Re-Thinking Diversity Recruiting, Part 2

Jan 25, 2004

Diversity recruiting is becoming more and more important as the world becomes more global. At first, legal compliance was the primary driver behind most diversity recruiting. But now organizations have learned that if they want to operate around the world they must be able to recruit and retain individuals who are “different” than those who are in the majority at corporate headquarters. In other words, it’s important to recruit diverse individuals not only because many corporations must operate facilities at multiple locations around the globe, but also because they need diverse-thinking individuals to design products that will be in high demand in every major country. In a global economy, having a diverse workforce is no longer an option. It has become an absolute requirement for success in a global economy. How To Transform Your Diversity Recruiting Program From Mediocre to World-Class In order to develop a world-class diversity recruiting program (DRP), it’s critical to transform the failures of traditional DRPs (as highlighted in my last article) into organizational strengths and core competencies. Just like the creation and implementation of any other strategy designed to increase the competitiveness of a firm, this transformation involves both internal and external aspects, as well as immediate and longer-term activities. In this article I outline five action steps for jump-starting your DRP to achieve immediate improvements. In my next article, I’ll recommend five longer-term actions to achieve more consistency in program results. Short-Term Action Steps Step 1: Articulate clear goals for the DRP. For years, DRPs have suffered from a lack of clearly specified goals and objectives. Because of this, DRPs have not been aligned with most organizations’ overall plans for attaining recruiting excellence. Clarifying the goals for the DRP and communicating them throughout the entire organization is an important step in achieving both internal and external objectives. Internally, recruiters, managers, and all levels of employees need to be made aware of the importance and function of the DRP to the organization. This helps to secure buy-in from key internal players and lends validity and support to the DRP. This support is necessary when making resource allocation decisions and setting broader strategic objectives for the company. By articulating clear goals, much of the skepticism and lack of respect that currently surround DRPs (due to secrecy) can be dissolved. Making goals explicit also has important benefits for the organization externally. If all organizational members fully understand the role and priorities of the DRP, then they can better assist the organization in identifying key diversity candidates, take advantage of referral opportunities, and ultimately help in selling and closing the deal with prospective candidates. The bottom line is that a DRP that is fully understood and supported by all organizational members can better achieve its goals for the organization. Specifically, organizations need to:

  • Clarify and outline the strategic goals and objectives of the overall recruiting program.
  • Design and carry out the DRP to mirror and support the strategic corporate goals.

Step 2: Building the business case. Many diversity programs are well supported by top management but often for the wrong reasons. Some do it to avoid legal issues (“we might be sued”) while others do it in order to be politically correct. Executives give speeches, announce diversity targets and frequently even have the top diversity manager report directly to them in hopes that it will send a message that diversity recruiting is important. While all of these activities have value, if you really want your diversity program to be successful you have to go beyond these traditional arguments and make the economic case to managers for having a diverse workforce. The most powerful and effective arguments that can be made for excellence in diversity recruiting relate to the business and dollar impact that diversity recruiting can have on the bottom line of the organization. Does having a workforce with diverse backgrounds, experiences and ideas have impact on the firm’s profitability? The answer is a resounding yes! The following list contains the prime factors that can be used to demonstrate the dollar impact of having a diverse workforce. By looking at the many business impacts of diversity, the potential financial impacts on a firm become clearer. This impact will continue to increase as the previously “minority” population becomes a “majority” due to population shifts. At that time, excellence in diversity recruiting no longer becomes an option. We would argue that this time has already been reached and that excellence in diversity recruiting is a business necessity! How diversity can positively impact a business:

  • Achieving excellence through access to quality. Diverse-thinking enhances evaluation and problem-solving ability, in part due to different frames of reference.
  • Product sales. Product sales increase as a workforce reflects the interests and needs of the customer base, which for most organizations these days is globally dispersed.
  • Product features. Having diversity on product development teams helps ensure that products have features that are desired and can be easily utilized by more people.
  • Advertising and marketing become more effective. Having diverse people collaborate on the design of advertising campaigns results in a more effective campaign, because ads can be understood by and reach a culturally broader audience.
  • Globalization. As companies become more global, it’s essential that everyone thinks and acts with a broader understanding of the different ways to solve problems and sell products.
  • Employees and stockholders. Diversity is one of the key elements that attracts and retains top performers. Also, in a changing world where more diverse people own stock, expectations for a diverse workforce increase.
  • Customer service. Employees from diverse backgrounds understand and thus provide better service to diverse customers.

Step 3: Rely heavily on referrals. DRPs almost universally underutilize referrals as a primary source for identifying candidates. This underutilization often stems from an unfounded perception that referrals cannot produce diversity candidates. Many HR professionals have traditionally assumed (falsely so) that referral programs have an adverse impact on diversity and, as a result, they have minimized the usage of referrals. The facts don’t support that conclusion (in fact referral programs are highly recommended by the EEOC). These misconceptions and practices are unfortunate, because many firms have found that the best recruiting source is almost always referrals. Unfortunately, many referral programs are also limited in scope and rely solely on employee-driven actions. But referrals can be a powerful tool for DRPs, when managed effectively by building your internal brand as a “great place to work” through frequent internal communications in order to increase or re-energize your employee referrals. If you expand the definition of “who” can refer candidates, you’ll get dramatically improved results. Referral programs differ widely, depending on the level of search (entry-level vs. mid/late career, for example). Across these different levels, some of the best referral tools include:

  • Standard employee referral programs. Employees play an important role in identifying diversity candidates, as they are constantly out and about in the industry. Diversity referrals can be improved if all communications relating to the referral program highlight the importance the firm places on diversity referrals. Additional improvement can occur by offering increased incentives for any diversity referrals, by giving managers diversity referral targets, and by specifically targeting departments that currently have high diversity populations.
  • Diverse employees. Diverse employees usually know other diverse individuals, so it’s important to specifically ask these individuals for help. Diverse employees can also help identify organizations and sources with high diversity referral potential.
  • Reference referrals. Ask the references of diversity candidates and hires if they know other excellent diverse individuals. If non-diverse hires happen to have diverse references they can also be an excellent source. Be sure to ask all of these references to continually provide you with names. You should also consider rewarding them for their referrals.
  • Executive search. Recruiters (whether they’re currently working with your firm or not) are excellent at identifying potential candidates. If you reward them, they will provide you with the names of diverse individuals (whether those candidates are currently looking for a job or not) whom you can add to your database. Finally, you can offer incentives to search firms (that are under contract) for successful diversity hires.
  • Former employees. Keep in touch with former employees and let them know about the high priority that you place on diversity. Reward them both for providing names and for actual hires. In addition, don’t forget to track and try to re-recruit any diverse individuals who have left your firm.
  • Customer referrals. Encourage or reward customers for referrals. This can also be an effective tool for directly recruiting diverse customers you have.
  • Consultant/vendor/contractor referrals. Anyone who works with your firm and that knows your needs can be a referral source.
  • Community, religious and neighborhood leaders. Ask for their help and, where appropriate, reward them or their organizations for their assistance in identifying candidates.

Step 4: Offer incentives, recognition, and rewards. Another critical weakness that impacts diversity recruiting is a lack of rewards. Few companies offer specific rewards for identifying or hiring diverse people. If a firm suffers from a lack of clearly specified organizational goals for diversity recruiting programs, as discussed in Step 1 above, then a similar failure to reward specifically for diversity recruiting comes as no surprise! This lack of significant rewards for recruiting diverse candidates means that managers and recruiters fail to focus on it. Some of the most effective rewards span the management, recruiting, and employee ranks:

  • Recruiters must be rewarded for great diversity recruiting. For some curious reason firms have refused to give recruiters extra incentives for identifying diversity candidates or for successfully recruiting diverse individuals. If you follow the old adage, “what you measure takes away all doubt about what you want done,” and what you want done gets done faster when it’s rewarded, then measuring and rewarding recruiters for diversity hires becomes essential for program success. Some might argue that rewarding diversity recruiting has an adverse impact (reverse discrimination on the non-diverse population). Of course there is always the possibility that you might be sued, but in reality that probability is essentially zero while the benefits of great diversity recruiting can mean millions of dollars in revenues.
  • Managers must be rewarded for great diversity recruiting. A significant portion of all individual hiring manager’s pay (5 to 10%) should be based on diversity recruiting and retention results. In addition, senior management should have their pay based on producing results. Finally, the director of recruiting and the VP of HR both need a large portion of their pay tied to diversity recruiting success.
  • Give employees a small reward for identifying the names of diversity candidates. Just finding the names of diversity prospects is worth some small reward, so don’t forget to incentivize people for adding names to your diversity prospect database.

Step 5: Implement innovative diversity recruiting tools and strategies. Often the heads of diversity programs are not experienced recruiters. As a result they tend to use very traditional tools. Because the world of recruiting and the way that people conduct job searches have changed dramatically in the last few years, it is important to constantly explore new approaches and strategies. Many diversity programs have developed a bad habit of copying each other. This may be a safe strategy, but it also means that any particular company’s approach is unlikely to vary much from its competitors. In recruiting, though, we know that the tools are most effective when you’re the only one using them. There is a significant advantage to innovating. Ways to innovate your recruiting strategies and tools include:

  • Differentiate yourself. In order to be successful you must avoid the cookie-cutter approach. Because inexperienced recruiters run many diversity programs, they are forced to develop and improve their programs by benchmarking (copying) other recruiting programs. The result is often a bland “inside the box” approach that is not only marginally effective but also fails to give your individual firm any competitive advantage. The key to success in recruiting is to differentiate, not copy, so develop unique and distinctive programs, slogans, and approaches.
  • Utilize technology. Currently employed people of all kinds have widespread access to the Internet, so identifying diverse candidates on their personal web page at niche Internet sites can be very effective. Unfortunately, most diversity programs over-rely on the more traditional face-to-face recruiting sources like job fairs and on-campus and diversity events. Face-to-face events are expensive, and because they occur infrequently they can have only marginal impact, while Internet recruiting can identify candidates everyday. Specifically, screening videos, profiles of diversity employees, frequently asked questions, and a listing of diversity awards are all easily utilized. Finally, visit candidates’ personal web pages and the chat rooms they frequent.
  • Less emphasis on the legal. Getting managers to buy in to diversity recruiting has been a long battle. Unfortunately, most of the arguments have been focused on the threat of a lawsuit rather than logic or economics. As a result, many diversity managers are accustomed to using the law as a “club,” which turns off hiring managers. Ironically, perhaps as a result of this long tradition, most diversity recruiters are paranoid about being sued. The net result of this paranoia is a culture of conservative approach to recruiting and an overemphasis on the law, documentation, and avoiding any potential lawsuits. What is needed is a more balanced approach that calculates the risks but also calculates the benefits of great diversity recruiting. Legal advice should be sought in identifying the realistic probabilities and costs related to being sued.
  • Increase the focus on closing the sale. Most recruiting programs (and diversity programs are no different) focus their efforts on finding and screening candidates. That’s fine if you are targeting people that are not in high demand. However, it’s almost impossible to keep top-performing diverse professionals hidden. The difficult part of diversity recruiting is not finding or even screening, it’s selling or convincing the candidate. In order to “close” these candidates you have to do your research into their job selection criteria. You must find out what criteria they will use to make their decision and then convince them that your job meets each of their decision criteria.

In order to be successful, DRP programs must gather data on what diverse candidates expect. Managers need to be educated and trained on how to close diversity candidates. Managers should also be given “side by side” offer comparison sheets, which allow them to see how their offer stacks up against other offers a diverse candidate is likely to get. Finally, whenever a diverse candidate accepts or rejects our offer, you need to do a post-mortem to understand what they liked and what they didn’t. It is absolutely essential to actively follow-through on recruiting efforts and follow-up with candidates, once offers or hires have been made. Unfortunately, many diversity recruiting managers (again because of their lack of training and experience in technical recruiting) don’t understand the need to build the company’s brand (image) as a great place to work for diverse people. Building a positive external brand can positively impact both the quantity and quality of diverse and non-diverse applicants alike by increasing the companies name recognition, visibility, and image. Since many diversity communities are tightly knit, word-of-mouth (a.k.a. viral marketing) is a relatively cheap and effective way of letting prospective applicants know what we have to offer. DRPs can build their brand by getting on great-place-to-work lists. The lists with the most impact include both of Fortune’s lists (diversity and “best companies to work for”) as well as the list in Working Woman magazine. The second element in diversity branding involves having your people management and diversity practices talked about in business and professional publications that your target audience reads. The third element of branding involves employee referrals. Having thousands of employees acting as evangelists telling their friends and acquaintances on a daily basis about your firm’s great diversity and people practices is one of the most effective marketing tools in recruiting. Next week, I’ll discuss the longer-term action steps you can take to improve your diversity recruiting program.

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