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In 2020, our firm undertook a focused recruiting effort to increase the diversity of our applicant pools and ultimately our staff.
Since implementing the changes I’ll describe shortly, we experienced a dramatic improvement in the diversity of our applicant pools, going from 25-30% in 2020 to 45-50% in 2021. Through four hiring processes so far this year, we are on track to hire over 50% of new hires who identify as a person of color (from 25% in 2020). One applicant expressed how welcomed and heard they felt from their first reading of the job description and through our interview steps.
The rationale for hiring diverse teams is well-documented — but getting there takes work. Here are the three main steps we took to begin making progress to become a more diverse organization.
1. Scrap traditional job descriptions.
We evolved our job descriptions from being a way to screen people out and instead a tool to bring people in. We have two main goals with our descriptions. The first is to help candidates see themselves in the role and get excited about it). And second is to signal that bias won’t impact their hiring chances.
We achieved this through three main changes.
First, we scrapped the checklist of qualifications. Instead, we now paint a picture of life in the role that helps candidates see themselves in the position. Lists of specific skills and experience can trigger imposter syndrome and make some people hesitant to apply. We now position “qualifications” at a higher level, focusing on attributes and traits required for success. We only include skills if they are specifically needed to do the job. We also paint a picture of what to expect during the first 90 days and first year in the role, including what they will do, learn, and accomplish.
Second, we list the salary. Literally, we say what we will pay. We have a budget and can benchmark with the market, so we just tell people how much we will pay for each position. Asking for salary expectations or using coded language like “commensurate with experience” can leave some applicants assuming bias will creep into salary decisions.
Finally, we tell people of color that we want them to apply. We created a strong, direct diversity statement that is true to our business, and include it right up front in the first or second paragraph of the posting. Just as the order of qualifications lists implicitly signals their relative importance, so does where your diversity message appears.
Always remember to ask for help to develop your job descriptions. We all have blind spots based on our identities, so ask folks from different backgrounds for feedback. Different perspectives are critical to inclusive writing.
2. Revisit your pipeline.
Our networks tend to look just like us, so we needed to reach out to different, diverse networks for recruiting. We decide not to expect diverse candidates to be where we are, and instead go to them.
We reviewed our hiring data and stopped posting where we knew mostly white candidates would apply. “Productive” sources that flooded our pool with homogenous applicants were detrimental to building diversity. Instead, we looked for sites like national industry groups for professionals of color.
For roles well-aligned for recent graduates, we share postings with more diverse institutions with relevant degree programs. We now post with HBCUs and at more diverse local and state institutions.
We also ask our staff to share postings with their diverse networks. We encourage our diverse staff to share the role with their networks, while giving other employees specific language that explicitly says that we encourage diverse applicants.
And remember, if after a few weeks the initial candidate pool isn’t attracting enough diversity, don’t give in to the temptation to post on more traditional homogeneous sources to get more applicants. Stick with it, slow the hiring process, and figure out other recruiting strategies to find more diverse applicants.
3. Hire for diversity.
Even with diverse applicant pools, we found our hiring process also lacked inclusivity, so we changed how we interview and select applicants.
We now include a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) focused staff member throughout the process to support the interview team. A member of our internal DE&I working group is involved with each step in the process with the explicit goal of identifying bias and bringing a more holistic view of the candidates at each decision point.
We also prompt our hiring teams to check their implicit bias. Before the interview and before submitting feedback, we ask each interviewer to pause for one to two minutes, take a few breaths, and reflect on any biases they may bring to the interview. We believe people are well-intentioned and that they don’t want to make biased decisions. The simple act of this mindful reflection will help them see any bias and think about the candidates in a deeper, fairer way.
We also developed standard questions for all the interviews to minimize bias from shared identities and generate more insightful feedback. We didn’t want to see phrases like, “I can just see them here” in the feedback. We created questions that every candidate received, all designed to generate more objective feedback.
Finally, we removed hiring decisions from any one individual to help remove in-group bias from our decisions. Our DE&I lead meets with the interviewers in each round to advance candidates and then the entire hiring team meets at the end to discuss the finalists and decide on a hiring recommendation. While a single person can still retain the final decision, a group hiring recommendation helps ensure multiple perspectives are included and provides a more holistic view of the selected candidate.
All of what I have described above are simple steps that may also seem daunting for some organizations. You may not get this right the first time, and you will make mistakes along the way.
Treat each hiring process as a learning opportunity, be open to feedback from your team, and ask for help on this journey. Real progress in creating more diverse teams and a more inclusive hiring process is within reach.