Looking For Bold Recruiting Approaches? Best Practices For Recruiting STEM-Women and Diversity Candidates, Part 1 of 2

Dec 29, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 2.33.26 PMMost valuable information that recruiting leaders seek out are known as best practices: leading-edge recruiting practices that have been implemented at less than 5 percent of major firms. Best-practice information is so valuable because although “brand new” ideas can be exciting, they are always by definition still unproven. When you are faced with limited resources, it makes business sense to focus on learning about and adapting the leading-edge practices that have already been successfully implemented.

Cynical executives are much more willing to fund and support a pilot recruiting initiative after hearing that a Fortune 100 firm that they admire has already thoroughly researched, vetted, and assessed its probability of success. Keeping up with leading-edge best practices is part of the professional development obligation of every recruiter. My research has also found that far too many leaders that are responsible for STEM women and diversity recruiting spend so much of their time complaining about how difficult their problems are that they simply don’t find enough time to implement any “new-to-the-firm” best practice approaches.

The Focus Should Be On Bold, Practical, and Already Proven Recruiting Solutions

There is unfortunately no central source (other than my team) for continuously recording and sharing the best practices in recruiting. So to help fill that gap, one purpose of this article is to reveal a large number of the boldest “implemented best practices” relating to the recruiting of STEM and technical women. Most of the best practices covered in this article can fortunately be directly transferred and adapted, so that they can also be used to solve the recruiting problems associated with any hard-to-fill position.

The Top 20 Best Corporate Practices in STEM and Diversity Recruiting

The remainder of this article highlights best-practice examples that have been tried at well-known firms. The best practices are listed in bullet point format and they are separated into four categories that cover the most impactful areas of recruiting. The first category (here in part one; the next three will be in part two) covers attracting more STEM women applicants.

Bold Approaches To Attract Many More Women And Diversity Applicants —Obviously you can’t hire more STEM women if you don’t first successfully convince them to apply for your open positions. Many of the traditional corporate diversity sourcing approaches, including career fairs, diversity job boards, and recruiting through diversity organizations have frequently produced only mediocre results. And as a result of the growth of the Internet and social media, there are now many emerging ways to reach and convince women to apply. Some of the best practices in attracting more and better women applicants to technical and engineering jobs include:

  • Revising job postings to make them more “woman friendly” — experimentation by Cisco well over a decade ago demonstrated that turning job postings into marketing pieces had a dramatic impact on applications. Google recently built on that concept by implementing a pilot project covering one engineering role that had zero female or male applicants over a one-year period. Women in the current role said that the existing description was scaring away many prospects because it made the job appear unappealing (even though it actually wasn’t). Using a marketing research approach, it asked nearly 100 female Google employees working in that role to rewrite the description so that the job appeared more attractive to women. And as a result, the job posting description was dramatically improved. I estimate that using the new “fixed description” will significantly increase both the number of internal applications received from around the world and the percentage of applications from women who currently held technical jobs.
  • Invite qualified prospects on site to interact with your whole team — recruiting leaders at IBM realized that simply talking to recruiters wasn’t convincing enough to attract the very best experienced women and minority candidates. As a result they experimented with a face-to-face approach called “Project View Plus,” which included an expense paid two-day on-site visit. The program required managers to interact with the referred experienced prospects, and if both parties were convinced, offers were made before they left. The program attracted more than 2,000 minority candidates and formal offers were made to between 40 percent and 50 percent of the attendees. The current “Project View” program is 1 1/2 days and it focuses on college prospects.
  • Switching to “same-level calls” when making initial phone assessments — research at Whirlpool demonstrated that who makes an initial recruiting call has a significant impact on whether it is answered and successful. The job level, the gender of the caller, and the time of the call all have a significant impact on its success. Where calls by someone at an equal or higher job level (same level calls) can get a 100 percent response rate, standard recruiter calls normally only get a 10 percent response rate. Google recently built on that concept by instituting a pilot program that requires that the initial phone screen for all leadership roles will be made by a director or a manager at the same level as the candidate. This differs dramatically from Google’s standard process, which has recruiters making all of the initial assessment calls. Having someone at the same level make the call will not only increase the response rate but having higher-level people on the line also results in a much more accurate assessment of the prospect’s technical skills and cultural fit (i.e. a more accurate assessment then could be made by a standard recruiter). In addition, because the leader making the call knows the job so well (compared to the recruiter), they are also much better equipped to effectively sell the candidate. The leader making the call also has more of an incentive to accurately assess and then sell top candidates  because the new hire would work directly under them on the same campus (with Google’s standard unaffiliated recruiters and neutral hiring team approach, most of the candidates who a manager would interview would not end up working under them). I believe that if Google goes the next step, where women candidates are called by “same-level women,” the number of women being hired will measurably increase.
  • Blind interviews and blind resume assessment can reduce hiring bias — some of the biases against hiring women may be subconscious. One approach to fight bias during interviews and tryouts is “a blind interview approach” which was initiated by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Academic research has demonstrated that using a screen to hide the candidate increases by several-fold the likelihood a female contestant will be the winner in the final round of a symphony tryout. Similar anti-bias benefits for women can be achieved at corporations by using the same interview screens that hide the candidate, or when that is not practical, through the use of questionnaire interviews or telephone interviews. Also, removing the candidate’s name from resumes and applications can reduce hiring bias by as much as 50 percent (Pacific Telesis in the 1980s used an application form that replaced the name of the applicant with an identifying number).
  • Re-recruit or boomerang diverse former employees — firms like DaVita and Deloitte have learned that re-recruiting former top-performing employees is an easy but effective way to generate top-quality hires. That same boomerang concept can be used in a targeted fashion to re-recruit your former STEM-women employees who may desire to return to your firm. Boomerang rehires are high-quality hires because you only recruit former employees who were top performers and now they are even better because they have the benefit of added external experience. By telling the best when they leave that they will be welcomed back and by maintaining an online alumni group, you can ensure that up to 16 percent of your hires will be boomerangs. Focusing a segment of your employee referral program on making STEM women and diverse candidates boomerangs can also produce dramatic results.
  • Re-visit STEM women who were “silver medalists” — firms like General Motors, GE, and Intuit have learned that individuals who came in a close second place should be reconsidered for other positions, especially if the job competition included an extremely talented top candidate who came in No. 1. These almost-hired individuals are called “silver medalists” because they came in second in an extremely competitive competition for a job. Putting a focus on eventually placing highly qualified STEM women who came in second or who dropped out before an offer could be made has proven to be a highly effective recruiting approach. Keep in touch with your silver medalists using a CRM approach and periodically push relevant job openings to them for up to one year after their initial application. Also identify STEM women and diverse candidates who met every qualification and fit the organization but simply needed a little more experience and contact them later a year or two later after they would’ve acquired the needed additional experience.
  • Don’t let narrow job descriptions scare away unsure recent STEM women grads — with so many emerging technologies, a significant percentage of technical college grads aren’t sure about what job they really want. And by providing standard narrowly defined job descriptions (that they view as restrictive) also proves to be of further barrier that scares away both women and men. Cisco has initiated a program that is known as “Cisco Choice,” which is designed to give new technology grads more time to make their final job choice. It is called Cisco Choice because at the end of the program’s extended onboarding process, amazingly the new hire gets to choose their engineering department, manager, and job (Facebook offers a similar choice opportunity at the end of its on-boarding). In order to expose them to more opportunities before they have to make a decision, these new hires go through three weeks of onboarding where they are exposed to senior executives and each of the different parts of the business and its different technologies. Because new hires have a choice, managers are naturally pressured to make their jobs more exciting. The program has had 500 participants per year. And they have seen a 10 percent increase in the representation of technical female college recruits and an improved retention rate of female university technical hires by 30 percent over Engineering’s overall average. In order to minimize bias, program interviewers go through rigorous training on how to screen and interview diverse candidates.
  • Use data to demonstrate to potential applicants that women are treated fairly at your firm — potential women applicants search the Internet and social media (i.e. Glassdoor and Vault) for indications that a firm treats women fairly. One way that a firm can proactively make the fact that it treats women fairly is to survey a sample of their own women employees and to directly ask them how they are treated and if they face a lower level of the common barriers that frustrate women employees. On their corporate careers or diversity website, the firm can use that survey data to show that its women employees feel that they are better treated compared to other firms that they have worked at. Survey results could show that women at the firm have a higher success probability, that they are treated fairly, that they feel that they have equal promotion/career opportunities, that they enjoy job flexibility, and that feel that they work in an inclusive environment where they “fit.” This kind of data can be particular powerful to STEM women who prefer hard data on the work environment as a supplement to the opinions that they read on the Internet. Named or anonymous employee quotes can also be included to further sway potential women applicants. This survey data may also help improve the retention of STEM women if the results show that they work in a “woman-friendly” environment.
  • Institute a “friends program” where employees talk candidly to applicants — well over a decade ago Cisco demonstrated that by offering the opportunity to talk to an actual employee (a new friend) you could in some cases excite applicants. An updated “friends program” would include providing highly qualified STEM women interviewees an opportunity to talk briefly with another woman in a technical position at the firm. Female employees would be asked to volunteer for the assignment and the number of calls to any individual would be limited. The selected employees (as well as recruiters and managers) could be provided with a “sell sheet” which would include data and powerful stories that were chosen specifically to excite the targeted applicants.
  • Increasing work flexibility in order to attract and retain more women — many firms have learned that offering increased work flexibility, career scalability, and providing choices is a powerful attraction feature for women. Deloitte offers a “Mass Career Customization Program” which provides employees an opportunity to “dial down” or “dial up” their work responsibilities, work hours, and travel depending on their current individual priorities. Allowing employees to tailor his or her own career path means that people can stay in their jobs when their life situation changes dramatically. Incidentally, the firm reports that number of women and men that have chosen to dial up and down is even. They also report that employee satisfaction with “overall career/life fit” has increased 25 percent, and as a result, turnover rates among top performers in areas with the program are half of those of areas without the program. Intel also allows employees to personalize their work situation by giving them remote work, part-time options, compressed workweeks, and tutoring for their kids. Over six years, the company reports an increase of its representation of technical women at the mid- and senior levels by 24 percent.

In this part one of the article I have focused on numerous bold but proven best practices that recruiting leaders can adapt to their own firm. In next week’s part two of the article to be published on January 5, 2015, I will cover how employee referrals, how requiring diversity on candidate slates, and how increasing accountability can all improve STEM women and diversity recruiting results.

Note: Special thanks to my teaching assistant, Kimberly Do (, and others whose benchmarking research and calls contributed significantly to the content and the data in this article.

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