Diversity Recruiting – What’s Wrong with it? Pretty Much Everything (Part 1 of 2)

DOT diversityIn case you missed it, there was a great deal of publicity generated recently when Google’s Laszlo Bock openly announced Google’s diversity numbers. Even Google was disappointed in them, but that shouldn’t be a surprise. Almost every major corporation struggles with meeting their diversity goals as a result of a poorly designed diversity recruiting effort that hasn’t changed much since the 1970s.

As a corporate recruiting expert, I continually analyze recruiting approaches of all types, and in my experience, diversity recruiting is the worst-performing one among all recruiting sub-programs. In fact, when people ask me “what’s wrong with diversity recruiting?” I quickly respond with “pretty much everything.” It’s sad that such a high-impact and well-intentioned effort simply has little chance of success because of its many design flaws.

These design flaws are numerous and the top 10 most impactful ones are listed below. The remaining 10 high-impact design flaw factors can be found in part two of this series.

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The Top 10 Highest-impact Diversity Recruiting Errors

  1. A weak business case — the most impactful design flaw by far is the failure to make a strong business case showing the direct correlation between increased diversity and team performance. You also need to be able to show that diversity recruiting produces the highest-performing hires (quality of hire) among all hires. Without seeing the direct dollar impact on bottom-line results of improving diversity, most managers simply won’t pay much attention to it (or any other HR effort). Without a demonstrated ROI, you are left with the two limited motivators of company diversity targets and personal pride. And the sad thing is, it’s relatively easy to show how increasing diversity in many roles directly increases business results. And at large companies, the potential impact is in the tens of millions of dollars.
  2. It is not data-driven — most current diversity recruiting components are unfortunately based on established practices, emotion, and what is politically popular. To put it directly, diversity is a hot political issue (even my critique of the status quo will be guaranteed to draw criticism) and changing it is difficult. This is in spite of the fact that we know that all business and recruiting processes are dramatically more effective when they are driven by data rather than emotion. In order to be successful, you must gather data to identify the critical success factors of effective diversity recruiting. You must also use facts and data to select the most effective sources, where you post your recruiting messages, what’s in those messages, and to identify the “job acceptance criteria” for your target diversity group. Data should drive every decision, including who should do the recruiting and which recruiting and branding approaches have the highest impact. Simply put, you need to take the emotion out of the process and replace it with a data-driven approach.
  3. Little market segmentation — the third most significant weakness of diversity recruiting is that we fail to view it as a “market segmentation problem.” We know from the marketing side of the business that you can’t successfully sell if you treat all targets the same. The fact that diversity includes such a wide range of segments including African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, women, gays, disabled people, etc. almost guarantees that any “one-size-fits-all” recruiting approach will fail. The superior approach (which was developed in product marketing) is to treat each subgroup as a micro-segment and recruit them using a customized data-driven approach. That means that you can expect a recruiting approach that works for African-Americans to also work for women and Hispanics. And within any subgroup of targets, you also must do market research to identify the different requirements for recruiting active job seekers versus passive ones. Without extensive market research surveys, interviews, and focus groups to continually update your knowledge of each micro group, your overall diversity numbers will inevitably continue to suffer. If you don’t understand market segmentation, bring in consumer market segmentation experts from your own firm and learn from them. If your diversity recruiters adopted a market research approach and use that data to drive recruiting, diversity results could go up by as much as 25 percent.
  4. Diversity referrals are managed poorly — in almost all corporations, both the highest volume of hires and the highest quality of hires (with the longest tenure) come from employee referrals. Although referral programs no longer have a negative impact on diversity, my research indicates that if you don’t specifically target diverse referrals and then provide extra recognition and rewards for them, your referral results will suffer dramatically. You need to give extra focus and rewards for diverse referral hires in the same manner that you currently do for higher-level and hard-to-fill jobs. Remember that positions also need to be prioritized, so that the most focus can be put on jobs that require the most diversity. Once you begin to successfully refer and hire diverse individuals, others will become more likely to accept becoming a referral.
  5. No rewards — what you measure and reward gets done. As a result, not holding individual managers accountable for hiring and retaining diverse individuals will directly reduce a firm’s diversity. If you make diversity results a significant part of performance appraisal, bonus criteria, and promotion criteria, your results will go up almost immediately. Tracking and widely reporting to all managers the diversity results of each individual manager and team will also have a direct and immediate impact as a result of a combination of embarrassment or competition. Just in case the business case isn’t a strong enough motivator, provide an array of additional individual and team motivators.
  6. Using the wrong recruiting tools — many diversity recruiting functions are tied into the use of “tried-and-true” recruiting tools like diversity job fairs and diversity organization sponsored events, even though they have little hard data proving that these tools produce superior results. What is needed is a recruiting source/tool selection mechanism that relies exclusively on data. In my experience, the most effective diversity recruiting tools are employee referrals, boomerang rehires, revisiting top prospects, recruiting at industry/functional association events, and reference referrals. In general it’s also true that diversity recruiting underuses social media, talent pipelines, and talent communities.
  7. Not alleviating their “will I fit?” fear — although all candidates need to be comfortable before they will apply at a firm, diverse prospects have a much higher level of fear about whether they will fit in at a firm. Because diverse individuals “are different” and they know that they are, their fear of not fitting in can be the primary deterrent holding back diverse applicants and candidates. If you are to minimize or eliminate their fear, you must use extensive market research to identify the unique set of fears among each diverse micro-group. Once you know their fears, you must put together counterarguments and information and then pretest them until they are proven to be effective. In some cases, you must go further and actually change the work and the work environment in order to ensure that diverse individuals will actually fit in after they are hired. Use glassdoor.com and similar sites to further identify all diversity related issues. So the key lesson to be learned is, that within the law, you must begin to treat diverse candidates and employees differently, because they are in fact different than the average worker.
  8. Not using data to select the best recruiters — many simply assume that the best recruiters are they themselves diverse individuals (because they can best relate to your recruiting targets). Although this is true in some cases, recruiting skills, capabilities, and their track record should instead be the primary criteria for selecting diversity recruiters. Obviously interaction with similar diverse individuals is critical, but it turns out that you can do that in a variety of ways with or without a diverse individual running the search. So if you really want great recruiting results, be more data-driven and assign those who always produce top recruiting results to that role, even if it’s not politically correct. And if you really care about diversity recruiting, reward recruiters when they produce above-average results and when they come up with new effective recruiting tools.
  9. A one-size-fits-all diverse groups recruiting approach will be ineffective – even when you are targeting a diversity subgroup like women, it’s quite common to use the same recruiting approach across all women targets. That’s a huge mistake because all effective recruiting needs to be personalized to the individual being targeted. Even within the category of “women,” some women are passive prospects, while others are active job seekers. What women want in their dream job varies widely because some women are career oriented, some have children, some are older, and some are just reentering the workforce. What this all means is that you must “customize” or personalize your recruiting approach for each individual diverse prospect and candidate. Obviously that is time-consuming, so it is essential that diversity recruiters have a lighter recruiting load so that they have more free time to personalize their approach. This will enable recruiters to spend more time finding out how to best reach this individual, what this individual’s job acceptance criteria are, and who will influence their acceptance decision.
  10. Afraid to poach — the most effective and direct recruiting strategy is to simply identify the best-performing diverse individuals who currently work at your talent competitors and simply lure them away. Unfortunately, few diversity recruiting leaders have the courage to directly target individuals or firms. It’s not illegal or unethical to raid firms for talent because firms raid their competitors’ customers all the time. If you’re not bold and you don’t have courage to poach this proven talent, you should not be in a leadership position in diversity recruiting.

Note: Next week in part two of this series, I will highlight the remaining 12 most common diversity recruiting design errors that negatively reduce diversity recruiting results.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," Staffing.org called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website www.drjohnsullivan.com and on www.ere.net. He lives in Pacifica, California.