Black Jobs Matter Too – An Opportunity To Fix Diversity Hiring

Dr. John Sullivan and Michael Cox

The impact of the Black Lives Matter movement may be limited to changes in police tactics. But why not broaden its impact so that it reduces our record high Black unemployment by finally fixing corporate diversity recruiting. In our view, it’s time for corporate leaders to do their part in the diversity area they can best impact, employment opportunities. African-American leaders have long acknowledged the importance of making economic and employment gains. The issue is especially critical now because the unemployment rate is currently 16.8% among black workers, the highest rate in more than a decade.

Simultaneously, the corporate contribution toward resolving this economic issue has unfortunately decreased because of layoffs, furloughs, and hiring freezes. For corporate leaders, we suggest that their first step should finally acknowledge that permanently increasing diversity hiring is part of their corporate social responsibility. And because of its ROI, it’s also in their own business interest. Their next step should be acknowledging that the problem will never be fixed until corporations permanently fix their perpetually underperforming diversity hiring process.

Current Corporate Diversity Hiring Gets A Failing Grade

It’s certainly true that corporations have recently become more transparent in reporting information about their diversity results. Overall, we have still concluded that corporate diversity hiring efforts can only be given an F grade. In fact, one study assessed over 600 companies, and only 3% were rated excellent in their diversity performance.

First off, corporations deserve this harsh criticism because they routinely define diversity hiring success in terms of program features and effort and not actual hiring results. So, when you read their PR information on diversity, they often define success or progress using phrases that have nothing to do with results. They brag, “we have a formal program,” or they state that “we spent this much” or they say that “we have set diversity goals.” Unfortunately, they never reveal that the goals that they set were ridiculously low or that most of their diversity hiring occurred in lower level non-exempt jobs. And with a few notable exceptions, their actual numerical hiring results are not revealed.

The dollar impacts of diversity hiring are also not part of any financial report. However, when you look at the African-American representation in the roles that can’t be hidden, including CEOs, executives, or board members, their numerical hiring results universally fail to match their rhetoric. 

Next Acknowledge That The Diversity Hiring Process Is Broken 

After examining the diversity hiring processes at many major firms (including Google, HP, and other tech firms) it’s easy to see why these programs are so ineffective. First, rather than being data-driven, they rely on historical past practices. To avoid having to change, they instantly come up with a dozen non-factual supported reasons why they won’t work. Most diversity programs produce mediocre results because they lack the courage to directly poach talent directly from their competitors. And because they are run on intuition, diversity hiring programs do not have any metrics on the quality of hire or for identifying conscious or unconscious biases throughout the hiring process. Finally, most programs completely lack marketing and market research expertise, so they can’t identify or meet the needs of each major diversity segment. Overall, it seems that most HR leaders simply seem to be satisfied with showing their corporate executives that “we are doing something.”

Top 10 Actions For Dramatically Improving Your Diversity Hiring Results

Most corporate diversity recruiting programs are so broken that there are literally dozens of improvement areas. However, the actions that have had the highest impact involve making the diversity recruiting and hiring process more businesslike. Almost all of these “more businesslike actions” involve the use of data to identify weak traditional recruiting practices and then replacing them with more modern and effective ones.

  1. Start with a zero-based budgeting approach. In most organizations, so much of the diversity hiring process is broken that it’s essential that you start off with a cynical mindset. A key element of that mindset is the allocation of resources using a zero-based budgeting approach. Under this method, every diversity program and tool must re-justify itself every year with data showing that it is superior to doing nothing or the available alternative approaches. When diversity recruiting has a limited budget, its resources and recruiting talent must be allocated to areas that have the highest ROI and impacts on diversity hiring results.
  2. A data-driven approach to decision-making is essential. The leaders of diversity recruiting must be committed to 100% data-driven decision-making. Specifically, that means that all decisions related to determining attraction factors, what sources to use, candidate screening criteria, and the best ways to assess and sell candidates must all be made based on data. Those that insist on making program decisions based on emotion or traditional practices must be phased out. Diversity recruiting can be dramatically improved if data is collected and used for decisions in candidate research data, best sources, and candidate job offers.
  3. You must measure, reward, and recognize diversity hiring results. Hiring managers are ultimately responsible for all hiring and most hiring steps. They must be proactively influenced so that they religiously follow the recruiting protocols and that they devote the necessary time for quality diversity hiring. The best way to influence them is to periodically measure and widely report every manager’s diversity hiring results. To further increase their focus, managers that excel must also be significantly rewarded and recognized for their results. One of the criteria for promotion to the next level should also be a manager’s track record of diversity hiring results. Executives, hiring managers, and employees must also be excited, so they should be educated on the many positive business impacts that result from great diversity hiring that reflects your customer base. 
  4. Identify the weak points in your hiring funnel. Prioritize your process repair efforts. Recruiting leaders must systematically use data to identify the weak points in their hiring funnel. This means identifying whether your lack of final hiring results are caused by 1) a lack of candidates applying or 2) by having candidates drop out at key points in your hiring process. Or 3) at what points in the funnel are many qualified candidates being inaccurately screened out by a flaw in your screening process. In the cases where flawed hiring managers are the problem, consider utilizing a hiring committee, blind resumes/interviews, or requiring a diverse candidate on every finalist interview slate. Obviously, after focusing on the most damaging ones, all of the remaining flaws, delays, and roadblocks should be eventually minimized.
  5. Data-driven sourcing is essential. Sourcing is often the most critical diversity recruiting step because if quality candidates don’t ever formally apply, your chances of hiring them go to zero. Start your sourcing by identifying the best source for finding experienced diverse prospects. Almost always it’s directly poaching experienced diverse talent that is currently working at your competitors. Because the source is so valuable, only hire and keep leaders and recruiters that have both the skills and the courage to poach. Of course, run the numbers at your firm but most find that the remaining best diversity sources are employee referral programs that target diversity prospects. Followed by boomerang rehires, a talent pipeline, traditionally black colleges, and the military. The talent pipeline approach assigns a recruiter to each “exceeds qualifications” diverse candidate that was not hired for this job. Next, the recruiter keeps in touch and continues to sell them until the next relevant job opens up. Then the recruiter recommends them to each new hiring manager until they are eventually placed at your firm. 
  6. A marketing approach is needed to successfully attract and sell the best. Because the best diversity recruits are in high demand, it takes an exceptional marketing effort to attract and sell them. Therefore, the best diversity recruiting leaders have a marketing and market research background. Rather than assuming that they know what factors best attract different diversity market segments, these data-driven recruiters best oversee quantified market research that identifies the candidate attraction/selling factors for each individual diversity market segment instead of lumping all diverse candidates together. They use candidate surveys to identify the most effective content for their recruitment/brand marketing materials, job descriptions, and job postings. Recruitment marketers also use marketing data to determine where this recruiting information will be most likely read, heard, or seen by your target prospects.
  7. Don’t allow hiring managers to use unproven assessment criteria. No hiring criteria should be used that doesn’t positively correlate with higher on-the-job performance. Unfortunately, individual hiring managers are usually responsible for the single error that allows the largest amount of conscious and unconscious bias to creep into the hiring process. This error occurs when you let individual managers create and use their own subjective “screen in” and “screen out” selection criteria. Minimize their misuse of freedom by only allowing the use of interview questions that have been predetermined to directly relate to a required skill/experience. Also, require all resume and interview assessors to fill out a fixed assessment checklist that doesn’t allow judgments outside of the listed selection criteria. 
  8. Require failure analysis. All excellent recruiting processes analyze each major hiring success in order to determine which elements of the screening process were most accurate (so they can be emphasized next time). In diversity recruiting failure analysis, your hiring process periodically surveys or interviews a random number of prospects, applicants, candidates, finalists, and new hires and asks them to identify what must be improved and what should be done more often. Whenever a top diversity applicant was not hired, they also conduct failure analysis to determine the root causes of each of those failures. Commonly identified failure points often include inappropriate interviewer questions, time to fill, unconscious biases, and failing to meet the final candidate’s job acceptance criteria.
  9. Avoid an overreliance on credentials. Unfortunately, it’s often a fact of corporate life that diverse employees routinely receive less development and career opportunities. This means that even though they can do the job that they are applying for, a disproportionately high number of diverse candidates won’t have the years of experience, the perfect job title, or the most desirable educational opportunities. To avoid prematurely screening out a disproportionate number of diverse candidates, you will need to ensure that your recruiters and hiring managers don’t prematurely reject candidates based on missing credentials that don’t actually predict on-the-job success. You can minimize any focus on unnecessary credentials by reducing the emphasis on these credentials. Or, by giving each candidate a real problem to solve, to determine which ones can actually do the job despite their perceived lack of credentials. If you’re unsure of the credentials, you can also hire individuals on a contract basis, to provide more time to accurately assess their capabilities while they are working.
  10. Hire recruiters/recruiting leaders with a proven diversity hiring track record. Intuitively, you might assume that recruiters that are diverse themselves would automatically produce better diversity hiring results. Unfortunately, the data does not support that assumption. Instead hire and retain recruiting leaders and recruiters that have a continuous track record of using data to reach diversity hiring success. Also, learn from them and reward them handsomely for continually producing results in jobs with a history of low diversity representation.

Final Thoughts

It’s clear that the recent Black Lives Matter protests have raised everyone’s awareness of the value of diversity in our communities. From our perspective, that impression should be built upon in the business world. And as a result, now is also an opportune time for corporate executives to renew their commitment to diversity hiring. Obviously, because everyone is currently watching, but also because of the strong ROI business case that demonstrates diversity’s positive impact on business results and innovation. If you are to have any reasonable chance of producing the needed and desired diversity hiring results, your executives need to be warned that the current corporate diversity recruiting process will need to be completely deconstructed. Let’s work together to permanently solve this diversity hiring problem.

Author’s Note: If this article stimulated your thinking and provided you with actionable tips, please take a moment to follow and/or connect with Dr. Sullivan on LinkedIn and subscribe to his weekly article on Aggressive Recruiting.

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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