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On the Road to True D&I, You Need to Check All the Boxes

A checklist that every organization should consider when attempting to address D&I goals at the recruitment and hiring level.

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Posted On FEB 08, 2021 

True diversity and inclusion cannot be achieved overnight. Still, it’s fair to say that most HR professionals believe that organizations should be further along in accomplishing their D&I goals than they are right now.

In Canada, a 2019 D&I audit of public companies found only 4.4 percent of TSX-listed companies had a female CEO and only 5.5 percent of board seats in companies governed by the Canadian Business Corporations Act were held by visible minorities. Only seven of those board positions were held by directors of Indigenous descent.

Those results mirrored other countries as well. Globally, there are only 37 women running Fortune 500 companies which, lamentably, is an all-time high. Only four Black CEOs are counted among the United States’ top 500 companies, and Black leaders account for only 3 percent of executive or senior-level leadership roles at U.S. companies of 100 or more employees.

Why are so many companies struggling to make sustainable progress in both diversity and inclusion? Some of the world’s best thinkers in this area are still debating the nuts and bolts. But when you look at all the data, it seems that while most agree that D&I is a top priority, few make consistent efforts to achieve meaningful and lasting change.

In short, organizations are good at talking the D&I talk, but not so good at the walking part. A benchmark D&I study by PwC found that while three-quarters of respondents identified greater diversity and inclusion as a top goal, only one-third had specific programs dedicated to overcoming unconscious bias and only a quarter were actively training leaders in managing diverse populations.

Rebuild your approach to hiring

There are a lot of moving parts in a successful D&I program. In its broadest sense, it can refer to measures that help build a diversity of thought, a capacity for innovation and an environment of inclusion. These are capacities that are achieved by having a diversity of voices at all levels of an organization.

But as it applies to talent acquisition and development, D&I is often viewed as an effort to improve the overall racial and gender diversity of your hires. If you do not broaden diversity at that critical level of the talent ecosystem, it will be hard to change the D&I profile of your organization.

However, many organizations employ screening tools to streamline the applicant review process that inadvertently result in under-represented candidates to self-select out. Others use language or tools that consciously or unconsciously trip up candidates from under-represented groups.

The following is a checklist that every organization should consider when attempting to address D&I goals at the recruitment and hiring level.

1) Define diversity goals. It’s important to remember that within each organization, there are different offices, units, and teams that each have different D&I challenges and goals. You must define what increased diversity means for each distinct component before you can set goals for the larger organization. If you have built a diverse team in some areas, the focus must be on taking steps to galvanize it as part of organizational culture; in areas where there has been less progress, the strategy and tools must be different.

2) Describe the job and the work, not the person. By now, most progressive organizations understand that far too many job postings use language designed to describe a person and not the job that needs to be filled, or the type of work that is involved. When we unconsciously use words that are signals to certain kinds of candidates, we are ultimately limiting the diversity of the talent pool we attract. For example, studies have shown that the word “driven” in a job posting resonates a lot with men, but discourages women from applying. On the other hand, women tend to be drawn to applying for jobs when the word “inspiring” is included. It should be a top priority for all D&I programs to avoid terms or descriptions that only attract candidates who look and sound like hiring managers, or that discourage under-represented groups from applying. 

3) Broaden the concept of candidate qualifications. Achieving D&I goals will require organizations to think outside the box when listing job qualifications. Holding too firmly to a specific list of qualifications or requiring someone to have held the exact same role in another company, drastically limits your talent pool and makes it much more likely that you will only draw candidates who look and sound a lot like the folks you already employ. Focus less on former job titles and focus more on compatible or complementary skills that describe the qualities needed to fill a specific job, as opposed to rigid and specific qualifications.

4) Measure all stages of the process. You need to establish metrics for all stages of the recruitment and hiring process, from initial posting to screening and interviews. These metrics establish targets for increasing the number of under-represented groups in the slate of candidates as they move through the hiring process: identification, screening and the various iterations of interviews. Critically, it embeds accountability in the hiring manager and recruitment team throughout the process. This approach is much more successful in boosting the number of people from under-represented groups in final hiring decisions, which makes it more sustainable than simply slapping a quota on the final hiring result. 

5) Ensure diversity is reflected in the hiring team. There is no getting around the fact that a lack of diversity in a group of hiring managers will ultimately frustrate attempts to increase hiring diversity. That is not a condemnation of hiring managers, per se. Decades of research has established that – consciously or unconsciously – we are much more likely to hire someone who looks and sounds like us. In fact, a lack of diversity among hiring managers is still considered one of the biggest barriers to increasing organizational diversity. So, if you want to see 20 percent of candidates from under-represented groups, you may need to ensure that 20 percent of hiring managers are from under-represented groups.

6) “Fit” has become the “f-word” in recruitment. There was a time when the term “fit” was the buzzword for hiring managers. The theory was that it didn’t make sense to hire someone who didn’t align with an organization’s pre-established culture or philosophy. However, it didn’t take long for HR professionals to realize that “fit” also served as a huge barrier to both diversity and inclusion. If you have a set of pre-determined organizational values and qualities, then you’re going to be destined to hire people who are very similar to the people you already employ. Organizations need to challenge their preconceptions about culture and values to attract a more diverse talent pool. By definition, improving an organization’s approach to diversity and inclusion requires cultural change, and this is one of the best places to start.

7)  Hiring is a two-way street. In terms of talent recruitment, it’s important to note that most people want to work in a place where they won’t be the only person who looks and sounds like them. Candidates who see themselves reflected in the senior leadership of an organization will have more faith that the organization will be inclusive of them and will see for themselves equal opportunity to pursue paths for development and promotion. Organizations that lack the obvious signs of progress on D&I may ultimately miss out on hiring top talent from under-represented groups.

Meaningful improvement in D&I starts with meaningful improvements in your recruitment and hiring process. As organizations face a long-overdue reckoning with the cultures and mechanisms that have excluded under-represented groups, many leaders have found themselves unsure where to start. In large part, the starting point is making a deliberate decision to transform words into actions and invest in change that will impact all aspects of a business.

The good news is that there are practical, immediate measures you can take to ensure, at a minimum, that you’re attracting a much more diverse talent pool. These measures won’t solve the problem, but it will help you make the first step towards real D&I progress.