8 Diversity Recruiting Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer September 28, 2020
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Employers are re-evaluating workplace diversity at their organizations, starting with being more thoughtful about recruiting from a broader range of talent.

"An effective diversity recruitment program involves taking a close look at every step of the recruitment process, from sourcing and recruitment marketing, to screening and interview practices, to how you present an offer," said Matt Marturano, vice president at executive search firm Orchid Holistic Search in the Detroit area.

Companies must commit to their diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, and hiring is one of the most critical pieces of the puzzle, said Liz Wessel, CEO and co-founder of WayUp, a New York City-based jobs site and resource center for college students and recent graduates. "Most employers think that the reason they aren't hiring enough diverse people is because of a 'top of funnel' problem—not getting enough diverse applicants. However, in most cases, an equally big problem is the funnel itself, meaning they have parts of their hiring process and criteria that don't bode well for underrepresented candidates."

WayUp produced a report identifying eight of the most common barriers to attracting and hiring diverse candidates for emerging professional roles, along with tips for eliminating bias and improving diversity in the hiring process.

1. GPA Requirements

Recruiters can increase the number of Black and Hispanic candidates to their jobs by eliminating GPA minimums.

"By setting a minimum GPA for early-career candidates, companies are inadvertently creating an employment test that disproportionately hurts Black, Hispanic and Native American candidates," Wessel said. That's because data suggest that since Black, Hispanic and Native American students are more likely to come from lower-income households and work longer hours in college, their GPA suffers, she said. She added that data show GPA is rarely correlated to performance.

2. Relocation Stipends

Offering financial support for moving expenses is important to attract diverse, early-career candidates given that low-income students without the means to relocate for a new role are disproportionately Black or Hispanic. Black candidates are almost twice as likely as other candidates to be unwilling to relocate for a position if there is no stipend provided, WayUp found. "This means that Black candidates will be less likely to apply or more likely to drop out of your process or reject your job offer entirely," Wessel said. "Relocation stipends level the playing field for people of all socioeconomic statuses," she added.

Recruiters and hiring managers assume that everyone in college has the financial ability to move to take a job, said Margaret Spence, founder of The Employee to CEO Project, aimed at coaching diverse women to attain C-suite leadership roles. "The reality is that for most minority students, they are existing from a community putting together funds for them to be in school," she said. "They are financially strapped and already working to get by. Recruiters must have cultural awareness to understand that their candidates are coming from different backgrounds."

3. Interview Scheduling

When and how interviews are scheduled can impede engagement with minority candidates. That's because there are millions of low-income students—disproportionately Black or Hispanic—who work while in college, which leaves them less time to schedule interviews during traditional business hours.

"When I was a student, I worked full time as a waitress," Spence said. "That is the reality for many students right now. If you are asking someone to do an interview at 11 a.m., maybe that person is in a class or working a part-time job. It would be better to create a calendar opportunity that allows a student to go in and pick a time when they are available."

4. Interview Technology

The trend toward using video interview technology is growing, but the method presents a challenge to low-income job seekers who don't have access to the technology required. According to a 2019 Pew Research Center survey, only 58 percent of Black respondents and 57 percent of Hispanics reported owning a desktop or laptop computer. And just 66 percent of Black respondents and 61 percent of Hispanics reported having Internet access.

"Leveraging AI or video to help screen candidates seems like an easy win from an efficiency perspective," Wessel said. "But if you're trying to hire diverse entry-level talent, our findings suggest you should rethink that strategy."

The tools and tech-related skills that are needed to be hired are not equally available to everyone, Spence said. "Talent acquisition should get more involved with college career-development programs to teach people how to build a LinkedIn profile and how to apply for a job virtually, instead of just throwing the tech at them. The technology is an enhancement; it cannot be the only tool."

Wessel said the solution is to embrace high-touch recruiting. "Avoid using prerecorded interviews as a method to screen candidates if you can," she said. "Instead, build trust with your candidates by removing bias from the candidate screening process, including the interview itself."

5. Paid Internships

According to Wessel, this one couldn't be more simple: Unpaid internships perpetuate inequality. Most people cannot afford to work for free. The average cost of an unpaid internship for students is $6,800, according to WayUp, and that number only goes up based on the hottest job markets.

Spence shared that a client told her it was having problems getting minority interns to show up on day one. Managers thought they were being ghosted. But when recruiters inquired with the candidates, they realized many people didn't have the money to travel or live as unpaid interns. All the hired interns showed up the following year once the company offered a stipend and housing.

6. Job Posts

A common type of unconscious bias can be found in how job posts are written. "The bias in your job post predicts who you'll hire because the language changes who applies to your job," Wessel said. "Job-posting language can deter diverse candidates, but it can also drive more minority applicants when done well," she said.

"It's been an issue for years now," said Tai Wingfield, senior vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion in public relations firm Weber Shandwick's corporate practice. "That also goes for unconscious bias in how interviews are conducted and the types of questions that are asked. These biases have the potential to disqualify diverse talent capable of driving significant innovation."

Marturano said it's easy for stereotypes and bias to creep into job-post language, and taking the time to fully consider what job posts say and how they say it "speaks volumes to diverse candidates about how your organization operates and if seeking an interview would be worth their time and effort."

Wingfield added that "using words like 'fearless,' 'go-getter' or 'will work around the clock' can be very off-putting to those who are very capable but who struggle to maintain an 'always-on' work culture while prioritizing the education of their children during this time. Think about working parents."

Marturano recommended that organizations integrate diversity imperatives into a mission statement, include diverse benefits in the compensation package, and highlight possible career trajectories and any active employee resource groups.

7. School Sourcing

If your company focuses on the same select schools or only the elite schools for campus recruiting, the available talent pool is already diminished.

"By focusing your recruiting efforts on the same schools every year, you're focusing on the same type of candidates and likely discriminating against diverse students who don't get targeted by your company because they don't attend a top school," Wessel said.

Likewise, she said, employers shouldn't just focus on historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to reach diversity hiring goals. "While HBCUs are incredible schools, we recommend taking a more holistic approach," she said. She noted that Spelman College, an HBCU in Atlanta, has just over 2,000 students, most of whom self-identify as Black, but Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., has nearly 3,000 students who self-identify as Black.

"HBCU outreach is critical, but I was a student at the University of Maryland, where we had more Black students in our undergraduate class than nearby HBCU Howard in Washington, D.C.," Wingfield said. "Yes, companies should look beyond the HBCUs, but diversity recruiting requires culturally competent recruiters. Most large colleges and universities have affinity groups to partner with. I was a part of the Black student union. We held networking events and career fairs. Working with the student chapters of professional organizations on campus will also help recruiters find diverse talent from a broader bench of schools."

8. Technical Assessments

Technical assessments are one of the biggest culprits when it comes to bias in the hiring process, Wessel said. Hiring should never be based solely on one of these tests, she said. "Much like standardized tests, technical assessments are unfair to students who don't have access to training. Many universities, especially wealthier ones, are more likely to teach students how to take coding assessments. The same cannot be said for students who attend less economically advantaged universities." Instead, the technical assessment could be used as a guide to help recruiters and hiring managers determine a candidate's weaknesses and strengths, and point out areas for skilling, she said.

Spence said employers that want candidates to be proficient with certain technical skills should be partnering with schools on curriculum. "To move the needle on diversity in the tech space, employers will have to get more involved in developing the education they're seeking," she said.

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