Diversity Recruiting – What’s Wrong with it? Pretty Much Everything (Part 1 & 2 of 2)

In case you missed it, there was a great deal of publicity generated recently when Google’s Laszlo Bock openly announced Google’s diversity numbers. Even Google was disappointed in them, but that shouldn’t be a surprise. Almost every major corporation struggles with meeting their diversity goals as a result of a poorly designed diversity recruiting effort that hasn’t changed much since the 1970s.

As a corporate recruiting expert, I continually analyze recruiting approaches of all types, and in my experience, diversity recruiting is the worst-performing one among all recruiting sub-programs. In fact, when people ask me “what’s wrong with diversity recruiting?” I quickly respond with “pretty much everything.” It’s sad that such a high-impact and well-intentioned effort simply has little chance of success because of its many design flaws.

These design flaws are numerous and the top 10 most impactful ones are listed below. The remaining 10 high-impact design flaw factors can be found in part two of this series.

The Top 10 Highest-impact Diversity Recruiting Errors

  1. A weak business case — the most impactful design flaw by far is the failure to make a strong business case showing the direct correlation between increased diversity and team performance. You also need to be able to show that diversity recruiting produces the highest-performing hires (quality of hire) among all hires. Without seeing the direct dollar impact on bottom-line results of improving diversity, most managers simply won’t pay much attention to it (or any other HR effort). Without a demonstrated ROI, you are left with the two limited motivators of company diversity targets and personal pride. And the sad thing is, it’s relatively easy to show how increasing diversity in many roles directly increases business results. And at large companies, the potential impact is in the tens of millions of dollars.
  2. It is not data-driven — most current diversity recruiting components are unfortunately based on established practices, emotion, and what is politically popular. To put it directly, diversity is a hot political issue (even my critique of the status quo will be guaranteed to draw criticism) and changing it is difficult. This is in spite of the fact that we know that all business and recruiting processes are dramatically more effective when they are driven by data rather than emotion. In order to be successful, you must gather data to identify the critical success factors of effective diversity recruiting. You must also use facts and data to select the most effective sources, where you post your recruiting messages, what’s in those messages, and to identify the “job acceptance criteria” for your target diversity group. Data should drive every decision, including who should do the recruiting and which recruiting and branding approaches have the highest impact. Simply put, you need to take the emotion out of the process and replace it with a data-driven approach.
  3. Little market segmentation — the third most significant weakness of diversity recruiting is that we fail to view it as a “market segmentation problem.” We know from the marketing side of the business that you can’t successfully sell if you treat all targets the same. The fact that diversity includes such a wide range of segments including African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, women, gays, disabled people, etc. almost guarantees that any “one-size-fits-all” recruiting approach will fail. The superior approach (which was developed in product marketing) is to treat each subgroup as a micro-segment and recruit them using a customized data-driven approach. That means that you can expect a recruiting approach that works for African-Americans to also work for women and Hispanics. And within any subgroup of targets, you also must do market research to identify the different requirements for recruiting active job seekers versus passive ones. Without extensive market research surveys, interviews, and focus groups to continually update your knowledge of each micro group, your overall diversity numbers will inevitably continue to suffer. If you don’t understand market segmentation, bring in consumer market segmentation experts from your own firm and learn from them. If your diversity recruiters adopted a market research approach and use that data to drive recruiting, diversity results could go up by as much as 25 percent.
  4. Diversity referrals are managed poorly – in almost all corporations, both the highest volume of hires and the highest quality of hires (with the longest tenure) come from employee referrals. Although referral programs no longer have a negative impact on diversity, my research indicates that if you don’t specifically target diverse referrals and then provide extra recognition and rewards for them, your referral results will suffer dramatically. You need to give extra focus and rewards for diverse referral hires in the same manner that you currently do for higher-level and hard-to-fill jobs. Remember that positions also need to be prioritized, so that the most focus can be put on jobs that require the most diversity. Once you begin to successfully refer and hire diverse individuals, others will become more likely to accept becoming a referral.
  5. No rewards — what you measure and reward gets done. As a result, not holding individual managers accountable for hiring and retaining diverse individuals will directly reduce a firm’s diversity. If you make diversity results a significant part of performance appraisal, bonus criteria, and promotion criteria, your results will go up almost immediately. Tracking and widely reporting to all managers the diversity results of each individual manager and team will also have a direct and immediate impact as a result of a combination of embarrassment or competition. Just in case the business case isn’t a strong enough motivator, provide an array of additional individual and team motivators.
  6. Using the wrong recruiting tools — many diversity recruiting functions are tied into the use of “tried-and-true” recruiting tools like diversity job fairs and diversity organization sponsored events, even though they have little hard data proving that these tools produce superior results. What is needed is a recruiting source/tool selection mechanism that relies exclusively on data. In my experience, the most effective diversity recruiting tools are employee referrals, boomerang rehires, revisiting top prospects, recruiting at industry/functional association events, and reference referrals. In general it’s also true that diversity recruiting underuses social media, talent pipelines, and talent communities.
  7. Not alleviating their “will I fit?” fear — although all candidates need to be comfortable before they will apply at a firm, diverse prospects have a much higher level of fear about whether they will fit in at a firm. Because diverse individuals “are different” and they know that they are, their fear of not fitting in can be the primary deterrent holding back diverse applicants and candidates. If you are to minimize or eliminate their fear, you must use extensive market research to identify the unique set of fears among each diverse micro-group. Once you know their fears, you must put together counterarguments and information and then pretest them until they are proven to be effective. In some cases, you must go further and actually change the work and the work environment in order to ensure that diverse individuals will actually fit in after they are hired. Use glassdoor.com and similar sites to further identify all diversity related issues. So the key lesson to be learned is, that within the law, you must begin to treat diverse candidates and employees differently, because they are in fact different than the average worker.
  8. Not using data to select the best recruiters — many simply assume that the best recruiters are they themselves diverse individuals (because they can best relate to your recruiting targets). Although this is true in some cases, recruiting skills, capabilities, and their track record should instead be the primary criteria for selecting diversity recruiters. Obviously interaction with similar diverse individuals is critical, but it turns out that you can do that in a variety of ways with or without a diverse individual running the search. So if you really want great recruiting results, be more data-driven and assign those who always produce top recruiting results to that role, even if it’s not politically correct. And if you really care about diversity recruiting, reward recruiters when they produce above-average results and when they come up with new effective recruiting tools.
  9. A one-size-fits-all diverse groups recruiting approach will be ineffective – even when you are targeting a diversity subgroup like women, it’s quite common to use the same recruiting approach across all women targets. That’s a huge mistake because all effective recruiting needs to be personalized to the individual being targeted. Even within the category of “women,” some women are passive prospects, while others are active job seekers. What women want in their dream job varies widely because some women are career oriented, some have children, some are older, and some are just reentering the workforce. What this all means is that you must “customize” or personalize your recruiting approach for each individual diverse prospect and candidate. Obviously that is time-consuming, so it is essential that diversity recruiters have a lighter recruiting load so that they have more free time to personalize their approach. This will enable recruiters to spend more time finding out how to best reach this individual, what this individual’s job acceptance criteria are, and who will influence their acceptance decision.
  10. Afraid to poach – the most effective and direct recruiting strategy is to simply identify the best-performing diverse individuals who currently work at your talent competitors and simply lure them away. Unfortunately, few diversity recruiting leaders have the courage to directly target individuals or firms. It’s not illegal or unethical to raid firms for talent because firms raid their competitors’ customers all the time. If you’re not bold and you don’t have courage to poach this proven talent, you should not be in a leadership position in diversity recruiting.

Diversity Recruiting – What’s Wrong With It? Pretty Much Everything (Part 2 of 2)

In the first part of this series, I highlighted how a weak business case, not being data-driven, failing to segment your recruiting targets, and failing to effectively use employee referrals can severely reduce your diversity recruiting results. In this part II, I will complete the list of the common diversity program design errors and briefly highlight some recommended actions.

The Remaining 12 Most Common Diversity Recruiting Errors

The following are also powerful design errors that can negatively impact your diversity recruiting results. They are listed in descending order, based on their relative impact.

  1. Little sharing of best practices and integration – although many firms have excellent diversity recruiting practices that occur in various parts of their organization, many in my experience occur without the knowledge of corporate staff. If you really want excellence across your organization, you must increase the sharing of best practices. The most effective approach is to have a formal “best practice sharing” program for identifying and quickly spreading information across business units covering both problems and diversity recruiting solutions. If you want diversity recruiting to be really effective, the process must be fully integrated with all other people management and business processes.
  2. A slow hiring process – because the most qualified diversity candidates are in high demand, they are likely to get multiple offers soon after beginning their job search. That means that if you have a slow hiring process, the best diversity candidates will be long gone by the time you get around to making an offer. To avoid losing the best, you must have an accelerated hiring process that can hire diverse individuals faster than your competitors in some cases, in as little as one day.
  3. No one knows when the problems occurring — my research into recruiting failure shows that more than half of the recruiting problems or failures occur at one particular step in the recruiting process. So rather than looking at the entire diversity recruiting process as a monolith, you must do research to determine the primary failure points or steps where most of the problems occur. That means that you must use “root cause analysis” to determine whether you are not getting enough diverse applicants, or if they are being screened out at the resume or interview stage, if hiring managers are inaccurately screening them out, or whether they are dropping out on their own because your diversity recruiting process is too slow. In any case, you need to focus your remedial actions on the failure points with the highest negative impact.
  4. A “top-school” recruiting approach almost guarantees that you will miss out on diversity – the diversity percentage of the student population is low among the top schools that most corporations target in their college recruiting efforts. The diversity population is equally low among many of the targeted majors. Fortunately it turns out that if you broaden your focus away from a few top schools and majors, you can easily find and recruit a significant number of qualified and interested diverse graduates. Shifting to recruiting tools like remote recruiting at lesser-known schools, anonymous Internet-based technical contests, and offering students remote projects can all reveal the tremendous capability of diverse (and non-diverse) students who didn’t attend top schools or study under the “perfect” major.
  5. Not targeting high failure rates among managers and teams — at many firms overall diversity recruiting results are lagging primarily because certain individual managers or teams are disproportionately driving down diversity rates. If you track diversity and diversity recruiting by each individual manager, team, and business unit, you may find that you really only have a problem with a few managers or teams but that those error rates are so high that they are dragging down your overall results. So rather than fixing everything, you can focus only on those few problem managers and teams.
  6. Failing to hire when diverse talent is available — most hiring is initiated only after an opening occurs. This means that you essentially rely on “coincidence hiring,” which is when a top diversity candidate is coincidentally available precisely at the same time when you have an open job that fits them. However, a superior approach is to shift to a different model, where you hire whenever diverse talent is available. This “hire-when-available” approach requires that you develop a talent pipeline of pre-assessed and presold diversity candidates, so that when a pipeline candidate enters job search mode, you can hire them immediately (even if a job may not be open for weeks).
  7. No failure analysis — in order for any business process to remain effective, process managers must periodically assess all major failures and successes in order to identify what worked and what didn’t. In diversity recruiting failure analysis means periodically surveying or interviewing a random number of prospects, applicants, candidates, finalists, and new hires and asking them both to identify what must be improved and what should be done more often.
  8. Failing to take advantage of remote work options – in many geographic areas, there is a shortage of qualified ethnically diverse applicants. In other geographic areas and countries, there is clearly a surplus of ethnic prospects. For example, if you’re targeting African-Americans or Hispanics, there are certain cities in the U.S. where they make up nearly a majority of the population and they are obviously countries in Africa and South America where they dominate the population. Obviously not every firm can open an office in a high-diversity geographic area, but if your firm has the capability of offering remote work, the availability of ethnic qualified applicants jumps dramatically. What this means that if firms and its hiring managers are willing to design or redesign certain jobs so that they can be done from anywhere, attracting diverse workers who can work from their home country or current city becomes a top solution. And as technology and communications become cheaper and more available, the importance of offering remote work in order to increase diversity will only grow.
  9. No proof that diversity recruiting sub-programs work — diversity recruiting should be like any other process, you should develop a process that convincingly proves to executives that works. One of the most effective and convincing approaches to prove that a newly modified program is effective is to use a split sample control group approach. This is where you take a random sample of open jobs and fill half of them with your modified diversity recruiting approach, while maintaining the standard approach for the remaining “control group” jobs. Keep everything else the same and see if the modified approach produces significantly more and higher-quality diversity hires. A pilot application and an A/B test are other “proof of concept” approaches to consider.
  10.  Assuming only diverse individuals can manage diversity recruiting— although it may be politically correct to let a diverse person lead the corporate diversity recruiting effort, a superior approach is to instead select a leader based on their ability to produce exceptional recruiting results. It turns out that being exceptionally good at leadership and recruiting are in most cases the two critical factors that most impact program success. Although understanding diversity candidates is also important, it turns out that this understanding can also come from market research.
  11. No competitive advantage – if you want to beat other firms in the competition for top diverse talent, have a unique recruiting approach that provides your firm with a competitive advantage. Unfortunately under the current model, extensive benchmarking causes most corporate diversity recruiting processes to be almost identical. So if you want a quantity increase in results, avoid copying and benchmarking which provides only incremental improvements. And if you need to copy, focus on learning from successful business processes like market research, advertising, and customer service and then modifying their approaches so that they fit diversity recruiting. If you want above average results, you periodically have to try a unique and sometimes untried approach to diversity recruiting.
  12. No targeted diversity retention efforts — you reduce the impact of great diversity recruiting if you don’t also have a highly effective diversity retention program. Unfortunately, few corporations have one that is targeted toward diverse employees. Once again, a personalized data-driven approach is needed in order to retain the very best diverse employees.

Common Diversity Excuses

Literally 95 percent of the firms that I have worked with struggle each year to meet their diversity recruiting goals. Many diversity recruiting leaders attribute that failure to the small number of diverse individuals in the workforce. This is an interesting response because, if you include women in the diversity population, we know that in most geographic areas, a majority of the population qualifies as diverse. Other recruiting leaders complain that diverse individuals are hard to find but with social media and the mobile phone, finding and communicating with diverse people is actually quite easy. Others complain that many diverse individuals don’t have the required skill sets, but remember, you are only hiring for your firm, so the small number you need to successfully recruit is a miniscule percentage of the total skilled diversity workforce.

Finally, I know of many cases where there are plenty of diverse applicants coming into the firm, but flaws in the process allow a disproportionate percentage of applicants to be forced out of the recruiting process for hard-to-justify reasons, while many others voluntarily drop out for mostly preventable reasons. These “shortage-of-talent” excuses are not unique to diversity recruiting, and in my experience, these excuses cover problems that are quite solvable with a data-driven approach.

Final Thoughts

When I analyze diversity recruiting failures, they appear to be not much different than most recruiting failures. What I do find to be different is the high level of resistance to any change, the lack of data, and the emotional politics which all serve to effectively maintain the status quo. So my message to Google is that if you want to solve your diversity problem, take a step back and forget for a moment that you’re dealing with diversity. Instead consider it say market segmentation problem and then attack it much in the same data-driven way that you do when you encounter diversity issues in advertising or Internet search.

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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