Four Actions to Building a More Diverse Workforce

This past year has put the issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice on the radars of many organizations. As a result, many companies across the country have brought in trainers to teach their staff about unconscious bias or embracing diversity. And yet, hiring managers and others are still left wondering “what exactly am I supposed to do differently?” Training is a great start, but it’s not a magic fix to attracting and retaining diverse talent. Ensuring you have a diverse workforce requires sustained time and attention and a commitment to doing things differently.  

All too often we hear from companies that say they are committed to hiring a diverse workforce but “just don’t get many applications from diverse groups” or “well, we got some resumes, but they just don’t seem to fit our culture” or “I tried placing an ad on xyz diverse site, but didn’t get any traction.”  So, while there isn’t a magic fix, there are things you can do to cultivate a diverse pipeline that translates into fantastic hires. Here are a few to get you started: 

  1. Commit to Equity – Equity doesn’t mean equal – it means giving everyone an even chance at securing a job at your company and the tools, once hired, to be successful. This may mean that some people may need more investment than others or a different approach. Did you know that 40% of women, compared to 26% of men, anticipate that they will be treated in a biased way because of their gender.  Over 40% of people of color anticipate they will be treated in a biased way simply because of their race. If women and people of color are walking around with this fear – it’s holding them back – and they simply can’t show up their best. So, in your Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategy (hopefully you have a DEI strategy!) ensure you are thinking about the “E” and weaving that through your recruitment process as well as other talent processes such as onboarding, career progression, and development.  
  1. Be transparent – It’s OK to tell people that your diversity journey is a work in progress – because it is – we should always be striving to be better, no matter how great you might be. For example, years ago, when I worked at Fannie Mae, who was repeatedly on the best places to work lists for working mothers and diverse workplaces, we kept striving to make improvements. Transparency isn’t something we’re naturally inclined to do and it can feel uncomfortable. Transparency also creates accountability – which is important to ensure you are focused and honest with yourself.  Don’t be afraid to share your metrics on diversity (ex. racial and gender representation at all levels and offices, or numbers of folks who self-identify as LGBTQIA+, veterans, or experience disabilities) and the work you are doing to close the gap. Be open about your learning in this process.  
  1. Develop a Comprehensive Sourcing Strategy – You can’t keep looking in the same places and expect a different outcome. Nor can you expect to put out one ad at a diverse site and expect diversity to come flocking to your door.  To start, ensure the members of your organization have a common definition of diversity and are aligned on which areas need the primary focus. If you are in an engineering firm, a first step might be a program to invite more female identifying candidates to your firm.  If you want to increase the population of Black employees at your firm, you not only want to start cultivating relationships with HBCUs, their alumna, and their career office reps — you also want to research and identify the industry groups, associations, LinkedIn forums that are populated by people who identify as Black and/or African American. There are literally hundreds of groups/forums for every group imaginable. You also need to invest time and other resources to attending or hosting networking and speaking events, webinars, and be consistent in your presence. As you know, trust is built over time.  
  1. Design a Consistent Hiring Process – It’s good practice to have a structured process – even to the point of writing a script – to ensure all those invited to participate have a similar experience, which includes baking in time to welcome and connect with prospects. This is a good time to reflect on that unconscious bias class you took – don’t let your UB bite you! Consider if you are making assumptions. Do you lob over a softball or two when someone makes a good first impression? Do you gravitate towards candidates who have similar experiences to you? We all like to find people who went to our alma maters, or who played the same sports, or sang in the choir.  Does the candidate you are rejecting really not have the qualifications?  And, to that point, ensure that your job description is written in an inclusive way. Check for gendered wording or phrases like “rockstar,” streamline your requirements to just the essentials, and don’t just state your diversity statement – showcase the great work you are doing. Finally, think about what the various candidates will ADD to your culture versus focusing on culture fit, which often perpetuates “like me” candidates. 

One of the CEO’s I worked for loved the phrase “what gets measured gets done.” When you treat DE&I like any other business issue and integrate it into your strategy, it is much more meaningful, with attached goals and outcomes, and keeps the effort front and center – just like your sales, membership or development efforts.