As we enter 2022, we are asked to look at the labor market and ask ourselves a critical question: are we willing to change our mental models about diversity hiring?
I believe that hiring managers and HR departments may be thinking about diversity recruiting in the wrong way. Diversity recruiting requires companies not to get softer, but, in fact, have a more hard-nosed approach. Succeeding in diversity recruiting is not simply about making a company look good-- it is mission-critical to the company’s bottom line. A workforce from underrepresented backgrounds reduces groupthink and allows a company to be more responsive to a globalized marketplace, clients, and fellow colleagues. From a talent perspective, it means that the company is finding the best talent, not simply the most readily available or easily findable people. In short, companies first need to reject the idea of diversity and inclusion as a “cost of doing business” and instead see not having a diverse workforce and an inclusive work environment as costly to their business.
But companies need to get more hard-nosed not only about the why of diversity recruiting but about the how as well. Indeed, the watchword for making diversity recruiting work is both basic and surprising: efficiency.
Many managers may think recruiting people who come from underrepresented backgrounds requires more touchy feeliness, but diversity recruiting actually requires more precision. That precision conserves one of the company’s most precious resources – time – and it optimizes a second precious resource – its talent.
Efficiency starts with the job description and identifying skill sets needed
Many teams spend too little time on the job description, gambling that they can figure out what they are looking for (and resolve any political disputes) as the process unfolds. But this means that teams waste an enormous amount of time screening out candidates much further down the road. More problematically, they may never attract candidates who can’t crack the code and understand gauzy job description language. This may be particularly true for candidates from underrepresented backgrounds. Moreover, research indicates that more precise job descriptions mitigate the risk of implicit bias creeping into the hiring process.
Precision in job descriptions forces teams to articulate the skillsets they need. Hiring cannot be divorced from strategic thinking about what the business needs. Articulating skill sets allows hiring teams to measure candidates more objectively and more efficiently.
Diversity hiring as an engineering problem
Armed with a precise job description, hiring teams need to think about diversity recruiting as an engineering problem. The process from recruiting underrepresented candidates to a single candidate accepting an offer is a long and leaky pipeline, with lots of talent being lost at every stage.
At the beginning: cast a wider net
The problems start at the beginning and so must the problem solving. Companies need to attract much deeper pools of underrepresented candidates in order to win the talent race. This means proactively recruiting candidates instead of taking the Field of Dreams approach: assuming that, since you built it, they will come. Candidates from underrepresented backgrounds may not know about your company. They may not know where to look for your job posting and their social networks may mean that word of mouth may never reach their ears.
Recruiting diverse candidates means casting the proverbial net a lot wider. Every company can fall into the trap of path dependence and recruit via the same websites, job fairs, colleges, and network of recruiters but many underrepresented candidates aren’t in these networks. Companies should think harder about finding diverse talent in professional groups, state and community colleges, HBCUs, HSIs, and similar institutions.
Leaky pipelines: the deficiencies of undergraduate programs
The hiring pipeline continues from there and so do the pipeline problems that companies need to solve. Even in a deep pool, many talented diverse candidates will fall out at different stages of the interview process. Some of them may have the talent but may need to bridge the gap between undergraduate programs and the specific skill sets a company requires. Many undergraduate programs in computer software struggle to adapt to the speed of change in industry or they may not offer specific programs that meet the more specialized needs of teams.
Candidates from underrepresented backgrounds may also not have chances to develop soft skills – everything from oral and written communication to interview-specific skills like whiteboarding. Indeed, tech company interviewing techniques can mystify students whose educational and social networks give them little advance warning of what is to come. That said, it’s also important to understand different interview styles.
The solution: combining recruiting with training and certifying
The solution is not for companies to ditch interviewing methods like problem-solving exercises and whiteboarding. After all, many of these exercises excel at measuring some of the skill sets needed in the role while gaining an understanding of a candidate’s thought process. Instead, the solution is to help underrepresented candidates develop and display their true talents in these exercises before the interview..
At this point, hard-nosed diversity recruiting means investing more just in candidates. But the payoff comes not just moving the needle in diversity recruiting, but also hiring candidates who can contribute to a company’s teams on day one.
What does this investment look like? HR departments and recruiters can partner with groups that work with underrepresented candidates while preparing them for the job market with industry training. Here are some attributes to look out for:
Groups that help companies articulate skill sets they need in a job description
Ability to recruit large numbers of diverse candidates from diverse backgrounds
Provide free online training for candidates with modules based on the customized skill sets a company needs. This training can exist in a cohort-based format since research shows this improves the learning for candidates
Offers training that includes problem-solving, communication, and soft-skills exercises, in addition to advanced software topics, and adjusts according to a particular student’s progress and strengths and weaknesses.
Throughout training, the partner groups should be able to measure a candidate’s progress in developing the skills the company identified. At the end of the process, the group will certify that students meet a company’s articulated needs and match a student to particular opportunities and work groups within a company. This ensures that the candidates are qualified in both the hard and soft skills necessary for the position and streamlining the hiring process even further.
In essence, it’s a win-win. The company conserves resources and knows that the candidates to whom it extends offers to have the attributes needed to succeed at the company and help the company succeed getting that return on investment and acquiring that human capital is the ultimate payoff.
Andrea Guendelman is the founder and CEO of Speak_, a talent incubator championing diversity in tech that offers a cohort-based platform to elevate and sustain underrepresented candidates in the industry’s hiring pipeline