Why ‘Identity Hiring’ Doesn’t Create Diversity

To attack bias in hiring, make sure your process attracts the broadest candidate pool possible—and start by looking inward.
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Diversity, equity and inclusion programs often fall short because many employers erroneously believe they must “identity hire,” says Christie Lindor, a workplace culture and inclusion consultant and principal of Boston-based Tessi Consulting.

The right way to go about it, Lindor says, is to create a bias-free process so that the best and the brightest can be chosen—no matter their gender, ethnicity, age or other personal factor. And then make sure your culture truly reflects that, so that people will want to stick around. Lindor spoke with StrategicCHRO360 about how to write a job description that doesn’t turn applicants off, leadership blind spots and why data analysis is crucial.

What are common misconceptions about diversity recruiting?

The main misconception is that people think diversity recruiting is about hiring someone based on their identity—for example, “I don’t see any Asian women on my team—I need to hire someone who is Asian.” People become stuck; they can’t move forward with their process because they are feeling pressure to “identity hire.”

What diversity recruiting really is about is creating a process that attracts all types of diverse candidates and then taking them through a hiring process that is as bias-free as possible. It’s also ensuring they have a shot at coming into your organization and being able to thrive there.

Often with good intent, things get lost in translation. There’s a myth that people can’t find quality people of color, or women, or whatever that underrepresented group is. It’s not that these candidates are not out there, it’s just that the job, language, process or culture doesn’t allow for those individuals to surface organically. Diversity recruiting helps to solve that.

How can a company start to recruit diversely?

Going back to misconceptions around diversity recruiting: start by looking within. This means looking around and seeing what ways you can focus on building a more inclusive culture. We find that many organizations jump to hiring a bunch of diverse people as the answer for addressing a lack of diversity at an organization.

But, if the organization is laced with biases and microaggressions, it will be toxic for those hires—your best efforts of hiring them will be futile if they won’t stick around. So look at what the experiences are of individuals who are underrepresented at the company. What are their experiences, how can you improve them? How can you train or guide your managers to create more equitable ways to manage teams?

This does take time but ignoring it and going outside to fix the problem is not the answer. When companies do that, they often find employees are leaving in six to 12 months.

On the recruiting side, I recommend that recruiters look for the “diversity pipeline leak.” You’ll find that most organizations, if they have a good handle on their process, are capturing metrics. Take a look to understand: is the leak happening when people are coming in the door? Are you getting underrepresented candidates, but they’re not making it through the pre-screen process? Or they’re making it through pre-screen, but just not interviews? Or they don’t get an offer?

Or is the problem that you don’t even have folks coming in the door? In that case, you’ll need to look at the tools you are using to source such as your marketing materials or your job requirements. How is the language written? Many job descriptions are written from a male perspective and some of the wording (i.e., those of an “aggressive salesperson”) won’t attract women and can turn off certain candidates.

Are your recruiting requirements realistic and even necessary, for example, “college graduates from a top tier school.” Does the job really require an employee to graduate from a top tier school to do the job or does relevant experience matter more?

Consider whether the content you are putting out and your website is reflecting a focus on DEI. A majority of underrepresented candidates will go to your site, look at your leadership team and reviews. If they don’t speak to the company being focused on welcoming them and creating an environment they can thrive in, they won’t apply.

Or you may need to change your sourcing pool. If you are sourcing in the same places, and they are also not diverse, you won’t change the input. Change the networks, partner organizations and recruiters you are working with.

Address the biggest leak to make the biggest impact. Figure out where the leak is in the process and solve for it—then prioritize the next issue.

What can be a blind spot that recruiters may be overlooking when it comes to diversity recruiting?

HR teams are often so focused on getting everyone else to adhere to processes that they are not looking inward at themselves as individuals and as an HR team. Are leaders, recruiters and business partners aware of their own biases? Are they aware of how they are showing up, the language they are using and how they are making decisions? We find that HR is so busy focusing on everyone else, they are not looking inward and creating an inclusive lens for themselves.

How might a company ensure the success of diversity recruiting over time?

Diversity recruiting is not a linear, one-time project. Success is going back to ensure that this is cyclical. Some of the areas companies should focus on include addressing and improving upon their culture, bringing underrepresented perspectives to the recruiting process and measuring progress with metrics. We often see companies fall short when they are doing a lot of things, but not taking the time to capture, measure and course correct based on data. Lots of activity is only positive if it is effective, and you can only determine that if you measure progress and course correct along the way.

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