Re-Thinking Diversity Recruiting

Diversity recruiting is becoming more and more important as the world becomes more global. Initially, legal compliance was the primary driver behind most diversity recruiting. But now organizations have learned that if they want to operate around the world, they must be able to recruit and retain individuals who are different than those who are in the majority at their corporate headquarters.

It’s important to be able to recruit diverse individuals not only because many corporations must start up and operate facilities at multiple locations around the globe, but also because they need diverse-thinking individuals to design products that will be in high demand by individuals in every major country. In short, in a global economy, having a diverse workforce is no longer an option. It has become an absolute requirement for success in a global economy. Given that businesses today are faced with greater and greater challenges, the ability to strategically leverage the benefits of an effective diversity recruiting program (DRP) can provide firms with a valuable competitive advantage.

Global businesses are faced with overwhelming pressure for constant innovation and reinvention. Successful DRPs provide the potential to enable firms to acquire the diverse human resources necessary to drive innovation and reinvention. But all too often, firms have either failed to recognize the importance of DRPs in achieving an effective workforce or misdirected the time, money, and personnel allocated to their diversity recruiting efforts. HR’s response to this increased need for more effective diversity recruiting has been mediocre at best.

It’s time to face reality that, no matter how sincere the effort, diversity recruiting programs time and time again have failed to meet their goals!

When I ask senior executives to evaluate their diversity recruiting efforts, they are, almost without exception, disappointed in the results produced by these programs. Even diversity program managers, the people who design and administer the programs, are disappointed in the results of their corporate diversity recruiting efforts. Why do these well-intentioned diversity recruiting programs consistently come up short?

There are a variety of reasons why diversity recruiting is largely ineffective, almost all of which can be remedied if you take a critical look at past practices. A primary reason why these programs have not excelled is that many individuals resist criticizing them out of a fear they will be labeled as intolerant or even racist.

By isolating diversity programs from criticism and treating them “differently,” we are actually hurting rather than helping them. By tiptoeing around measuring and criticizing diversity recruiting efforts, we miss opportunities to incorporate new ideas and develop tools and approaches that can only be realized through critical assessment.

The net effect is that DRPs remain limited both in their development and effectiveness. Rather than tolerate mediocre results, recruiting managers need to analyze DRPs using the same templates and criteria they use to assess any other business or HR program. Utilizing this approach, the weaknesses in diversity recruiting programs become obvious.

Part 1 of this article series will highlight the problems that most diversity programs encounter, while Parts 2 and 3 will feature “outside the box” action steps that can be taken to dramatically increase DRP results.

Defining Diversity

Diversity can be defined in a variety of ways. In this article, we use an “inclusive” definition (as opposed to the more traditional equal employment definition frequently used in the U.S.). Diversity is often defined too narrowly. We define diversity as the need for corporations to have a wide variety of ideas, perspectives, lifestyles, and experiences in their decision-making processes, product design, service delivery, etc. This means that people with diverse ideas, backgrounds, and experiences must participate and be listened to in all jobs and at all levels of decision making.

Common Weaknesses in Diversity Recruiting Programs

Most recruiting programs are developed on an ad-hoc or trial and error basis. As a result, most have inherent weaknesses. However, if you look at world-class recruiting programs at top firms like Cisco, Intel, Texas Instruments, and Microsoft, you will find that the top-tier recruiting programs differ significantly from the average firm. These firms often quantify the value of human capital and cite that human capital is the most important contributor to business success. If you continue your search for excellence in recruiting by looking at how the top executive search firms approach recruiting, you’ll notice a set of characteristics or critical success factors that all of the top-tier recruiting efforts have in common. Managers can use this critical success factor (CSF) list to “audit” both their normal and their diversity recruiting programs. Managers who have conducted audits of their diversity recruiting programs quickly find that their diversity recruiting programs come up short in most of the following ten categories:

  1. Program goals aren’t clear. Organizations, and their diversity recruiting program directors themselves, often have not articulated explicit and measurable goals for their DRPs. If the purpose and goals of each program aren’t clear, it is extremely difficult to assess what constitutes the success or effectiveness of the program. Having unclear goals and measures can confuse managers and employees as to whether the purpose of the program is merely “social work” or actually increasing business effectiveness.
  2. Lack of a strong business case. The recruiting team fails to make a convincing business case to individual managers and the CFO that diversity has a direct economic impact on their ability to produce results.
  3. Underutilizing referrals. DRPs underutilize referrals as a primary source for identifying candidates. This underutilization comes from an unfounded fear that referrals cannot produce diversity candidates, or that targeted referral programs constitute discrimination.
  4. No rewards for success. A lack of significant rewards for recruiting diverse candidates sends a clear message that diversity recruiting isn’t a priority, and therefore managers and recruiters fail to focus on it. Accountability and rewards are crucial to diversity recruiting success.
  5. Little innovation in tools and strategies. DRPs traditionally benchmark against each other, and as a result, the tools and strategies each firm utilizes vary little between competitors. In a rapidly changing world where job hunting has changed dramatically, the tools and strategies that are used must be constantly updated to remain effective. Diversity recruiting programs almost universally fail to take full advantage of technology and the Internet.
  6. Weak recruiters. The people who run and staff diversity recruiting programs, no matter how well intentioned, are all too often not experienced or trained “executive-search type” recruiters. It takes both an understanding of diversity and excellent recruiting tools and skills to succeed.
  7. Little market research. DRP administrators often fail to approach the diversity recruiting as a marketing, branding, and sales problem. They also fail to do the minimum amount of necessary market research to identify the specific decision criteria used by diverse candidates to select a new job opportunity.
  8. Weak metrics. Most programs lack periodic performance metrics (numerical measures) that are needed for continuous process improvement. Gathering and reporting metrics also sends a message to managers that diversity recruiting is important.
  9. Focus on active candidates. Most programs have as their primary focus attracting active candidates rather than poaching currently employed diverse people from other firms. These passive candidates are not currently looking for a job, so it takes a different approach to attract and sell them on working for your firm.
  10. Not enough emphasis on orientation and retention. No matter how effective a DRP is at attracting and hiring candidates, it is impossible to achieve the overall objectives of a world-class program without giving serious consideration to the orientation and retention of diverse candidates. Unfortunately, many programs produce great hiring results, only to soon lose the candidates as a result of bad placement, orientation, or other preventable issues that come up after the candidate is hired.

Parts 2 and 3 of this article series will outline action steps for overcoming these traditional weaknesses and turning mediocre diversity recruiting programs into great ones.

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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