Looking For Bold Recruiting Approaches? Best Practices For Recruiting STEM-Women and Diversity Candidates

Most valuable information that recruiting leaders seek out are known as best practices: leading-edge recruiting practices that have been implemented at less than 5 percent of major firms. Best-practice information is so valuable because although “brand new” ideas can be exciting, they are always by definition still unproven. When you are faced with limited resources, it makes business sense to focus on learning about and adapting the leading-edge practices that have already been successfully implemented.

Cynical executives are much more willing to fund and support a pilot recruiting initiative after hearing that a Fortune 100 firm that they admire has already thoroughly researched, vetted, and assessed its probability of success. Keeping up with leading-edge best practices is part of the professional development obligation of every recruiter. My research has also found that far too many leaders that are responsible for STEMwomen and diversity recruiting spend so much of their time complaining about how difficult their problems are that they simply don’t find enough time to implement any “new-to-the-firm” best practice approaches.

The Focus Should Be On Bold, Practical, and Already Proven Recruiting Solutions

There is unfortunately no central source (other than my team) for continuously recording and sharing the best practices in recruiting. So to help fill that gap, one purpose of this article is to reveal a large number of the boldest “implemented best practices” relating to the recruiting of STEM and technical women. Most of the best practices covered in this article can fortunately be directly transferred and adapted, so that they can also be used to solve the recruiting problems associated with any hard-to-fill position.

The Top 20 Best Corporate Practices in STEM and Diversity Recruiting

The remainder of this article highlights best-practice examples that have been tried at well-known firms. The best practices are listed in bullet point format and they are separated into four categories that cover the most impactful areas of recruiting. The first category (here in part one; the next three will be in part two) covers attracting more STEM women applicants.

Bold Approaches To Attract Many More Women And Diversity Applicants — Obviously you can’t hire more STEM women if you don’t first successfully convince them to apply for your open positions. Many of the traditional corporate diversity sourcing approaches, including career fairs, diversity job boards, and recruiting through diversity organizations have frequently produced only mediocre results. And as a result of the growth of the Internet and social media, there are now many emerging ways to reach and convince women to apply. Some of the best practices in attracting more and better women applicants to technical and engineering jobs include:

  • Revising job postings to make them more “woman friendly” — experimentation by Cisco well over a decade ago demonstrated that turning job postings into marketing pieces had a dramatic impact on applications. Google recently built on that concept by implementing a pilot project covering one engineering role that had zero female or male applicants over a one-year period. Women in the current role said that the existing description was scaring away many prospects because it made the job appear unappealing (even though it actually wasn’t). Using a marketing research approach, it asked nearly 100 female Google employees working in that role to rewrite the description so that the job appeared more attractive to women. And as a result, the job posting description was dramatically improved. I estimate that using the new “fixed description” will significantly increase both the number of internal applications received from around the world and the percentage of applications from women who currently held technical jobs.
  • Invite qualified prospects on site to interact with your whole team — recruiting leaders at IBM realized that simply talking to recruiters wasn’t convincing enough to attract the very best experienced women and minority candidates. As a result they experimented with a face-to-face approach called “Project View Plus,” which included an expense paid two-day on-site visit. The program required managers to interact with the referred experienced prospects, and if both parties were convinced, offers were made before they left. The program attracted more than 2,000 minority candidates and formal offers were made to between 40 percent and 50 percent of the attendees. The current “Project View” program is 1 1/2 days and it focuses on college prospects.
  • Switching to “same-level calls” when making initial phone assessments — research at Whirlpool demonstrated that who makes an initial recruiting call has a significant impact on whether it is answered and successful. The job level, the gender of the caller, and the time of the call all have a significant impact on its success. Where calls by someone at an equal or higher job level (same level calls) can get a 100 percent response rate, standard recruiter calls normally only get a 10 percent response rate. Google recently built on that concept by instituting a pilot program that requires that the initial phone screen for all leadership roles will be made by a director or a manager at the same level as the candidate. This differs dramatically from Google’s standard process, which has recruiters making all of the initial assessment calls. Having someone at the same level make the call will not only increase the response rate but having higher-level people on the line also results in a much more accurate assessment of the prospect’s technical skills and cultural fit (i.e. a more accurate assessment then could be made by a standard recruiter). In addition, because the leader making the call knows the job so well (compared to the recruiter), they are also much better equipped to effectively sell the candidate. The leader making the call also has more of an incentive to accurately assess and then sell top candidates  because the new hire would work directly under them on the same campus (with Google’s standard unaffiliated recruiters and neutral hiring team approach, most of the candidates who a manager would interview would not end up working under them). I believe that if Google goes the next step, where women candidates are called by “same-level women,” the number of women being hired will measurably increase.
  • Blind interviews and blind resume assessment can reduce hiring bias — some of the biases against hiring women may be subconscious. One approach to fight bias during interviews and tryouts is “a blind interview approach” which was initiated by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Academic research has demonstrated that using a screen to hide the candidate increases by several-fold the likelihood a female contestant will be the winner in the final round of a symphony tryout. Similar anti-bias benefits for women can be achieved at corporations by using the same interview screens that hide the candidate, or when that is not practical, through the use of questionnaire interviews or telephone interviews. Also, removing the candidate’s name from resumes and applications can reduce hiring bias by as much as 50 percent (Pacific Telesis in the 1980s used an application form that replaced the name of the applicant with an identifying number).
  • Re-recruit or boomerang diverse former employees — firms like DaVita and Deloitte have learned that re-recruiting former top-performing employees is an easy but effective way to generate top-quality hires. That same boomerang concept can be used in a targeted fashion to re-recruit your former STEM-women employees who may desire to return to your firm. Boomerang rehires are high-quality hires because you only recruit former employees who were top performers and now they are even better because they have the benefit of added external experience. By telling the best when they leave that they will be welcomed back and by maintaining an online alumni group, you can ensure that up to 16 percent of your hires will be boomerangs. Focusing a segment of your employee referral program on making STEM women and diverse candidates boomerangs can also produce dramatic results.
  • Re-visit STEM women who were “silver medalists” — firms like General Motors, GE, and Intuit have learned that individuals who came in a close second place should be reconsidered for other positions, especially if the job competition included an extremely talented top candidate who came in No. 1. These almost-hired individuals are called “silver medalists” because they came in second in an extremely competitive competition for a job. Putting a focus on eventually placing highly qualified STEM women who came in second or who dropped out before an offer could be made has proven to be a highly effective recruiting approach. Keep in touch with your silver medalists using a CRM approach and periodically push relevant job openings to them for up to one year after their initial application. Also identify STEM women and diverse candidates who met every qualification and fit the organization but simply needed a little more experience and contact them later a year or two later after they would’ve acquired the needed additional experience.
  • Don’t let narrow job descriptions scare away unsure recent STEM women grads — with so many emerging technologies, a significant percentage of technical college grads aren’t sure about what job they really want. And by providing standard narrowly defined job descriptions (that they view as restrictive) also proves to be of further barrier that scares away both women and men. Cisco has initiated a program that is known as “Cisco Choice,” which is designed to give new technology grads more time to make their final job choice. It is called Cisco Choice because at the end of the program’s extended onboarding process, amazingly the new hire gets to choose their engineering department, manager, and job (Facebook offers a similar choice opportunity at the end of its on-boarding). In order to expose them to more opportunities before they have to make a decision, these new hires go through three weeks of onboarding where they are exposed to senior executives and each of the different parts of the business and its different technologies. Because new hires have a choice, managers are naturally pressured to make their jobs more exciting. The program has had 500 participants per year. And they have seen a 10 percent increase in the representation of technical female college recruits and an improved retention rate of female university technical hires by 30 percent over Engineering’s overall average. In order to minimize bias, program interviewers go through rigorous training on how to screen and interview diverse candidates.
  • Use data to demonstrate to potential applicants that women are treated fairly at your firm — potential women applicants search the Internet and social media (i.e. Glassdoor and Vault) for indications that a firm treats women fairly. One way that a firm can proactively make the fact that it treats women fairly is to survey a sample of their own women employees and to directly ask them how they are treated and if they face a lower level of the common barriers that frustrate women employees. On their corporate careers or diversity website, the firm can use that survey data to show that its women employees feel that they are better treated compared to other firms that they have worked at. Survey results could show that women at the firm have a higher success probability, that they are treated fairly, that they feel that they have equal promotion/career opportunities, that they enjoy job flexibility, and that feel that they work in an inclusive environment where they “fit.” This kind of data can be particular powerful to STEM women who prefer hard data on the work environment as a supplement to the opinions that they read on the Internet. Named or anonymous employee quotes can also be included to further sway potential women applicants. This survey data may also help improve the retention of STEM women if the results show that they work in a “woman-friendly” environment.
  • Institute a “friends program” where employees talk candidly to applicants — well over a decade ago Cisco demonstrated that by offering the opportunity to talk to an actual employee (a new friend) you could in some cases excite applicants. An updated “friends program” would include providing highly qualified STEM women interviewees an opportunity to talk briefly with another woman in a technical position at the firm. Female employees would be asked to volunteer for the assignment and the number of calls to any individual would be limited. The selected employees (as well as recruiters and managers) could be provided with a “sell sheet” which would include data and powerful stories that were chosen specifically to excite the targeted applicants.
  • Increasing work flexibility in order to attract and retain more women — many firms have learned that offering increased work flexibility, career scalability, and providing choices is a powerful attraction feature for women. Deloitte offers a “Mass Career Customization Program” which provides employees an opportunity to “dial down” or “dial up” their work responsibilities, work hours, and travel depending on their current individual priorities. Allowing employees to tailor his or her own career path means that people can stay in their jobs when their life situation changes dramatically. Incidentally, the firm reports that number of women and men that have chosen to dial up and down is even. They also report that employee satisfaction with “overall career/life fit” has increased 25 percent, and as a result, turnover rates among top performers in areas with the program are half of those of areas without the program. Intel also allows employees to personalize their work situation by giving them remote work, part-time options, compressed workweeks, and tutoring for their kids. Over six years, the company reports an increase of its representation of technical women at the mid- and senior levels by 24 percent.

Referrals Are the Best Way to Successfully Recruit Top STEM Women

Among all sources, referrals routinely produce the best on-the-job performers with the highest retention rates. But they can be especially effective on employed women. This is because currently employed women are often especially nervous about appearing disloyal to their boss and team, so they are almost always reluctant to talk to recruiters. However, they are willing to talk to a colleague or friend. And because a colleague (your employee) is likely to know what the target job is and how the firm treats women, your own employees end up being the most powerful convincing tool you have. Assigning the role of converting a top prospect into a referral to one of your top woman employees is another effective approach. And finally make sure that all of your referral program materials and communications make it clear that diversity hiring is a top priority. Best practices in the referral area include:

  • A referral program targeted at women —  in India, SAP Labs developed a Diversity Employee Referral Program, which along with its “women’s only” recruitment drive is specifically targeted to women in leadership roles. The goal is to increase women in leadership roles to 25 percent by 2017. It also hosted a night long hack-a-thon called “APP.ly – Code to Empower her” to build mobile applications that address the everyday issues faced by women. The winning team received initial seed funding from an angel investor to bootstrap the idea.
  • Include nonemployees in a referral program — in a bold move, Facebook has expanded referral program eligibility to allow temps (as well as regular employees) to be eligible for their program focused on referring technical women. Limiting referrals only to employees is a mistake because corporate alumni, temps, family members, and contractors also know the firm and they are willing to help. If a female referral is hired, the referring person gets $5,000. In its mobile platform group, it has hired six women in six months into technical roles.
  • WOW referral bonuses attract — the technology startup ThoughtSpot took the bold step of offering a $20,000 referral bonus for any employee or nonemployee who made a referral that resulted in an engineering hire. That incredibly high referral bonus reward was picked up and publicized by the media, and as a result, the startup received a great deal of attention from both women and men. Within one year it was able to increase referrals by 90 percent and amazingly, increase diversity hires by 80 percent.
  • Harnessing an internal women’s network for referrals — for recruiting technical women, IBM used its existing internal technical women networks as the focus of its referral effort. One of the key features of the program is that the referring employee must know the referral personally. This discourages “referral spamming” and because they know the individual, the initial engagement is easier and it allows the employee to create a personalized recruiting pitch. Another powerful component of the program is that referrals are strategically encouraged (i.e. prioritized) in business/job areas where they would make the highest contribution to the diversity strategy. Incentives were specifically designed for diversity referrals, and the success rates of referral were closely monitored. It estimated that close to 30 percent of its total professional women hires worldwide were made through these network connections.

Requiring Recruiters to Present Candidate Slates That Include Women and Diverse Candidates — at some firms there is an ample number of qualified women and diverse individuals who actually apply to the company. However, for many reasons, these diverse individuals never make it to the interview stage. Metrics show that simply requiring the hiring manager to interview at least some diverse candidates will by itself increase diversity hiring. One of the simplest and most effective ways to increase diversity hiring is to require that the slates of candidates that are presented for interviewing include a proportionate number of both women and diverse candidates. Two of the best practices in the candidate slate area include:

  • Requiring candidate slates for executive positions to include women — the CTO of Intuit set guidelines that no longer allowed all-male candidate slates to be presented to the hiring manager. The new expectations required external executive recruiters to present the company with a gender-diverse slate of candidates for technical executive positions. This requirement forced their search firm partners to develop relationships with more female technical talent, which benefited female candidates. As a result of the policy, Intuit doubled its number of women technical executives in these targeted positions over a 12-month period.
  • Requiring a diverse candidate to be on the interview slate — the National Football League also instituted a diversity slate requirement that mandates that every team must interview at least one minority candidate for head coaching and senior football operation positions. Teams that do not adhere to the rule are fined. Shortly after being implemented, the percentage of African American coaches jumped from 6 percent to 22 percent (the current percentage is 12.5 percent).

Hold Recruiters, Hiring Managers, and Executives Accountable for Diversity Hires

Strictly holding all of the parties involved in the hiring process accountable for hiring STEM women and diversity hires has proven to be extremely effective. Having strong metrics and widely reporting diversity results to all managers have proven to be powerful motivators. And adding a direct connection to standard business incentives and bonuses further increases everyone’s attention to diversity hiring. The best practices in the area of diversity accountability include:

  • A metric-driven approach applied to every aspect of diversity recruiting — Sodexo doesn’t base its recruiting on past practices, fads, or intuition. Instead its recruiting leaders have a very methodical approach to recruitment. “We measure everything: we’re measurement geeks,” it has said. Its methodical approach closely analyzes every step of the recruitment process. The sources from which Sodexo selects its candidates are individually chosen for their diverse and high-quality offerings. Sodexo says: “Before we look into any new source or strategy, we always look at its diversity impact. And then once we’ve implemented a strategy, we go back and measure the results.” My research indicates that holding individual recruiters accountable for their diversity hiring successes is an important accountability factor that should also be instituted.
  • Making the business case for diversity — although initially it might not seem relevant to recruiting, nothing that I have found has a larger impact on getting managers to focus on diversity than developing a business case that is unique to the company. STEM women and diversity leaders should work with the CFO in order to demonstrate to individual managers that there is a positive correlation between higher diversity percentages in a team and improved business results. Pepsi is now a recognized leader in diversity, in part because it took a leadership position in developing a powerful business case that supported diversity by showing that increasing diversity measurably impacts corporate revenue. Showing the diversity impact on the results of individual managers can also help to overcome management resistance and to develop, as Pepsi did, a “mindset of diversity.” To further increase involvement and accountability, each executive at Pepsi was assigned a diversity group to sponsor, and a metric scorecard was developed that put an equal emphasis on “business results” and “people results.” The firm’s diversity goal was “a minimum of 50 percent of their employees who were not white men.”
  • A diversity scorecard will increase accountability — the diversity scorecard at Sodexo makes everyone accountable by reporting the performance of managers and executives (compared to the target) each quarter. I rate this as the most powerful scorecard in any industry because it covers both quantitative and qualitative factors in each of the three critical diversity areas of hiring, promotion and retention. At Sodexo, in order to increase accountability and results, 25 percent of the executive team’s bonus was connected to its performance on the diversity scorecard, and 10 to 15 percent of the management team’s bonus was also tied to the scorecard. This diversity performance bonus payout occurs regardless of the firm’s financial performance. As an international firm, the company also broadened its definition of diversity to include a global perspective that included five dimensions of diversity, including gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, and age.
  • Tie executive bonuses to proportionate diversity in hiring and promotions — a firm that is often criticized for gender issues, Wal-Mart instituted a policy aimed at ensuring that corporate managers fulfill diversity hiring goals. At one of the company’s annual meeting executives announced that executive bonuses would be cut by 7.5 percent the first year and 15 percent the second year if the company didn’t promote women and minorities in proportion to the numbers that apply.

15 Quick Tips for Recruiting STEM Women and Diversity Candidates

This final section contains 15 additional quick tips that I have found to be effective in improving your diversity recruiting results. Each one has also been implemented at a least one major firm.

Quick tips for finding diverse talent

  • Ask new hires — ask top new hires during onboarding to identify other top women technologists that they know.
  • Ask references — after a new hire proves themselves, call the references and ask them if they know any additional STEM women or diversity prospects.
  • Proactive referrals — proactively approach your own top female STEM employees and ask them to identify and help to recruit the best women in specific categories. Those categories can include leaders, top technologists, innovators, team players, etc.
  • Referral cards — a simple but extremely effective referral approach is to provide your top employees with compelling referral cards that complement the individual and their work.
  • During benchmarking — while benchmarking, have your employees capture the names of any diverse subject matter experts that impress.
  • Events — recruit at large technology industry events and certification classes because the best women attend them, and in addition, women there are clearly visible.
  • Use acqui-hire acquisitions — if your firm is large enough, use an acqui-hire program that acquires smaller women dominated firms at least in part to capture their technical female talent. An added advantage is that you get intact teams that are already used to working together.

Quick tips for convincing reluctant candidates

  • Take the stress out of interviewing — some women have reported that they are stressed when contemplating an upcoming interview. However, if on your corporate website you outline in detail your hiring process and exactly what is expected of candidates, you can reduce their anxiety level. Using live video interviews can also make the scheduling of interviews easier on busy, already employed women.
  • Don’t lump together diverse groups — avoid the tendency to stereotype and to treat all diverse groups the same. Instead identify the expectations and the job acceptance criteria of each individual top diversity candidate.
  • Institute a “buddy program” — a buddy or “hire-both-of-them” program is where you hire a close friend or colleague at the same time as a top STEM-woman or diverse person. In many cases the buddy is also likely to be diverse. Women who are reluctant to join a firm and find themselves feeling alone can use this option to increase their confidence (At one major tech giant, 38 percent of the hires are buddy hires).

Administrative and process tips

  • Related programs contribute — you won’t have to do as much hiring if you also have effective data-driven onboarding and retention programs. Faster internal diversity best practice sharing programs can also have an immediate and powerful impact on diversity results.
  • Allow for same-day hires — budget at least one “corporate resource” position that is continually open. This position means that you won’t have to wait for an open requisition in order to rapidly hire an extremely qualified top STEM-woman prospect who suddenly becomes available.
  • Managers need a toolkit — develop a diversity recruiting and retention toolkit and distribute it to all managers. A toolkit approach allows individual managers to select the tools that best fit their situation, rather than having to adhere to a corporate mandated program that doesn’t fit their needs.
  • Look to specialty recruiting firms — assess and hire external firms that specialize in data-driven diversity recruiting and recruitment marketing. Have them advise you on the best marketing and employer branding approaches to use.
  • Failure analysis — after a brief delay, survey your top women applicants who drop out of the recruiting process and those who reject your offers in order to find out why.  Also determine at what specific steps or stages of the hiring process the most hiring errors occur in. Also use data to determine if any individual hiring managers are weak at diversity recruiting.

Final Thoughts

If you’re one of the many corporate leaders who believe that little can be done in the short term in order to increase STEM women and diversity hires, this compilation of best practices was developed for you.

After years of research, I have identified the numerous barriers that prevent women from gaining the inertia necessary to apply for a new job and the recruiting steps that prematurely discourage or screen them out. Fortunately, I have found that there is a solution to every barrier and roadblock. And the solutions in this article are not merely ideas, but they are best practices that have been thoroughly vetted by executives at some of the world’s best corporations. The only remaining limiting factor is the courage (or lack of it) of corporate leaders to try something, that in this case, has already been proven to work.

Note: Special thanks to my teaching assistant, Kimberly Do ([email protected]), and others whose benchmarking research and calls contributed significantly to the content and the data in this article.

As seen on ERE Media on 12/29/2014 and 1/5/2015.

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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