Recruiting for Diversity: 7 Things to Avoid and suggested Inclusive Alternatives

Among all of the important work to be done related to your equity, diversity, inclusion and anti-racism efforts, recruitment seems to be the one most heavy on everyone’s mind. Just like other strategic priorities, recruitment has to be carefully focused on, invested in, and measured. Of equal importance is defining what attributes effective recruitment includes – which also helps clarify what to avoid. Below are 7 things to avoid in your diversity recruitment efforts. Use this list as a conversation starter with your hiring managers, search committees, and HR team. 

1. Avoid ambiguity. Avoid going into recruitment with vague ideas about what the ideal candidate should be able to bring or do based on the current laundry list of items that need attention or based on a void left by the person who most recently filled the position. 

Inclusive Alternative: Think about the current and future needs of your team, department and/or organization. I encourage the incorporation of language that describes actively seeking candidates who bring diverse lived experiences and direct experience working with populations that represent and/or can extend relationships with current and future stakeholders.  

2. Avoid luke-warm commitment. Avoid using language that is overly vague about your organization’s values. Watered down statements avoid explicit mention of equity, diversity, inclusion, and/or anti-racism and instead use words like “care for all” or “everyone is welcome''. While “care for all” and “everyone is welcome” aren’t bad, this language alone – without additional explicit mention of EDIAR – will be conveyed by those who are looking for positions with organizations that are really committed to EDIAR as a “non-statement.” 

Inclusive Alternative: Use direct, active, and explicit language that speaks to your organization’s values regarding equity, diversity, inclusion and anti-racism. Include links to values and nondiscrimination statements, representation of women or BIPOC in executive leadership roles, and anything that’s been written by or about your organization’s response to the racial equity movement or the historic June 2020 Supreme Court decision that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects LGBTQ employees based on sex. Potential candidates want to know what your organization stands for, so tell them beginning with what is often their first point of contact with you, a job ad. 
3. Avoid Groupthink. Often behaviors in a group are governed by implicit norms that reflect uneven distribution of power, diverse communication styles, and other subtle organizational dynamics that convey “how things work around here.” It is important to acknowledge, explicitly and at multiple stages of a deliberative process, that the loudest or most authoritative voices will not outweigh an intentional and inclusive process.   

Inclusive Alternative: Build time into your process for each individual who will have a say in the final decision to reflect on candidates’ qualifications and potential contributions. Make sure that a rubric exists that each person completes independently before talking with the entire group to share perspectives. Whenever possible, each decision-maker (typically hiring managers and/or search committee members) should talk to candidates one-on-one and consider their qualifications through your inclusive lenses, as individuals, then as a group. 

4. Avoid the assumption of beating the odds. Research shows when there is only one candidate from a specific and underrepresented category, the likelihood of hiring a person from that identity is almost zero.  
Inclusive Alternative: Go beyond “Rooney Rule'' that places the goal on having diverse representation in the overall pool. Instead, extend your commitment to include an expectation that at least two members of identified underrepresented groups make it all the way to the final pool. Don’t stop there; ensure candidates are not just being advanced through a process because a box needs to be checked. Use tools, like an equity lens, to embed the level and quality of authentic consideration of candidates from diverse backgrounds and identities. 

5. Avoid the limitations of “in our network.” Many organizations that are seemingly desperate to diversify their workforce rely heavily on the same systems and relationships that have built and continue to maintain the status quo. If your workforce is largely white and is heavily representative of people from the same backgrounds, experiences, or schools, it is also quite likely that just mining current employees’ LinkedIn or other circles is going to lead to a wave of new and more diverse candidates.  

Inclusive Alternative: Posting and dissemination of position descriptions should be pushed beyond the immediate network of people who have been most directly involved in creating them. Create a shared assumption that your entire workforce is a recruitment force, and that recruitment is an ongoing expectation rather than limited to times when a particular job posting is available. Tap into Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and/or Business Network Groups (BRGs) to help identify outreach channels, social networks, and professional organizations that explicitly represent diverse groups. For those who have not developed diverse relationships, do not leave this work to others. Allies invest in relationship cultivation with a broad array of networks. 

6. Avoid overweighting prestigious criteria. Organizations and individuals that have already been identified as “exemplary” seem like a tempting place from which to build criteria. However, those institutions and individuals have likely had certain privileges or limitations as far as access to entry that you are trying to account for–and do differently in your current and future hiring.  

Inclusive Alternative: Pay attention to lesser-known institutions, programs, and nominators.

7. Avoid focusing on the signals. Signals are the external and often subtly communicated messages about what’s important, what should be prized, what should be prioritized, what matters. For example, a colleague may have knowledge of one or more of the candidates in a particular pool. They may share information about their positive or negative experiences with a person, or their impressions of a person’s “fit” for a position or within your organization. These impressions are then weighted and identified with a candidate, oftentimes unconsciously.  

Inclusive Alternative: Do your own work and make evidence-based choices. You, as the hiring manager or members of a search committee, will likely have a much more and clearer understanding of the expectations for the job, the vision for the team, and the imperative related to careful consideration of candidates from unconventional backgrounds. Let the loudest voice influencing your consideration of candidates be your own and allow it to be guided by thoughtfully articulated criteria and inclusive best practice.  

Want More Tools for Diversity Hiring? 

The Inclusive Manager’s Toolkit is our signature program that provides a suite of tools to help you recruit, onboard, and enhance engagement of employees from a diverse range of backgrounds and lived experiences. Register here for our September offering. Our sessions are filling up quickly. We would love to be part of your inclusive journey. 

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DeEtta Jones & Associates (DJA) guides leaders and organizations on a journey that builds capacity, strengthens innovation, and increases organizational performance by creating a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive environment.

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