The Law Handcuffs Efforts to Drive Diversity (and That’s OK)

A variety of current and looming legal developments will be impacting your job as a recruiting professional — from managing vaccine mandates to creating accommodations to closing the wage gap. At the same time, navigating an ever-evolving legal landscape can often seem confusing and overwhelming. 

At ERE Digital, Sept. 23-24, Willis Towers Watson Head of North American Recruitment Rob Navarrete will be part of a panel discussion titled “Navigating the Newest Legal Developments Impacting Recruiting.” Rob recently spoke to ERE about some of his views on diversity hiring and how, perhaps ironically, the law ends up handcuffing TA pros eager to infuse their companies with greater diversity. 

ERE: What do you want people to know most about the intersection of the law and diversity hiring?

Rob: Well let me start by pointing out that in certain industries, like insurance for example, white man are the dominant demographic. Understandably, then, in the spirit of D&I, there’s a desire by many TA and business leaders to create more diversity. Too often, though, the talent supply chain remains dominated by white men in those industries.

Now, I know that this will seem odd to hear, but legislative requirements can work against companies trying to create more diverse workforces. Don’t get me wrong. I think laws have rightful purposes. I’m just saying that we should acknowledge that it would be easy to say something like, “For this role, I want to hire a person of color” to create greater diversity. But it doesn’t work that way. The law doesn’t allow that. You still have to cast a wide net that’s inclusive of all dimensions. You cannot target one particular group. You absolutely still need a fair hiring process that actually shows that you are casting a wide net. Still, though, the law does create a layer of handcuffs to drive change.

One might argue that the law exists to prevent discrimination but not more actively encourage diversity hiring. 

Laws are important, but we cannot rely on them to build diversity inside organizations. That’s why it’s important for companies to proactively find diverse talent through a variety of actions. For instance, you can ensure you’re casting a wide net when searching for early-career talent at universities — and then make sure that your leadership and rotational programs and helps promote diverse people inside your company to inspire more talent to join your company.

What’s been your experience with company leaders when it comes to commitment to diversity hiring?

I’m a member of three dimensions of diversity — Latinx, LGBTQ+, and people with disabilities. So first, perhaps I’m someone who is especially attuned to the importance of diversity hiring. No surprise, I guess, that someone who identifies as I do would be a champion of diversity. 

But I’ll tell you something: It’s been really gratifying for me to see that many of the biggest champions of diversity aren’t only people like me. They are white colleagues who are also trying really hard to push the needle forward to make change happen. It’s nice — and critical — to have people who are from the dominant demographic trying to create opportunities for people like me. 

Can you please talk about some of the most effective ways to improve diversity hiring?

One practice is to have interview panels that are themselves diverse. Having a woman, or a person with disabilities, or a person of color, or someone who is from any number of groups engaging directly with candidates can be very helpful not just in demonstrating to candidates a commitment to diversity. It can also lead to hiring diverse people. 

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And of course, there are some of the other usual tactics, like recruitment marketing that highlights diverse employees. It can be impactful to have colleagues create their own videos sharing their personal stories.

The other thing that comes to mind is doing work around language — how you communicate with various demographics. For example, we’ll use gender-neutral language to ensure job posts resonate well with female candidates. Many employees will also use pronouns in signatures. 

I imagine measurement is also important.

Very important. We look at diversity at multiple stages of the funnel so that we can see where our efforts are working and where we could be making more impact. Looking at diversity hiring ratios is extremely important — if they aren’t changing in a positive way, then we can see if there are perhaps systemic barriers in the process.

I can tell you that when I joined Willis Towers Watson in 2020, I started pulling data and quickly realized that we didn’t have a high percentage of diverse candidates applying for jobs. Our talent supply chain was dominated by white men early in the process. However, I also saw that as diverse candidates were progressing through later stages, their percentages increased. That was good. It means that hiring managers were seriously considering a wide range of candidates for roles. Still, though, it was clear that we needed a more effective talent attraction strategy to increase top-of-funnel effort. This involved taking actions like ensuring our job posts were written with inclusive language and finding partners to help us achieve our objectives.

Going back to what you said earlier, it would’ve been far easier to simply say, “We’re going to hire a woman or a Black person or whomever for this role.” But of course, the law doesn’t allow what some would call reverse — 

Reverse discrimination. Exactly. And it’s not something we’d want as an organization either. Ultimately, we’re not looking for one type of candidate anyway. We really are trying to attract a wide variety of talent.


Want to hear more from Rob? Experience his panel discussion, Navigating the Newest Legal Developments Impacting Recruiting,” live at ERE Digital, Sept. 23-24. Use code EREEMAIL50 to receive 50% off registration at www.ererecruitingconference.com

Vadim Liberman is editor of ERE.net and TLNT (the devil wears TJ Maxx) — a workplace renegade advancing how we think, work, and live. He has previously worked as a strategy consultant to HR and recruiting tech companies at The Starr Conspiracy, as a talent management professional at Prudential, and as senior editor of The Conference Board Review, a magazine for business leaders. Vadim loves to talk about all things HR, talent acquisition, and Bravo TV shows. Bring it!

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