: Howard was seen as a more appealing colleague, whereas Heidi was perceived as selfish and unlikeable.

Diversity hiring is really just hiring with special care taken to ensure procedures are free from biases related to a candidate’s age, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and other personal characteristics that are unrelated to their job performance.

The goal of diversity hiring is to identify and remove potential biases in sourcing, screening, and shortlisting qualified, diverse candidates that may be ignored, turned off, or accidentally discriminated against in your process.

Accountability and Commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

It’s almost impossible to create DEI in hiring if it’s not a priority for leadership. In fact, DEI should not just be a priority, but an integrated part of the leadership team’s goals. Some companies have even tied DEI metrics (e.g., raising a certain percentage of people of color in leadership positions by a certain time) to executive compensation.

Part of building a strong, diverse hiring process means asking yourself: “Who is my company culture going to attract?” This question can be very difficult to articulate if you assume everyone feels welcome already just because you do.

  • Do the images on your website and social media encourage potential candidates to see themselves on the team?
  • Does your reception seating enable candidates of different sizes and physical abilities to feel welcome?
  • Does senior leadership go out in the community and visibly support diversity and inclusion (or are they diverse themselves?)?

For many companies, making a conscious effort to create a welcoming environment creates a snowball effect – when you start focusing on including diverse employees, candidates, and customers, you begin to attract more diverse employees, candidates, and customers.

However, be sure to hold yourselves accountable by defining what success will look like. What are the key objectives of your DEI programs you will measure (e.g. increased diversity in hiring?) to know you’ve made progress? Don’t try to do everything at once – pick a key focus.

Be Intentional in Your Recruiting Practices

Recruiting diverse candidates is not necessarily more difficult than recruiting generally, but it does require companies to be very intentional about sourcing, screening, and hiring candidates. If we want a more diverse hiring pool, we need to pause, and conscientiously do something different. Examples of intentional practices include:

  • Eliminating gendered keywords in job descriptions, such as “support,” “affectionate,” “leader,” and “aggressive,” can increase the number of applicants by 42 percent.
  • Creating and honoring salary ranges rather than basing pay off previous salaries, which often penalizes women and people of color (POC). City and state policies often dictate this practice – for example, you can’t ask about previous salary history in Oregon.
  • Requiring a diverse slate of candidates (literally requiring candidate pools that reflect the population, or by including a certain number of candidates from an underrepresented group at your organization in the hiring pipeline).
  • Eliminating talk about “culture fit” and focusing on talk about “culture add” or “community.”
  • Tracking candidate sourcing by role, and making sure you’re advertising in ways that will reach a larger pool of candidates – Partners in Diversity job board, the Urban League, Hispanic, Asian, Veterans or disabled Americans websites, or by hosting job fairs in typically overlooked communities.  
  • If you can’t find the talent you need, be open to creating it, by empowering diverse candidates internally to take on stretch projects, investing in internships (like the Emerging Leaders Internship program), or other training programs.
  • Having a structured hiring process and directly addressing unconscious bias when discussing candidates after an interview.
  • Although it’s important to have diverse representation in your hiring team, making sure you’re not tapping the same team members for every interview or to go to every hiring event, every time – you don’t want to burn them out or make them feel like a token or symbol.
  • Diversify your network – if you’re only reaching out or taking referrals from your immediate network, these folks will tend to look like you. You’ll always struggle with diversity hiring.

Hiring intentionally can initially take more time. After all, you’re developing new pipelines and building up the parts of your culture and brand that would attract diverse candidates. However, we’ve found the benefits far outweigh the initial investments of time and energy.

Although we seek to champion diversity in our office and community, we are by no means DEI experts. There are some incredible resources, locally and nationally, to tap. However, we are open to learning, work hard at being transparent, and always keep people as our North Star.

You don’t need to be an expert either. You just need to be committed, curious, and open to learning. Make it clear that DEI is a priority for you, and you’ll start seeing the change.  

And when will you know you’ve done enough and gotten enough diverse candidates in the pipeline? Think like Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, when asked when there will be enough women on the bench. “When will there be enough women on the court? My answer is when there are nine.”