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

Jan 5, 2015

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 2.15.54 PMUnfortunately, I have found that corporate recruiting leaders spend way too much time complaining about the many problems associated with successfully recruiting STEM women and other diversity hires. What is needed is less talk and more practical, proven recruiting solutions. The goal of this complete article is to provide 25+ leading-edge best practices in recruiting that have proven to be effective at major firms.

Last week’s (12/29/14) part one of this article covered 10 different bold recruiting practices for attracting STEM women and diverse candidates. This part two will cover 10 additional best practices in referrals, candidate slates, and accountability.

Referrals Are the Best Way to Successfully Recruit Top STEM Women

Among all sources, referrals routinely produce the best on-the-job performers with the highest retention rates. But they can be especially effective on employed women. This is because currently employed women are often especially nervous about appearing disloyal to their boss and team, so they are almost always reluctant to talk to recruiters. However, they are willing to talk to a colleague or friend. And because a colleague (your employee) is likely to know what the target job is and how the firm treats women, your own employees end up being the most powerful convincing tool you have. Assigning the role of converting a top prospect into a referral to one of your top woman employees is another effective approach. And finally make sure that all of your referral program materials and communications make it clear that diversity hiring is a top priority. Best practices in the referral area include:

  • A referral program targeted at women —  in India, SAP Labs developed a Diversity Employee Referral Program, which along with its “women’s only” recruitment drive is specifically targeted to women in leadership roles. The goal is to increase women in leadership roles to 25 percent by 2017. It also hosted a night long hack-a-thon called “ – Code to Empower her” to build mobile applications that address the everyday issues faced by women. The winning team received initial seed funding from an angel investor to bootstrap the idea.
  • Include nonemployees in a referral program — in a bold move, Facebook has expanded referral program eligibility to allow temps (as well as regular employees) to be eligible for their program focused on referring technical women. Limiting referrals only to employees is a mistake because corporate alumni, temps, family members, and contractors also know the firm and they are willing to help. If a female referral is hired, the referring person gets $5,000. In its mobile platform group, it has hired six women in six months into technical roles.
  • WOW referral bonuses attract — the technology startup ThoughtSpot took the bold step of offering a $20,000 referral bonus for any employee or nonemployee who made a referral that resulted in an engineering hire. That incredibly high referral bonus reward was picked up and publicized by the media, and as a result, the startup received a great deal of attention from both women and men. Within one year it was able to increase referrals by 90 percent and amazingly, increase diversity hires by 80 percent.
  • Harnessing an internal women’s network for referrals — for recruiting technical women, IBM used its existing internal technical women networks as the focus of its referral effort. One of the key features of the program is that the referring employee must know the referral personally. This discourages “referral spamming” and because they know the individual, the initial engagement is easier and it allows the employee to create a personalized recruiting pitch. Another powerful component of the program is that referrals are strategically encouraged (i.e. prioritized) in business/job areas where they would make the highest contribution to the diversity strategy. Incentives were specifically designed for diversity referrals, and the success rates of referral were closely monitored. It estimated that close to 30 percent of its total professional women hires worldwide were made through these network connections.

Requiring Recruiters to Present Candidate Slates That Include Women and Diverse Candidates — at some firms there is an ample number of qualified women and diverse individuals who actually apply to the company. However, for many reasons, these diverse individuals never make it to the interview stage. Metrics show that simply requiring the hiring manager to interview at least some diverse candidates will by itself increase diversity hiring. One of the simplest and most effective ways to increase diversity hiring is to require that the slates of candidates that are presented for interviewing include a proportionate number of both women and diverse candidates. Two of the best practices in the candidate slate area include:

  • Requiring candidate slates for executive positions to include women — the CTO of Intuit set guidelines that no longer allowed all-male candidate slates to be presented to the hiring manager. The new expectations required external executive recruiters to present the company with a gender-diverse slate of candidates for technical executive positions. This requirement forced their search firm partners to develop relationships with more female technical talent, which benefited female candidates. As a result of the policy, Intuit doubled its number of women technical executives in these targeted positions over a 12-month period.
  • Requiring a diverse candidate to be on the interview slate — the National Football League also instituted a diversity slate requirement that mandates that every team must interview at least one minority candidate for head coaching and senior football operation positions. Teams that do not adhere to the rule are fined. Shortly after being implemented, the percentage of African American coaches jumped from 6 percent to 22 percent (the current percentage is 12.5 percent).

Hold Recruiters, Hiring Managers, and Executives Accountable for Diversity Hires

Strictly holding all of the parties involved in the hiring process accountable for hiring STEM women and diversity hires has proven to be extremely effective. Having strong metrics and widely reporting diversity results to all managers have proven to be powerful motivators. And adding a direct connection to standard business incentives and bonuses further increases everyone’s attention to diversity hiring. The best practices in the area of diversity accountability include:

  • A metric-driven approach applied to every aspect of diversity recruitingSodexo doesn’t base its recruiting on past practices, fads, or intuition. Instead its recruiting leaders have a very methodical approach to recruitment. “We measure everything: we’re measurement geeks,” it has said. Its methodical approach closely analyzes every step of the recruitment process. The sources from which Sodexo selects its candidates are individually chosen for their diverse and high-quality offerings. Sodexo says: “Before we look into any new source or strategy, we always look at its diversity impact. And then once we’ve implemented a strategy, we go back and measure the results.” My research indicates that holding individual recruiters accountable for their diversity hiring successes is an important accountability factor that should also be instituted.
  • Making the business case for diversity — although initially it might not seem relevant to recruiting, nothing that I have found has a larger impact on getting managers to focus on diversity than developing a business case that is unique to the company. STEM women and diversity leaders should work with the CFO in order to demonstrate to individual managers that there is a positive correlation between higher diversity percentages in a team and improved business results. Pepsi is now a recognized leader in diversity, in part because it took a leadership position in developing a powerful business case that supported diversity by showing that increasing diversity measurably impacts corporate revenue. Showing the diversity impact on the results of individual managers can also help to overcome management resistance and to develop, as Pepsi did, a “mindset of diversity.” To further increase involvement and accountability, each executive at Pepsi was assigned a diversity group to sponsor, and a metric scorecard was developed that put an equal emphasis on “business results” and “people results.” The firm’s diversity goal was “a minimum of 50 percent of their employees who were not white men.”
  • A diversity scorecard will increase accountability — the diversity scorecard at Sodexo makes everyone accountable by reporting the performance of managers and executives (compared to the target) each quarter. I rate this as the most powerful scorecard in any industry because it covers both quantitative and qualitative factors in each of the three critical diversity areas of hiring, promotion and retention. At Sodexo, in order to increase accountability and results, 25 percent of the executive team’s bonus was connected to its performance on the diversity scorecard, and 10 to 15 percent of the management team’s bonus was also tied to the scorecard. This diversity performance bonus payout occurs regardless of the firm’s financial performance. As an international firm, the company also broadened its definition of diversity to include a global perspective that included five dimensions of diversity, including gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, and age.
  • Tie executive bonuses to proportionate diversity in hiring and promotions — a firm that is often criticized for gender issues, Wal-Mart instituted a policy aimed at ensuring that corporate managers fulfill diversity hiring goals. At one of the company’s annual meeting executives announced that executive bonuses would be cut by 7.5 percent the first year and 15 percent the second year if the company didn’t promote women and minorities in proportion to the numbers that apply.

15 Quick Tips for Recruiting STEM Women and Diversity Candidates

This final section contains 15 additional quick tips that I have found to be effective in improving your diversity recruiting results. Each one has also been implemented at a least one major firm.

Quick tips for finding diverse talent

  • Ask new hires — ask top new hires during onboarding to identify other top women technologists that they know.
  • Ask references — after a new hire proves themselves, call the references and ask them if they know any additional STEM women or diversity prospects.
  • Proactive referrals — proactively approach your own top female STEM employees and ask them to identify and help to recruit the best women in specific categories. Those categories can include leaders, top technologists, innovators, team players, etc.
  • Referral cards — a simple but extremely effective referral approach is to provide your top employees with compelling referral cards that complement the individual and their work.
  • During benchmarking — while benchmarking, have your employees capture the names of any diverse subject matter experts that impress.
  • Events — recruit at large technology industry events and certification classes because the best women attend them, and in addition, women there are clearly visible.
  • Use acqui-hire acquisitions — if your firm is large enough, use an acqui-hire program that acquires smaller women dominated firms at least in part to capture their technical female talent. An added advantage is that you get intact teams that are already used to working together.

Quick tips for convincing reluctant candidates

  • Take the stress out of interviewing — some women have reported that they are stressed when contemplating an upcoming interview. However, if on your corporate website you outline in detail your hiring process and exactly what is expected of candidates, you can reduce their anxiety level. Using live video interviews can also make the scheduling of interviews easier on busy, already employed women.
  • Don’t lump together diverse groups — avoid the tendency to stereotype and to treat all diverse groups the same. Instead identify the expectations and the job acceptance criteria of each individual top diversity candidate.
  • Institute a “buddy program” — a buddy or “hire-both-of-them” program is where you hire a close friend or colleague at the same time as a top STEM-woman or diverse person. In many cases the buddy is also likely to be diverse. Women who are reluctant to join a firm and find themselves feeling alone can use this option to increase their confidence (At one major tech giant, 38 percent of the hires are buddy hires).

Administrative and process tips

  • Related programs contribute — you won’t have to do as much hiring if you also have effective data-driven onboarding and retention programs. Faster internal diversity best practice sharing programs can also have an immediate and powerful impact on diversity results.
  • Allow for same-day hires — budget at least one “corporate resource” position that is continually open. This position means that you won’t have to wait for an open requisition in order to rapidly hire an extremely qualified top STEM-woman prospect who suddenly becomes available.
  • Managers need a toolkit — develop a diversity recruiting and retention toolkit and distribute it to all managers. A toolkit approach allows individual managers to select the tools that best fit their situation, rather than having to adhere to a corporate mandated program that doesn’t fit their needs.
  • Look to specialty recruiting firms — assess and hire external firms that specialize in data-driven diversity recruiting and recruitment marketing. Have them advise you on the best marketing and employer branding approaches to use.
  • Failure analysis — after a brief delay, survey your top women applicants who drop out of the recruiting process and those who reject your offers in order to find out why.  Also determine at what specific steps or stages of the hiring process the most hiring errors occur in. Also use data to determine if any individual hiring managers are weak at diversity recruiting.

Final Thoughts

If you’re one of the many corporate leaders who believe that little can be done in the short term in order to increase STEM women and diversity hires, this compilation of best practices was developed for you.

After years of research, I have identified the numerous barriers that prevent women from gaining the inertia necessary to apply for a new job and the recruiting steps that prematurely discourage or screen them out. Fortunately, I have found that there is a solution to every barrier and roadblock. And the solutions in this article are not merely ideas, but they are best practices that have been thoroughly vetted by executives at some of the world’s best corporations. The only remaining limiting factor is the courage (or lack of it) of corporate leaders to try something, that in this case, has already been proven to work.

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

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