Hiring For Diversity: A Step By Step Guide

It’s time to get real about the big elephant in the room: how your company can better recruit and hire a diverse workforce.

Diversity is at the forefront of just about every HR team’s agenda today, for a number of reasons. Workplace diversity has been proven to:

To date, 28 states (Massachusetts included) have passed laws to encourage better diversity in the workplace and prevent discrimination. Individual organizations are also working to figure out how they can improve diversity — both to meet legal requirements and to take advantage of the many benefits that a more well-rounded workforce can bring.

We sat down with two subject matter experts in Boston who know more about hiring for diversity than just about anyone: Felicia Jadczak and Rachel Murray. These two women are the co-founders of She Geeks Out, a Boston-based education network. Their mission?

To create an inclusive culture that values and upholds diversity, particularly gender diversity.

In this post, we’ll cover Felicia and Rachel’s advice on how to source a more diverse candidate group, make effective hires, and build a retention strategy.

Step One: Become Aware of Unconscious Biases

Hiring for diversity begins with acknowledging unconscious biases. Often we recognize issues of bias around race, skin color, gender, age, weight, and so on. But bias can also be a lot more subtle —  marital status, accents, hobbies, education, and more. So the first step in hiring for diversity is to encourage your hiring team to recognize their unique biases. As Felicia explains, “It’s not about changing your biases, it’s about becoming aware of them.”

Awareness training, similar to what’s outlined in this post, can help your hiring team recognize biases and combat them as they arise in everyday situations like writing a job description, conducting an interview, or managing a team. This approach can also help strengthen business results.

Step Two: Embrace a Culture of Diversity

To effectively hire for diversity, you need to have a culture that wholeheartedly embraces the concept. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to overhaul your entire culture; instead it’s about the offering benefits that those of different races, genders, and socioeconomic positions are looking for. Consider the following examples:

  • Childcare
  • Flexible work hours
  • On-site laundry
  • Good health insurance

The benefits you offer will, of course, differ based on the size, industry, and location of your company, so consider what’s reasonable and desirable to the candidates you’re looking to attract.

Building a company culture that promotes diversity requires top-down and bottom-up buy-in. Meaning, it needs to be ingrained into everything you do, not slapped on as an afterthought. From both an educational and advancement perspective, this includes treating all employees equally, accepting different perspectives, values, and ideas, and even ensuring diversity within management and HR teams.

Making inclusive changes to your culture will not only signal to candidates that you are a workplace interested in welcoming all types of people; it will ensure they’ll feel comfortable once they’re on the team (more on that later).

Step Three: Write Inclusive Job Descriptions

A job description is one of the first places where someone will learn what your company is all about. It can tell a candidate a lot about your company — good or bad. So how do you write an inclusive job description?

“Begin by staying away from gendered language,” explains Felicia. “This is especially common in the tech industry.” Both Felicia and Rachel recommend staying away from using words such as “ninja” and “rockstar” that are typically indicative of a male role. To learn more about how to close the gender gap in the hiring process, be sure to watch this video.

Next, Rachel says, “Stay away from having a really long list of ‘must-haves’ and instead think hard about what skills a candidate truly needs to do the job and which skills can be trained.” Women in particular won’t apply to a job if they don’t feel they meet 100% of the requirements. By limiting ‘must-haves’ to actual requirements, you open the doors to equally qualified female candidates — among others who may hesitate to apply if they don’t feel confident they can check off all the boxes.

While most companies write job descriptions with good intentions, highlighting the wrong benefits can unintentionally alienate candidates who are well-equipped for the job but don’t feel welcomed by your company culture. To learn how to write an inclusive job description that attracts all genders and races equally, sign up for She Geeks Out’s next workshop on March 23rd.

Step Four: Be Proactive About Salary Parity

We’ve written before about the importance of transparency when it comes to setting salaries. Starting in 2018, new Massachusetts legislature will ban companies from asking candidates about their salary history. Additionally, employers also will no longer be allowed to prohibit employees from discussing their salaries with each other. Even better, Massachusetts is pushing companies to state salaries upfront (such as in job descriptions).

To find out how Boston companies like Appcues and ezCater are following our state’s lead in closing the wage gap, be sure to check out our post on this topic.

Step Five: Source Candidates Strategically

It’s easy to assume that there isn’t a diverse set of candidates in your industry if you’re not searching in the right places. Felicia and Rachel encourage companies to think outside the box. Here are a few places to consider:

  • Historically all-black or all-female colleges
  • Small colleges in cities and towns you may not have thought of before
  • Community colleges
  • Veteran programs
  • Coding schools and bootcamps

Exploring an online referral platform such as ReferralMob can also come in handy. ReferralMob helps companies tap into a broader network of referrers, enabling them to bring in more qualified and diverse candidates. When you have a more diverse set of people sourcing candidates for you, the chances you’ll attract a diverse workforce improve exponentially.

Step Six: Train Recruiters and Hiring Managers Alike

One mistake that we have seen play out in the quest to improve employee diversity is failing to train the entire hiring team on how to address their own biases while hiring qualified candidates.  

For example, Facebook recently put a program in place to improve the diversity of their engineering team. They spent a lot of time and money educating their recruiters about how to bring in diverse candidates. But the engineering managers who had final say over who got hired were not trained in the same way. Many of them vetoed candidates who didn’t come from the same educational and professional backgrounds they were used to seeing, and in the end, the engineering teams were no more diverse than when the program began.

Why?

Because middle management (the hiring managers) weren’t included in diversity training — and as a result weren’t aware of their unconscious biases or how to handle them during interviews. “We see many companies that have top-down and bottom-up buy-in, but the failure point most often occurs in the middle,” Rachel explains.

Lesson learned: To hire for diversity, everyone in the hiring process must be trained to do so. “You can’t expect people to know how to hire for diversity out of the gate,” Rachel explains.

There are several diversity-centric programs coming up in Boston where teams can go to learn the ins and outs of inclusive hiring practices:

Other things you can do to encourage diversity in the community:

Step Seven: Focus On Retention

Once you’ve hired the right people, your next focus should be on retaining them. Felicia and Rachel explain that if you don’t make everyone feel included in day-to-day activities, they will leave — even if your interview process was nothing but inclusive. The tech industry in particular struggles with retention; women are more than twice as likely to quit as men in this field, and often it's because they don’t feel valued by the companies that hire them.

Having a good HR department where employees can go if they feel like they are being treated unfairly and address their concerns can go a long way. This is the subject of another She Geeks Out workshop happening in April, and it’s a topic Felicia and Rachel are all too familiar with. They both say they’ve lived it.

"If you get in the door and don’t feel like you’re part of the company and team, that you don’t belong or have anyone to turn to, you’ll want to leave,” says Rachel.

To retain talent, companies need to learn how to:

  • Acknowledge and handle biases in real-time
  • Account for a diverse set of needs on the team and remain flexible
  • Listen to new ideas from team members
  • Embrace and encourage different viewpoints
  • Provide opportunities for advanced learning and promotions
  • Offer challenging projects and work

These factors are just as important to get right as the interview process itself, if you want to both hire and retain diverse talent.

The Secret to Diversity

The first step to improving diversity is walking the walk as well as talking the talk. Begin by treating your current employees well, providing them with good benefits, advanced learning opportunities, equal pay, and so on. Get this right, and your inclusive culture will translate across every facet of your recruiting platform — from job reqs to referrals to the interview process itself.

With the right training process in place for everyone involved in hiring and onboarding, as well as day-to-day management, you’ll be in a position to effectively recruit, hire, and retain a diverse workforce that can innovate and keep pace with a constantly evolving business landscape.