How to build a DE&I recruiting strategy: A four-pillar framework

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11 mins, 36 secs read time

Building diverse, equitable and inclusive teams takes deliberate work. Because of human bias and without intentionality, people often gravitate toward those who are familiar to them, those who look like them and those who share similar backgrounds. When you pair that reality with societal and business structures that tend to favor white employees in the workplace, the need for actively committing to building diverse and inclusive teams becomes clear. This is not as simple as completing a one-off task and checking a box – it will require buy-in at all levels and likely a company-wide commitment to change.

One of many things you can do in your work toward creating and improving diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) on your team and at your company is to create an actionable DE&I recruiting strategy. The following guidance is not a one-size-fits-all, plug-and-play strategy that will work for every company. It’s also not a solution or answer to all DE&I challenges. Instead, this guide serves as a strategic framework with practical ideas to help talent leaders who see the value of building a DE&I recruiting strategy for their company.

1. Build buy-in and ensure alignment

Building, enacting and growing a DE&I recruiting strategy can’t be one person’s or even one team’s responsibility. As with arguably all worthwhile initiatives, cross-departmental input and participation is essential for success. How you gain buy-in at your organization will depend on how far along your company is on its DE&I journey, but regardless of where you are on that journey, we encourage you to have open conversations at all levels of the organization as you build and enact your new initiatives.

Start with the “why”

New DE&I initiatives will most likely require change in behavior and there will be a level of emotional investment for all involved. For this reason, it’s also important to think about implementing some change management strategies. When you’re influencing others through change management, start the conversation by aligning stakeholders on why the initiative is important and why their input and participation is imperative to success. For example, if part of your new strategy is to encourage the use of candidate scorecards to reduce bias in decision-making, you’ll need interviewers at all levels to invest time in conducting structured interviews and completing their scorecards.

Improving DE&I in your organization is not only the smart thing to do for your company’s success, it’s also the right thing to do. When speaking to your leadership team and your peers about why you’re implementing changes in your process to improve DE&I, we encourage you to have open discussions about both the business and the moral cases.

Create a more open dialogue

Having open dialogues about DE&I will further enhance your company’s ability to make impactful strides. Simply put, it’s hard to make and measure change if you don’t even talk about it.

In business, diversity has historically been a largely avoided conversation. In some cases, it’s been an actively suppressed conversation due to the discomfort it can cause some people. Before asking your teams to exchange their comfortable behaviors with behaviors that will reduce bias and increase diversity, you should first supply them with resources that will help open up the conversation

Much of this change will come through training.

  • Unconscious bias training: Invest in unconscious bias training to create awareness of bias in the interview process and build a more inclusive culture overall.
  • Interview training: Rather than just hosting compliance-driven training, build interview training that focuses on the expectations of structured hiring and how interviewers can become aware of and reduce their personal biases.

If DE&I is a new topic of discussion for your organization, consider working with a specialist or consultant who can help facilitate the conversations and bring a new perspective to your work.

Communicate and engage with feedback along the way

Remember, this is a diversity, equity and inclusion initiative. You’ll want to include as many perspectives as possible into your work in order to maximize your potential for success. As you build your strategy, share it with key stakeholders across your organization. Ask for ideas, feedback and support in prioritizing the more impactful initiatives.

2. Diversity at the top of your sourcing funnel

Like the vast majority of companies, you cannot rely solely on inbound applicants if you’re hoping to diversify your pipeline of candidates. Frankly, you can’t rely on just two or even three sources. You have to actively invest in diversifying your top of funnel through multiple channels and continuously iterate on them.

“Actively sourcing” means that you’re not just passively accepting inbound applications. Your diversity recruiting strategy should include intentionally expanding your sources with tools and services that engage historically overlooked and underrepresented groups. This will require an investment of both time and money.

You’ll need to invest time in training recruiters and hiring managers to understand how to discuss diversity on their teams and how to source candidates from overlooked groups. Also recognize the additional time it will take for recruiters to research new sources and proactively engage new talent pools – particularly if they were previously relying on inbound applicants.

You’ll also have to invest money in some of your new diversity-focused sources. As with many of our highest-quality sources for candidates, your top diversity-focused sources will likely cost money.

The necessary investment of time and money in diversity recruiting is not something that should frustrate a talent leader who cares about diversifying their teams. Running a business takes investment of time and money, and what better way to invest your time and money than building a diverse, inclusive and therefore productive team?

Here are some ideas for diversifying the top of your sourcing funnel:

  • Talent brand: Review your talent brand to ensure you're putting out an inclusive view of your organization. Consider including DE&I content on your career page (employee demographic data, relevant content about your company culture, testimonials from a diverse slate of employees, etc.). You can also consider partnering with organizations like Qorporate, PowerToFly, Jopwell and POCIT that will share your open roles with underrepresented groups and also tell your brand story through custom events and career pages.
  • Inclusive job posts: Write inclusive job posts that reduce gendered language and encourage applicants of all backgrounds using tools like Textio, TapRecruit or Gender Decoder.
  • Intentional prospecting: Build Boolean strings that ensure you’re actively reaching out to underrepresented groups. You can also host networking events or small group dinners to engage with underrepresented communities.
  • Referrals and company engagement: Weave language into your company referral program that encourages folks to generate leads from underrepresented backgrounds. Be sure to partner with your internal employee resource groups (ERGs) to promote and incentivize networking and referrals. Additionally, you can improve referral programs with companies like DRAFTED.
  • Third-party job boards: Post your roles on job boards that support underrepresented groups and research the best networks for your location and industry. Here are a few to consider: Black Girls Code, Women In Product, Out in Tech, Diversity Jobs and training bootcamps/nonprofits like General Assembly, Per Scholas, etc.

3. Minimized bias throughout the hiring process

Once you’ve put in the work to build a diverse pool of candidates, it’s time to focus on mitigating bias in your decision-making. This will require more training and change management, but it’s worth it.

Interview processes, like all human decisions, are filled with bias: affinity bias, first impression error, halo-horn effect and groupthink are just a few of the many shortcuts our minds can take throughout an interview process. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you, your hiring manager or your CEO did something wrong when building your process, it just means that you’re all human. The first thing to do is to recognize that you have bias. Then, get your hiring teams to recognize that they have bias. Finally, work to reduce it at every step of the hiring process.

An equitable process is fair and impartial. The most impactful system you can implement on your road to a more fair and less partial recruiting process is a consistent, structured hiring process. This means ensuring that all candidates, regardless of background, are interviewed in the same way, using the same criteria and the same rubric for success. This will take intentional action and training against personal biases.

Here are a few things you can do to start mitigating bias in your hiring process:

  • Practice structured hiring: You have to add structure to your hiring process in order to reduce bias in decision making. Implementing structured hiring means creating a deliberate process where you consistently assess candidates on a set of attributes necessary for success in the role. This inherently shifts the focus from bias-driven decisions to data-driven decisions.
  • Give candidate feedback: Provide candidates with feedback after every step of the process to provide those with non-traditional backgrounds and/or those who lack interviewing prep with the resources and tools to help them succeed.
  • Diversify your interview panels: Make sure there is representation of different ethnic and gender identities on your interview panels. This will reduce bias in your final decisions and show candidates from underrepresented groups that they are represented at your company. At the same time, it is very important when building diverse interview panels to be mindful of employee’s time and thoughtful about not tokenizing your employees based on their ethnic or gender identity. Consider asking for volunteers and/or creating a feedback system to avoid these potential pitfalls.
  • Use inclusive process mapping: Map out your current recruiting workflow and seek opportunities to be more inclusive at each step of the hiring process. Examples include:
    - Anonymizing a step in your process, like any take-home assignments
    - Reviewing your candidate rejection reasons to look for patterns that indicate bias
    - Reviewing your offer negotiation policy to see if you’re making biased compensation decisions

4. Minimized bias throughout the hiring process

Given that the demographic data of a DE&I strategy is associated with EEO laws, we encourage companies to consult their legal counsel when working with this sensitive data. We also recognize that it’s important to use data to measure the effectiveness of your DE&I strategies.

Here are a few ideas on what to measure throughout your hiring funnel, which you can use as a starting point in discussions with your legal counsel.

Measure the efficacy of your diversity-focused sources

Use proper source tracking and reference your Candidate Quality by Source report to track the volume of inbound applicants from diversity-focused sources. When using this report to assess source quality, we encourage you to focus on how many candidates come into your process and how far along they progress. Keep in mind that existing bias in your hiring process may also affect how far candidates from underrepresented backgrounds progress. For this reason, we recommend that you focus mainly on inbound volume and continue to invest in multiple sources that diversify your top of funnel while you work to mitigate biases within your process.

For Greenhouse users with access to the DE&I feature set:

  • Use the Sourcing by Demographic report to review all sources and invest in those that provide the most diverse applicant pool.
  • Use the Pipeline by Demographic report to look for drop-off points in your process for certain demographic groups. Find ways to mitigate those specific candidate drop-off points.
  • Use the Candidate Survey by Demographic report to set variance goals across demographics if needed, with the aim of creating a great experience for all candidates regardless of their individual identity.

Create goals for accountability in structured hiring

As part of an equitable structured hiring process, consider creating a goal around scorecard completion for your company. Completing scorecards quickly, thoroughly and consistently is one measure of success for a structured hiring process. Through the Interviewer Engagement report, you can see the Average Hours to Submit a scorecard, Scorecards Submitted and Scorecards still due. You can use this data to set and track targets that hold your teams accountable for scorecard performance.

Partner with your People Ops and Legal teams to report on employee demographics

With consultation from your People Operations and Legal teams, consider measuring the demographic diversity of your organization. If you choose to report on demographic data, keep these things in mind:

  • When you look at the demographic breakdown of your organization, look at the demographic representations across various levels of your organization, differentiating between executives, management and individual contributors.
  • The demographic breakdown of your organization is the result of both hires and departures from the organization, so it’s important to remember that it’s not the result or responsibility of the Recruiting team alone.
  • Your goal and the time you set to hit your goal will depend on where you’re starting and your volume of hiring.
  • EEO data is a good place to start, but understand its limitations. For example, there is a limited representation of ethnicities, and EEO data gathering still represents gender as binary.

This framework alone will not achieve all of your company’s DE&I goals, but it’s a great way to implement very important aspects of your overall DE&I strategy as an organization.

Building a DE&I recruiting strategy that is impactful for your teams takes investment. There will be change management required to reveal and mitigate bias in your process, and you won’t be able to do it all in one day. But we hope that this framework for company alignment, diversifying your top of funnel, reducing bias in your process and measuring results gives you a strong starting point for making meaningful change at your company.

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