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Startup - May 25, 2018

Moving Beyond the Numbers

How to Recruit and Retain a Diverse Workforce

To be a successful business in today’s culture you need to create an environment of inclusion. Incorporate ideas from other cultures to solve problems and be more innovative.

Recruiting a Diverse Workforce

One of the many lessons of the 2012 presidential election is that the U.S.’s population is becoming increasingly diverse. It’s no longer a question of when the workforce will change. It already has. There’s been a huge influx of women, people of color and immigrants in the workforce in the last 25 years. Diversity is not just a “good idea” today. It’s a business imperative if you want to stay competitive, innovative and secure a larger market share. Executives are asking themselves, “How do we recruit, engage and retain that diverse workforce?” In order to answer it, we need to identify common diversity mistakes, perceived obstacles, best practices by other organizations, and then determine the solutions that work best for yours.

Common Mistakes in Diversity Recruitment

Organizations make two common mistakes that cause them to fall behind their competition and even lose market share:

Company Photo Diversity
The organization only considers the visible dimensions of diversity, primarily race and gender. The company photo looks good but everyone thinks the same. Differences that include sexual orientation, geographic background, thinking and communication style, work function, ability and disability, religion, and work style are not valued, and may even be discouraged. “Photo Diversity” is a very narrow definition and offers little or no value to the organization in terms of new ideas, creativity and innovation.

Diversity by Numbers
Again diversity is defined by what you see. Demographics reflect the outside community but it’s only at the lower levels (production and unskilled labor). There’s little or no diversity in upper management. When questioned about diversity in their organization, leaders point to all the numbers. Every year they have “good numbers,” but the people are constantly changing. Employees leave and get jobs where diversity is valued at all levels within a given organization, are encouraged to move up the corporate ladder, and where there aren’t any so-called glass ceilings to success.

Addressing the Issues

To be a successful business in today’s culture you need to create an environment of inclusion where people feel valued and integrated into a company’s mission, vision and business strategy at all levels. When employees’ skills and knowledge are recognized, appreciated and utilized, they’re more engaged in contributing to an organization’s success. They’re more willing to go the extra mile, share ideas and innovation. The visible and invisible dimensions of diversity they bring are used as resources for success and growth. In order to create an inclusive work environment, you need a diverse workforce.

First, your firm needs to clarify its definition of diversity. Include the visible as well as the invisible dimensions. Conduct a culture assessment of your organization, department or function using focus groups, interviews or surveys. Determine which of these methods will be most appropriate. Get feedback from customers and identify the needs of any potential market groups.
Secondly, develop a strategy and implementation plan for creating diversity/culture change initiative.Any culture change must be driven by senior management and include the whole organization. Address all systems and processes including recruitment, employee engagement, retention, promotion and performance evaluation.

Three common reasons why organizations “drop the ball” and don’t move forward:

Analysis and Data Nullification – When the assessment is completed and data is analyzed, leadership is in denial about the results. Employees lose any trust or hope developed as a result of participating in the assessment. Leadership places blame on employees for having “hidden agenda.”

Shortcut Solutions – Leadership listens to the report and decides that hiring a member from one of the underrepresented groups is the answer. It conducts an executive search for best and brightest and declares the solution found. There is no need and no time for any long-term strategy.

Diversity Holding Patterns– Executive leadership holds a strategy meeting, which results in “good ideas” or long-term vision, but there is no process of accountability or steps to implement specific actions. Other than discussing the need for more diversity in the organization, there are no plans to change employee recruiting and retention methods.

How to Recruit, Engage and Retain a Diverse Workforce


If you’re serious about implementing a diversity/culture change initiative, you must create a diverse pool of candidates. If you always recruit from the same places, with the same methods, you’ll always get the same types of candidates. There’s still the complaint phrase, “We looked all over and just can’t find anyone …” In today’s competitive market you need to be creative.You have to go where the candidates are and have a long enough lead-time to get a good selection of them.

  • Begin to recruit from middle and high schools. Attend career days and come prepared to discuss the benefits of working for your organization and your industry. Goldman Sachs began a program in 1998 called “GS Scholars” to introduce high school students from historically underrepresented groups to introduce interest and educate them to business and finance as a career.Employers from the publishing industry have participated in career days and gone into middle schools in racially diverse areas to interest students in book and newspaper publishing.When GE Nuclear couldn’t find enough qualified college graduates in nuclear engineering, itsent recruiters to high schools to get people interested in the field before they even attended college.
  • Identify new ways of reaching target markets. For example, in 2002, Nurses for a Healthier Tomorrow, a non-profit coalition of 37 nursing and health care organizations, ran promotions in 436 movie theaters before such movies as “Spiderman” and “Star Wars” to reach a younger market that might not have thought about nursing as a career.
  • Research and develop a list of colleges that historically have large numbers of women, people with disabilities, and people from different cultural, ethnic and racial backgrounds. Send your recruiters to those schools.
  • Contact various student groups on mainstream campuses and ask them to suggest the best candidates or include notices about your organization in their newsletters or other vehicles for communication. Develop relationships with college campus’ diversity related organizations:Black Student Union; Native American Students Organization; Asian-American Student Union; Movimiento Estudiantil Chican@ de Aztlán (MEChA);Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) organizations, etc., and sponsor some of their events. Send a diversity team to meet with people at schools and other recruiting sites to build relationships with your organization so your firm will be the company of choice for students to apply to work.
  • Develop relationships with diverse community organizations and let them know about the opportunities in your organization. Sponsor events such as Juneteenth, Cinco de Mayo, Gay Pride, Chinese New Year and Disability Awareness Month. For example, one of the world’s leading premium beverage firms, Diageo, sponsored events during Gay Pride Week in San Francisco, and has used marketing and public relations professionals who specialize in the LGBT market. Sodexho, a food and facilities management services company, in partnership with the U.S.Pan-Asian American Chamber of Commerce and the Sodexho Pan Asian Network Group, set up scholarships for Asian American college juniors who are also involved in community service organizations.
  • Your criteria for interviewing and hiring should be based primarilyon qualifications; not just because you’re more comfortable with people who went to the same school, are the same religion, same race, same gender or sexual orientation. Have a diverse panel conduct interviews so you can get other’s perspectives.
  • Include diversity as part of your mission statement and display it on your website, social media sites and marketing materials. One of the first things potential recruits do in researching your company is look at your website. If it doesn’t specifically point out your firm’s dedication to show its high value for diversity, there’s a good chance a recruit will look elsewhere. Diversified Maintenance Services, a facilities service organization, mentions the diversity of their management team in the first sentence of its mission statement. “Diversified Maintenance Services, Inc., (DMS), has a diverse multicultural management team with decades of combined management experience, unique in their unparalleled vision and expertise.”
  • Let suppliers and vendors that champion diversity know of any available positions and ask them for referrals.
  • When using outside recruiters tell them you want a diverse group of candidates and have them show you their track record. There are executive recruiting organizations like the Elliot Group and Diverse Connections that can help you.
  • Identify stereotypes of people who work in your industry and develop strategies for changing perceptions (i.e.,firefighting should only be a male occupation).Johnson & Johnson created a “Discover Nursing” campaign featuring male and ethnically diverse nurses in TV commercials.
  • Use more inclusive language and visuals recruiting materials in employee handbooks, orientation, materials, etc. Make sure all pronouns gender neutral.
  • Develop relationships with such ethnically diverse professional associations and organizations as Black MBA, Asian MBA, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Society of Women Engineers, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Commercial Real Estate for Women, HACE (Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement), LGBT, etc. Get their event calendars and attend their conferences. Even if you’re not hiring immediately, talk with people, and get the contact information of potential recruits for the future.
  • Advertise in magazines such as “Hispanic,”“Black MBA,”“Asian Week,”“Working Women,”“Latina,”“Out” and “AARP” as well as mainline economic journals and online publications. Use online recruiting websites that are used by different employee groups such as Recruitablity and http://www.monster.com
  • Rethink your beliefs that candidates should always have direct eye contact, be a certain weight or height, speak the way you do, have children, be single, lead in only one way, not be in a wheelchair, not be hearing impaired. Unless there are actual physical requirements to being able to do the job, don’t let your biases exclude excellent candidates.
  • Use the media to alert potential employees that you are a welcoming, inclusive employer.
  • Always send a recruiting team that’s been trained in diversity and inclusion awareness and that’s willing to go beyond its comfort zone to attract the best candidates. The Compass Group, a hospitality and facilities management firm, trains its recruiters to communicate and interest diverse candidates. The firm’s executives know its recruiters are its front line; how they interact with potential candidates can be the deciding factor in how or if potential candidates will follow up.

Engagement and Retention

  • Create an information process informing all of your employees about open positions, and make it easy to apply. Be open to giving opportunities to people who are different than you. Become conscious of any biases you may have about other cultures, communication styles, and decision-making processes.
  • Advertise your diversity initiative throughout the organization so the word gets out that your environment is a great place for everyone to work. Identify any changes your organization has made regarding diversity and how diversity goals are being met. Major firms such as PricewaterhouseCoopers and WellPoint advertise in “Diversity, Inc.,” and market the diversity of their employees as a strength. This not only increases their customer base but it helps promote them as employers of choice.
  • Be aware of your own biases and stereotypes and their impact on the environment. Participate in high-level diversity training.
  • Mentor people who are from different cultural or ethnic backgrounds or gender from you. It will help you become more comfortable with other people and will help your staff grow in their careers.
  • Incorporate ideas from other cultures to solve problems and be more innovative.
  • Use resources that are already in place and research what other organizations have done to be successful. Develop relationships with employee affinity groups and keep them apprised of any openings.
  • Provide cross-cultural communication training to help staff work well together and serve the client population more effectively.
  • Survey and interview staff across diverse demographics to determine their needs in order to create a strategic plan for retention and increased recruitment under-represented populations.
  • Create processes to make people who are different feel welcome and included in your organization.
  • Examine your definition of leadership qualities to include ways in which people that have different thought processes and communication styles can lead. If you’ve been hierarchical in the past, start learning that people with consensus styles can also be effective leaders; don’t exclude them from the recruiting process.
  • Conduct exit interviews and identify patterns and themes if they exist. Be willing to change to accommodate and use new ideas and creativity.

The Seal of the United States often displays the idealistic phrase, “e pluribus unum,” Latin for “out of many, one.” It was adopted by Congress in 1782, just five years after a young America ratified its Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. Centuries later, we’ve still not achieved this lofty philosophy in real-time practice, yet our country’s founders envisioned a society that was inclusive to all. Your business should do the same.

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