Why Your Diversity Results Stink… Explained In 10 Quick Bullet Points

Note: This “think piece” is designed to stimulate your thinking on “how to improve your organization’s diversity recruiting results dramatically.”

Celebrating MLK day, unfortunately, also reminds many of their company’s continually disappointing diversity results. In my view, no one should end celebrating his day without wondering why so many well-intentioned diversity recruiting efforts universally produce disappointing results. Fortunately, after analyzing dozens of these programs, I have identified the top 10 strategic flaws that limit these business-critical programs’ success. 

Strategic Flaws That Dramatically Limit Diversity Recruiting Results

The top five failure factors found at most organizations in descending order, based on their impact.

  • Success requires algorithms and data… but there isn’t a single data scientist on the staff – the primary reason diversity recruiting goals are so difficult to meet is that the problem itself is so complex. And, complex problems require data scientists, algorithms, and machine learning. Unfortunately, you won’t find any of them in 95% of the corporate diversity efforts. Instead, you will find that recruiters and decision-makers rely heavily on intuition, emotions, and past practices. To ensure success, all decisions related to determining candidate attraction factors, what sources to use, candidate screening criteria, and the best ways to assess and sell each diversity segment must be made based on data. In addition, data-driven failure analysis must be used to identify the root causes of each major hiring failure.
  • You lump diversity subgroups together… when a formal marketing research effort would reveal that each segment’s needs are distinct and unique – it’s common and easy to “lump” all diversity subgroups together and treat them the same for recruiting purposes. Unfortunately, this lumping approach causes failure. Instead, what is required is a heavy reliance on formal candidate marketing research (copy it from the customer research model). The key to success in a highly segmented market is conducting market research on the unique attraction, job acceptance criteria, and the employer brand strength of each diversity segment. Once again, unfortunately, you won’t find a single market research professional in the diversity budget.
  • You don’t have the courage to poach… even though the best can be easily found working at your competitors, the best and most qualified diverse targets are already working in this highly competitive market. So, if you want the best, you’ll need to have a sophisticated poaching program to recruit them away. Instead, you’ll find that your recruiting program is currently almost exclusively targeted to active candidates (college grads and the unemployed). Poaching success requires a pipeline talent community approach that identifies candidates before they are needed, which gives companies more time to assess and sell the best prospects that are doing well in their current job. 
  • The most powerful recruiting source is underutilized… because of a false fear of an adverse impact – many HR professionals have traditionally assumed (falsely so) that referral programs have a negative adverse impact on diversity. As a result, they have purposely minimized the usage of the #1 most effective recruiting source. In reality, the facts don’t support that conclusion (the EEOC highly recommends referral programs). The keys to referral success include asking employees to seek out diversity referrals and offering a higher referral bonus for diverse referrals that get hired. Incidentally, the next two most effective sources for diversity are diverse boomerang rehires and revisiting diverse candidates that came in a close second for a previous job (i.e., “silver medalists”).
  • You have a revolving door… where you routinely lose new-hires because there is no follow-up diversity-focused onboarding, development, or retention – after such superb treatment during hiring. Many diverse candidates are surprised when they learn that the company does little to meet their unique needs during onboarding. Then, there is no formal effort to meet their unique needs in development. And, of course, there is no diversity retention program. Many new hires soon become disillusioned and begin thinking about walking out the door and spreading that negative employer brand message to their colleagues.

5 Additional Strategic Diversity Flaws

  • Your managers don’t take diversity recruiting seriously… because you failed to “show them the money” –- you won’t get most hiring managers to devote significant time to diversity recruiting. Unless you initially show them the business case and the business impacts that an individual manager will receive. You can further increase their focus by formally measuring, awarding, and widely reporting diversity results each quarter. Diversity results should also be made a formal part of their performance appraisal and their promotion criteria. 
  • You act like there is total system failure… because there is no process for identifying the weak steps – it is not uncommon to find that some aspects of the corporate diversity recruiting processes succeed (i.e., you attract a significant number of them). You never get the desired final results because of a design flaw in a later step of the process (i.e., when a manager selects the interview slate). So, to focus your “fixing efforts” on the real problem, you must have a formal process for systematically using data to identify the weak points in the “hiring funnel.” There should also be a process for identifying the weak areas in follow-up talent processes, including diversity onboarding, diversity talent development, or in your diversity retention program.
  • Your organization directly copied the organizational design of your diversity group… from a failed corporate model – during my research, I have found that diversity recruiting places the highest reliance on external benchmarking of any recruiting subgroup. As a result of this “copycat” approach, both large and medium-sized corporations consistently use outdated organizational designs and best practices. The primary design weakness that shouldn’t be repeated is hiring diversity group managers and recruiters based on diverse group representation, rather than stacking the group with proven advanced recruiting skills, knowledge of data and technology, and most importantly, an excellent track record in recruiting diverse new-hires. 
  • The overall business impact of diversity recruiting is too low… because high-impact jobs are not prioritized – often, diversity recruiting programs only meet their target hiring percentage in jobs filled by hourly employees. Diversity has its highest impact in executive, management, and professional level jobs (especially in product development and customer service jobs). Failing to prioritize and focus resources on the highest impact jobs means that the overall workforce diversity percentage is high. The actual business impacts that diversity will have on the organization will be lower than under prioritization.
  • Recruiters are not held accountable… because there are no individual recruiter scorecard that includes diversity success – every recruiter, whether they specialize in diversity or not, needs to be accountable for producing their share of diversity results. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to find a scorecard for individual recruiters that includes assessment areas specifically related to diversity recruiting. Using and widely sharing the scorecard results from all recruiters makes it much easier for individual recruiters struggling to identify the individual recruiters with the most success in diversity hiring to learn from. 

Final Thoughts 

For years, most HR leaders, major shareholders, and even your customers have appeared to be satisfied that the company was investing heavily in diversity recruiting. However, in my view, the MLK holiday and black history month should be a time for increasing the awareness of this never-ending diversity recruiting problem. No matter how sincere the effort has been, diversity recruiting programs have continually failed to meet even their modest published goals! And, since the black lives matter movement, I find that senior executives at almost every firm are universally disappointed in the results produced by their diversity programs. However, diversity program managers are not known for accepting criticism with open arms. Maybe when they finally realize the many design flaws that have been outlined here, they will finally begin to seek out more innovative solutions and approaches. For those that don’t work in diversity, I urge you to spend a few minutes urging your executives to “blow up” your existing model and immediately shift to a more accountable and technology/data-driven diversity approach.

Author’s Note: Please pass this article throughout your team and network. Next, please follow and/or connect with Dr. Sullivan on LinkedIn, where you can also leave comments on this article. His 1,300 other talent management articles can be found at www.DrJohnSullivan.com

© Dr John Sullivan 1/18/21 for the DJS Aggressive Recruiting newsletter

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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