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How to Ensure Diversity in Your Recruiting and Hiring Practices

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This post is part of a series called How to Improve Diversity in Your Business (Essential Guide).
How to Achieve Gender Equality in Your Business
How to Build a Culture of Diversity and Inclusion in Your Workplace

So far in this series on improving diversity in your business, we’ve looked at ten key benefits of workplace diversity, we’ve examined different types of diversity, and we’ve celebrated International Women’s Day by looking at strategies for achieving gender equality in the workplace.

In today’s tutorial, it’s time to focus on the hiring process. Many businesses struggle at this stage. They set ambitious diversity goals, but then the candidates they end up hiring are all from similar backgrounds. Even Facebook, for all its innovation as a business, has had difficulties in this area.

How do you fix that? It makes no sense, of course, to hire the wrong person for the job, just because they help you meet some diversity goal. That’s patronizing to the person you hire, it can cause resentment among other employees, and it won’t help your business move forward.

How do you ensure diversity in your recruiting and hiring practices
How do you ensure diversity in your recruiting and hiring practices? (photo source)

So in this tutorial, you’ll learn how to find and recruit top candidates for all your open positions in a way that helps you take advantage of all those benefits of diversity that we discussed previously.

We’ll look at nine strategies you can use to overhaul your hiring process. Some are simple; others will take more time and will involve some serious work on your part and on the part of your existing staff.

The good news is that you don’t have to do everything at once. You can start by picking the low-hanging fruit and seeing some immediate benefits, and then you can gradually start to work on the more complex areas over the months and years to come.

Set Your Focus

Before we start looking at strategies, it’s important to set some objectives to work towards.

Look back at the dimensions of diversity from the previous tutorial. Ideally, you'll take account of all of them eventually, but it may make sense to focus on just a few at first, or even take them one at a time, so that you can pour all your energy and attention into one area.

Make an assessment of your existing workforce to help you prioritize. Do you want to achieve a better gender balance in your business? Or maybe you want to get a broader spread of different ages? There are plenty of areas to choose from.

Once you've decided on your area of focus, get more specific and set goals for your hiring practices. I covered this process in the gender equality tutorial, and you can adapt that process for any other types of diversity that you want to work on. Remember that changing the composition of your workforce is a gradual process, not an overnight fix, so be realistic in the timeframes you set yourself.

OK, so now for some strategies. We’ll start with some easy ones, and then we’ll move on to address some deeper issues.

1. Work on Your Job Ads

Are you inadvertently turning away qualified candidates by the way you word your job advertisements?

Studies have found that even small differences in wording can send very different messages to prospective applicants. So if you’re wondering why you get a majority of men applying for your jobs, maybe it’s because your ad asked for someone who can “analyze markets to determine appropriate selling prices,” instead of someone who can “understand markets to establish appropriate selling prices.” 

The difference may seem insignificant, but the research shows that it makes a difference.

Luckily, there are tools you can use to check for hidden bias in your ads. Check out the free website Gender Decoder for Job Ads, or try Textio, a paid service with a two-week free trial. Both allow you to paste your text into a web form and have it analysed to highlight potential problems.

Simple, right? This one definitely falls into that “low-hanging fruit” category I mentioned earlier. So start picking!

2. Create a Diversity Policy

A lot of job ads mention the company’s commitment to diversity, but what happens when a candidate starts to research your company? Will they find any mention of diversity in your mission statement or company values? If not, why should they believe you?

So if diversity is truly important to you, make sure it’s included somewhere in your company’s mission statement, values, “About” page, or whatever public statement you make about who you are.

For example, Envato, the parent company of Tuts+, makes a strong statement about diversity as part of its core values:

We thrive when we champion diversity and inclusion. We make better decisions, we’re stronger and happier, and it’s the right thing to do. It is our responsibility and privilege to be somewhere talented, value-driven people thrive. We are welcoming, respectful and supportive at work, on our sites, and in our community.

Showing a true commitment to diversity goes deeper than having a policy on your website, of course. We’ll look at some more ways of expressing that commitment in this tutorial and the next one. But creating a policy is an important first step.

3. Represent Diversity

If you want to hire a more diverse set of candidates, you should show that in your company imagery.

Remember that prospective applicant we talked about before? After reading your diversity policy, they’re going to explore your website, read your annual report, look at your marketing materials, and so on. If they don’t see any diversity in the workforce represented there, your claims are going to sound quite hollow.

The BBC created a recruitment film a couple of years ago that emphasized the network’s broad reach and claimed, “It’s important that the BBC actually reflects what’s happening around the country.” But the film undermined that message by including an all-white cast, prompting complaints from groups like the Campaign for Broadcasting Equality.

Don’t forget that diversity is about more than just race and gender. Consider all the dimensions of diversity that we discussed in our previous tutorial, and use imagery that reflects your values.

4. Be Accessible

It’s 2017. Your workplace should be fully accessible to people with disabilities. In many countries, the law requires it.

And yet people can often overlook the issue of accessibility. In the UK, the government introduced testing to see if people still qualified for disability benefits, and two out of five people were sent to an assessment centre that wasn’t accessible for disabled people.

Disability is an important dimension of diversity, so make sure that your office is fully accessible. Try this self-assessment test, and make any adjustments necessary—in many cases, they can be quite simple and not too costly.

Don’t forget your website either. If people have difficulty accessing it, they’ll probably be discouraged from applying, either because they can’t find the information they need or because they simply feel excluded. The following course will get you fully up to speed on web accessibility:

5. Offer Extra Hiring Bonuses

One of the most common ways to hire new employees is through referrals. You ask your existing staff members if they know anyone who would be a good fit, and they recommend people from their own networks.

It’s often a very effective method, but it can also lead to a homogeneous workforce. That’s why some companies have offered extra referral bonuses to people who make referrals that help them achieve their diversity goals.

Intel, for example, announced in 2015 that it would pay up to $4,000 in bonuses to employees who referred a woman, minority, or veteran to its workforce. And Microsoft is taking a slightly different approach, tying executive bonuses to the company’s diversity efforts.

Money is a great motivator. A small investment in referral bonuses could lead to big results for your business—while putting some extra cash in the pockets of your employees too, which always goes down well.

6. Check Your Interview Questions and Assessments

Do you like to do unstructured interviews? The kind where you just chat and get to know the person, rather than putting them through a test?

There’s a lot of merit to that approach, but one downside is that it can lead to a lack of diversity, according to this HBR article:

When sociologist Lauren Rivera interviewed bankers, lawyers, and consultants, they reported that they commonly looked for someone like themselves in interviews. Replicating ourselves in hiring contributes to the prevalent gender segregation of jobs, with, for example, male bankers hiring more male bankers and female teachers hiring more female teachers.

A more structured approach can help you to compare candidates more fairly. Ask the same set of questions in the same order to each candidate, and then do a comparative evaluation—read the full HBR article for more detail on the process.

Standard tests may also help, but use them with caution too. As The Wall Street Journal reports:

The rise of personality tests has sparked growing scrutiny of their effectiveness and fairness. Some companies have scaled back, changed or eliminated their use of such tests. Civil-rights groups long focused on overt forms of workplace discrimination claim that data-driven algorithms powering the tests could make jobs harder to get for people who don’t conform to rigid formulas.

7. Examine Your Own Biases

Even if you take the steps above, there’s still likely to be a highly subjective element to the hiring process. So you need to be aware of your own unconscious biases and work to correct them.

You probably don’t think of yourself as biased, but that’s why they call them unconscious biases! Try some of the tests on the Project Implicit website. You can test your thoughts and feelings about a whole range of different groups. Keep an open mind, and the results may surprise you.

Working to overcome your biases is not a simple or quick process, but being aware of them will help you to start the process—and to try to minimize the effect of snap judgments in your recruitment process. If you have a larger team working on recruiting, encourage them to take the tests too, and perhaps organize some unconscious bias training for the whole team.

8. Expand Your Network

If you want to hire diverse candidates, you need to go where they are.

Part of that is about placing your job ads in new places. So research magazines, websites and forums that are visited by your target group or groups, and place ads there in addition to your usual venues.

But as we covered earlier, many jobs are filled through personal networks and recommendations. So if you’re committed to diversity, why not expand your own networks?

If you’re interested in hiring more LGBTQ employees, for example, perhaps you could find some organizations in your area and make contact with their staff members. It’s a great way to learn more about the issues that community faces and how you as an employer can help. And you’ll also have the chance to talk to people and get recommendations, or to have the organizations publicise your job openings to their members.

9. Create Formal Programs

If you want to achieve true diversity, sometimes a formal program aimed at supporting a particular group can help.

For example, financial firm TIAA launched its Fruits of Employment disability program in 2008, while Walgreens built a disability-friendly warehouse in which roughly half of the staff has a disability. It is now the company’s safest, most productive warehouse, according to a Fast Company article.

We are now firmly out of the realm of quick fixes. To build a successful program, you’ll need to do a whole lot of research into your area of focus, and you may have to invest significant sums of money into making the necessary changes and publicising the program. But if it’s done well, it can pay off handsomely.

Conclusion

In this tutorial, you’ve learned nine useful techniques for achieving diversity in your recruiting programs. Some of them have been simple, while others will take a lot longer to implement.

The next stage is to make a plan to go through each of these techniques one by one. Work out how you can best implement them in your business. We’ve looked at some best practices by other companies during this tutorial, but every business is different, and you may need to make adjustments to fit your own particular circumstances.

Hiring a diverse set of new employees is only half the battle, of course. You won’t make much progress towards your diversity goals if your new recruits encounter a discriminatory or unwelcoming workplace culture.

So in the next and final tutorial in the series, we’ll look at some important retention strategies you can use to ensure that the people you’ve hired feel welcomed and supported, so that they thrive at your company and make contributions for years to come.

Making your workplace culture more inclusive will also help you in your recruitment practices, creating a virtuous circle effect. So stay tuned for the next episode! In the meantime, let me know if there are any other recruiting strategies you can recommend.

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