Is it Time to Adopt a Targeted Recruiting Effort Focused on Gay Candidates?

Unless you’ve had your head in the sand, you can’t have missed the fact that much of the world has recently become more tolerant of gay men and women. However, despite all this recent societal change, there has been no corresponding change in the corporate recruiting function, which seems unwilling to redesign its programs so that they can effectively recruit from the LGBT community (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender).

Yes, some firms have taken a few small steps by finally declaring that they welcome gay employees and by beginning to offer same-sex partner benefits. But these limited actions may turn out to only have a minor impact unless recruiting is completely redesigned to fit this market segment. The key lessons for executives and recruiting leaders is to learn that subtle prejudices and stereotypes still exist and the LGBT community has unique needs. As a result, your LGBT recruiting efforts cannot be successful without first becoming an expert in LGBT recruiting and then implementing a redesigned data-driven process that examines the issues and the opportunities during each individual step of the recruiting process.

Why Target LGBT Candidates?

There are many reasons to target and focus on LGBT candidates. The first is the size of the community, because depending on where you recruit, the LGBT community may reach 10 percent of the working population. It is hard to argue against the fact that the gay segment of the population is “different” (different is the very definition of diversity), and if you want “different thinking” it makes sense to target this group.

There is data to support that this target group is different and desirable because it is often more educated; nearly 50 percent hold professional/managerial jobs, and they have a higher average income. Others have argued that they may be more creative and that they are likely to be experienced in handling uncomfortable situations. In addition to providing your firm with great recruits, a focused and publicized recruiting approach may also help to build your firm’s employer brand image among the rest of the non-gay population because many (and especially recent generations) may view a proactive LGBT effort as an indication that your corporation is progressive and tolerant. There may also be some positive business impacts, because having gay customer service workers, salespeople, and product designers will likely increase corporate sales from gay customers and gay corporate representatives who make purchasing decisions. And finally, sexual orientation discrimination will continue to grow as a legal issue, so eventually recruiting will have no choice but to re-examine the entire hiring process.

Action Steps for Developing a Targeted LGBT Recruiting Effort

One of the basic tenets of marketing is segmentation, where you customize your effort so that it meets the unique needs of a particular targeted segment. Because LGBT prospects have unique expectations, your recruiting effort must also be tailored to meet those needs. So if you are one of the few corporate leaders who has the courage to proactively and publicly recruit gay candidates, I have provided a list of 15+ tailored action steps that I have found to be effective not just among the LGBT community but also for most diverse populations.

  1. Make the business case – obviously if you want funding and executive support, you need to demonstrate the productivity, innovation, and creativity that this LGBT population can bring to the business and the loss that will occur by not having a representative gay population in your workforce. The best business cases are not developed independently but instead in conjunction with the CFO’s office because they can help you to credibly quantify the business impacts of the program on corporate revenue, product development, and customer service. A segment of the business case further needs to demonstrate that not having gay people in your employee population discourages other recruits, increases turnover, and wil  negatively impact business results. You also need to identify and make a list of potential executive concerns and put together arguments to counter each. Having a senior executive sponsor the effort is also an excellent idea.
  2. Use market research to find out how to target efforts — as with any group of recruiting targets, you must identify both the positive factors that attract and the negative factors that detracts. Be aware that currently employed and relatively satisfied employees at other firms will have a different set of “attractors” than prospects who are actively looking for a job. The best way to identify these “attraction factors” is through surveys of a sample of your current employees, applicants, and new hires who have self-identified themselves as gay. Outside focus groups with potential applicants can also be helpful. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that things like partner or same-sex marriage benefits are the primary attraction factor.
  3. Use market research to find out where recruiting messages would be most effective — even a perfectly sculpted recruiting message has no value if your target audience never sees or reads it. Work with your product marketing team or a vendor experienced with this population to identify the Internet, social media, and traditional locations where your message would most likely be seen and read by the LGBT population. Use the same approach to identify where they would likely see and read a job posting. Also update your corporate website and careers page so that it is obvious to visitors that you welcome and understand the unique needs of gay employees and customers. Also consider offering blogs and videos of gay employees to be sure to provide some detailed information on each of the features that LGBT prospects care the most about.
  4. Move beyond traditional diversity recruiting approaches — all too often corporate diversity recruiting is narrowly focused and limited in scope. The traditional approach normally is limited to diversity inclusion statements, a few flashy PR ads, celebrating gay pride, donations to diverse groups, and attending diversity job fairs and association events. In my experience, these well-intended approaches are often insufficient. What is needed is a comprehensive approach that includes tailored employer branding, trained sourcers, identifying candidate assessment problems, a customized offer process, a focus on recruiting gay interns, and a tailored candidate experience. Each individual recruiting sub-process and step must be targeted to this audience and later on each must be monitored with metrics to ensure that it remains effective. Incidentally, there is no data that shows that you must be gay to be a great LGBT recruiter; instead exceptional recruiting skills, specialized training, and empathy appear to be the key competencies.
  5. Develop a story inventory — stories and illustrative examples are powerful selling tools. So work with your current employees to identify examples and stories that would help to authentically illustrate to prospects that your firm actually is a great place for members of this community work. Make sure that hiring managers, recruiters, and employees all have easy access to these stories, so they can help to spread them.
  6. Employee referrals should be the cornerstone – your employee’s contacts and employees’ authentic sales ability are the chief reasons why employee referrals should be your primary LGBT recruitment source. If it doesn’t already have one, your employee referral program should adopt a sub-focus on recruiting diversity and specifically LGBT candidates. Obviously you want to publicize this focus so that your employees know that you are actively encouraging the recruiting of LGBT candidates. You should also educate your employees and provide them with information on the most effective ways to approach and sell this unique target audience. Include college students and corporate alumni in the referral effort.
  7. Study benchmark firms – surprisingly government agencies have led the way in redesigning recruitment programs specifically for LGBT talent. Although they still have a way to go, the most comprehensive and proactive diversity recruiting efforts have occurred at the San Francisco, New York, and Boston Police Departments and in the U.S. military. In the corporate sector, Ford, IBM, and Google stand out for moving beyond diversity career fairs and events.
  8. Identify current negative employee treatment issues – because of the wide availability of social media, any negative LGBT issues will be quickly revealed through social media, YouTube videos, and Internet comments. Obviously your targeted recruiting effort will not succeed if it is overwhelmed by negative comments based on the perceptions of applicants or your current or past employees. HR should take the lead in proactively identifying and resolving these discrimination and perceived unfairness issues. If you have an LGBT affinity group, involve them in the process.
  9. Work with affinity groups — if your firm has an employee LGBT affinity group, you obviously want to include it in your recruiting and retention efforts (Bain is a benchmark firm).
  10. Find out what worked – identify the most and least effective aspects of your recruiting effort. Start with surveying all new hires during onboarding (you cannot ask new hires their sexual orientation) to determine which of your LGBT recruiting components worked and didn’t work. An email survey can also be sent to a sample of applicants, interviewees, and finalists. Regular employee surveys should also include questions related to LGBT employee treatment.
  11. Metrics and accountability are essential – early on, a single individual needs to be made accountable and rewarded for LGBT recruiting success. Next, you must put together a set of performance metrics that will show if your effort is reaching each of its goals. You also need operational metrics to examine the recruiting “funnel” to determine if you are getting enough LGBT applicants or if you are disproportionately losing them during the initial screening, interviewing, or offer process steps.
  12. Work with LGBT vendors – if you want to get up to speed quickly, the firms that specialize in the marketing and recruiting of this LGBT segment can initially provide great value until your team develops its own competencies. Avoid all firms that do not have a data-driven and market-research-based approach.
  13. A flexible global approach is needed – the level of tolerance and the legal treatment of members of this community vary significantly depending on the region (Russia being a recent extreme example). To meet that variability, some degree of local flexibility needs to be built into the recruiting program’s design and implementation.
  14. Expand the definition of diversity to be more global – almost all large corporations have diversity recruiting efforts, but in most cases, the target audience is narrowly defined using the U.S. government’s EEOC focus on sex, race. and national origin factors. If you want to reflect the realities of a global environment, your definition of diversity needs to be expanded to better reflect the composition of your current and potential customers. It should include often underrepresented populations in your geographic area, including local underrepresented minorities, older and younger workers, disabled workers, and obviously LGBT workers and applicants.
  15. A retention component is also needed – there also needs to be a component in your retention program that targets self identified LGBT new hires and employees. This will require a set of retention goals and metrics to ensure that once hired, the retention rate of this target group is higher than average. Delayed post-exit interviews can help you identify the real reasons why key known LGBT employees left.
  16. Consider a product and service focus also – work with the corporate staff on the product side of the business (i.e. marketing, product development, customer service, sales etc.) to make your products, services, and customer processes more appealing to the unique needs, interests, and expectations of this target community.

Final Thoughts

Many in the corporate world unfortunately think of gay issues as mostly civil rights, political, or social issues. However, it is a major mistake not to make it a focus of people management programs including recruiting, retention, and employee benefits.

Even though it’s time has come, don’t expect any LGBT effort to be easy. It takes some time to become an expert in understanding, attracting, and hiring from this community. Be prepared for significant resistance from risk adverse lawyers and HR professionals, as well as from employees and managers with conservative religious, social, and political views. Also expect some pushback from diverse employees (that fit under the current definition of diversity) and even from your customers. But despite the potential issues, the time is right, and in my view, it is the right thing to do.

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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