Diversify Your Recruitment Advertising

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter Jun 1, 2001
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HR Magazine, June 2001

Diversity ads are becoming more visible in the recruitment business.

Spurred by growing recognition of the value of diversity in the workplace, recruiting ads are getting more diverse. HR recruiters find that focusing on diversity in recruitment ads helps to attract more employees from diverse arenas, while enhancing programs such as employee referrals by building internal morale and promoting the company culture.

Many of these diversity-oriented ads are moving out of venues targeted specifically to minority audiences to mainstream publications such as Business Week, Newsweek, Forbes, The New York Times Magazine and Working Woman, as well as The Washington Post and other prominent national publications.

Microsoft Corp. has developed a series of Valuing Diversity advertorials--short essays published in the opinion-editorial pages of respected newspapers around the county, as opposed to people ads in magazines. The ads tell a story, stating that 800,000 skilled technology jobs are going unfilled in the United States; that this shortage is expected to worsen over the next few years due to the rapidly increasing demand for information technology workers in both industry and government; and that leaders in high-tech companies, higher education and government believe that continuing to expand diversity outreach efforts is a critical step toward addressing the shortage of skilled workers.

By using the editorial news-story format, Microsoft may be giving this campaign added weight and seriousness.

Other recent examples of noticeable diversity recruiting ads include full-page, full-color ads in major magazines for Pitney Bowes (We're Interested in Genius ... not Genes ... Genius Is Diverse ...), Prudential (At Prudential, diversity has its rewards), Morgan Stanley (Diversity. It's Not an Obligation--It's an Opportunity) and the Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. (... we believe that diversity is the cornerstone of a high performance organization ...).

Driving the Trend

More companies and organizations are making a point of highlighting diversity in their ads these days for two reasons, according to Patricia Digh, president of RealWork, a Washington, D.C.-based firm focused on diversity and globalization, and co-author of Global Literacies: Lessons on Business Leadership and National Cultures (Simon & Schuster, 2000). They are competing for talent in a tight market, and they recognize that demographic shifts in the United States are going to dramatically change their marketplace in the next 20 years, she says.

In explaining Prudential's diversity ads, Monica Reed, manager of image and proactive sourcing at Prudential in Newark, N.J., says, "Our corporate culture is diverse, so we want recruiting to be diverse, because that brings a variety of new ideas and perspectives into the company. We also want to sell to a diverse audience, and someone who sees a recruitment ad that focuses on diversity may also become a customer."

"At Microsoft, through our use of diversity-focused ads, we hope to deliver the message to prospective candidates that Microsoft values diversity in the workplace and actively seeks to attract a wider diversity of candidates with the goal of creating an increasingly multicultural workforce," says LaVonne Dorsey, diversity recruiting manager. That makes sense for a company that produces business and personal software products for a global marketplace. We want to make sure that we are sensitive to our customers needs [and] the best way to do that is to ensure that we have a diverse group of people contributing to the development of our products and delivering our customers services.

Other companies agree. All across the United States, market conditions are causing big business to rethink diversity recruitment and retention practices as factors critical to success, according to the most recent Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey of recruiting and retention methods used by Fortune 500 companies.

Advertising venues are capitalizing on this new trend. Two years ago, for instance, the Baltimore Sun started offering employers a special diversity logo to highlight their help-wanted ads. "It was going like gangbusters," says Carol Dreyfuss, communications manager for the Sun. The original program was based on an expressed need from ad agencies and individual clients as a way to promote and meet their goals in diversity.

But the Sun's program, like all diversity advertising, needed to change to stay fresh. By now, the novelty has worn off and it's no longer working. "People are going into niche publications instead, so we are looking at revamping the program and the logo to retain the papers commitment to promoting diversity," Dreyfuss notes.

How It Works

For companies that want to diversify their advertising, the first step is to find out the target audience of the advertising venue before they place an ad in it. We identify the audiences from which we want to attract candidates, and we research the publications and web sites to ensure that those resources touch those target groups, Dorsey explains. We then create ads that tell our story. One such example reads: As Microsoft ventures into new gaming, hand-held and e-commerce arenas, opportunities abound throughout the U.S. for diverse, bright professionals who are passionate about their work. ... To make software that enriches cultures around the world, we are committed to hiring people from cultures around the world.

This kind of advertisement speaks not only to Microsoft's employment needs, but also to the fact that we are a company that values diversity, says Dorsey.

At Prudential, the creation of diversity recruitment ads comes from within. The company's organizational structure uses a mechanism that includes a group very much considered an internal ad agency. When we need to develop diversity recruitment, we contact our own advertising department because they are the experts, says Reed. I look at the magazines I read myself to see what other companies are doing, and then we come to a consensus [on strategy].

Diversity recruitment ad campaigns do work: Diversity-focused ads placed in publications and on web sites have assisted the company in its efforts to attract diverse candidates, says Dorsey. We measure success in numerous ways--positive feedback that we receive from focus groups, event attendance, web page hits, [volume of] resumes, etc. It is important to note that measuring such efforts can be tricky, since not all respondents cite the sources of the job openings for which they apply.

Studies have shown that minority job seekers seem to look for companies with a proven diversity record. A recent WetFeet.com study found that 16 percent of respondents looked at a diverse workforce as a key indicator of a company's commitment to diversity, while one-third of respondents indicated that they eliminated a company from employment consideration because of lack of gender or ethnic diversity. Among black candidates, this number is even higher, with 44 percent of those surveyed reported to have dismissed a company on that basis. However, candidates look beyond recruitment advertising. In the WetFeet.com study, only 1 percent said they look for diversity recruitment advertising, compared to 37 percent who look for training and career development programs. The message? Back up your advertising with effective diversity programs.

Doing It Right

With diversity becoming more and more accepted and valued, there is a wealth of talent available to help HR professionals develop diversity recruiting ads that work. Both diversity consultants and marketing organizations are involved in this work, says Digh. One challenge for HR professionals is to coordinate their efforts with those of the marketing part of the organization to ensure that there is coherence in the message being delivered to particular markets.

"A history of catchy and successful product ads does not necessarily mean an agency will come up with good recruiting ads," Reed says. Some companies are good at product advertisement, but product and recruiting advertising are two different animals. An agency has to be versed in recruiting advertising and have a track record. To ensure a good match, she recommends, meet and see if the company itself is diverse and employs people from a variety of backgrounds, as well as has a track record of producing appropriate diversity recruiting ads in the same or relevant industries.

Adds Microsoft's Dorsey, "The key is to find agencies that have had proven success with diversity recruitment campaigns. Its important to evaluate their previous campaigns and talk to their other clients, if possible."

Hiring and Selling Go Together

"It is important to note that recruiting for a diverse workplace is linked to another trend: Corporations are linking the increasing buying power of ethnic markets [and people with disabilities] to the new social demands on business to realize that people of color as an example are more likely to buy products from companies who not only sell to them but also hire them," says Digh. "Product and hiring selling practices are linked more intimately than ever before."

Urban Miyares, president of the Disabled Businesspersons Association in San Diego, Calif., believes minorities patronize companies and purchase their products and services based more on their social responsibility, diversity in hiring and sensitivity toward all populations, than on price, availability and brand image. My purchasing decisions tend to be with those establishments and products having the strongest sensitivity toward individuals with disabilities, such as Marriott Hotels and restaurants owned by or hiring individuals with disabilities. Miyares is a multi-disabled and blind Vietnam veteran, and a business owner and lecturer, who spends up to 100 days per year on the road for business.

"Today's black, Hispanic and Asian populations in the United States have a combined buying power of more than $1 trillion, and minority populations are fast becoming the majority population in major markets, through the growth of traditional ethnic markets and the creation of new ones due to immigration; the largest minority in the United States is people with disabilities (56 million), with more than $1 trillion in spending power already a market that very few corporations have tapped, as a source of either revenue or talent," Digh points out.

"This creates important opportunities for being sensitive and responsive to population trends when recruiting new employees. Population growth and change, when combined with economic force, create a compelling reason for companies to focus both HR and marketing on this issue each will be more effective when working closely with the other," says Digh.

Getting the Word Out

Print ad campaigns are important diversity recruiting tools, but HR recruiting online is also important to increasing a company's number of minority candidates and employees. The Wall Street Journal reported recently that there are more than 2,500 online recruiting sites, and minorities represent 31 percent of all Americans online, according to the New York-based consulting firm Cyber Dialogue. The future is expected to bring more specialized recruiting sites targeting blacks, Asians, Hispanics, women and other members of minority groups, according to Cyber Dialogue. One such site, www.BlackVoices.com, specifically targets black job-seekers. The trick for diversity HR recruiting is to continue using both print and electronic venues to convey the message of inclusiveness.

"Letting potential employees (and customers) know that a company or organization is diverse and open to applicants (and customers) from diverse populations takes more than clever ad campaigns. Marketing campaigns alone wont do it," Digh warns. "Only a solid track record of recruitment, retention and promotion will show applicants and customers that your company is serious about diversity. Continuous and consistent messages from the top of the organization; a strong diversity statement; linkages to communities you're trying to reach, over years, not over months; and diversity at the top of the organization. That's what people are looking for."

Digh advises HR professionals responsible for diversity advertising to understand as much as you can about the cultures of the people you're trying to reach. The best way to communicate with an individual or a group is determined, in part, by the cultural norms in which they have been raised and live. Part of the puzzle for HR practitioners is to realize that, in large part, we respond to diversity from a dominant culture perspective. To be effective, we have to get outside that mindset to see the corporation as others see it--what's working, what subtle messages are being sent [and] how we could better link to the groups were trying to reach.

Reed agrees. "Benchmark by your own reading and interests, throw ideas off each other and work together to create the perfect ad to appeal to a diverse audience," she says. "Research web usage [by diverse groups] and be aware of trends."

What has worked well for Prudential, she notes, are both Internet and print campaigns. Web ads in diverse portals are more effective in terms of attracting candidates, while print ads are more effective at keeping the company in front of peoples eyes, and at reaching groups that are underrepresented in the electronic world. You cant assume that everyone has access to the Internet or is web savvy.

The recent SHRM survey agrees, finding that inclusiveness in the workplace quickly becomes self-perpetuating. Companies with established reputations for inclusiveness have the easiest time increasing their levels of recruitment among diverse populations. Almost three-quarters of the survey respondents (71 percent) reported that employee referrals resulted in the most minority hires. Internet job postings, banners and links were somewhat lower in effectiveness (68 percent) and were tied with job fairs. Newspaper and journal advertising (64 percent) came next, followed by internships and school-to-work programs (61 percent), college campus visits (61 percent), employment agencies (60 percent), professional and trade journal advertising (59 percent), and online or web site job applications (51 percent). Temp-to-hire and personal contacts/networking (both 49 percent) were also among the top 11 choices. TV/cable advertising (19 percent), places of worship (13 percent) and direct mail (11 percent) were considered the least effective methods.

Respondents were split on the issue of minority recruiting costs--a real issue in magazine and other print advertising but a clear majority (61 percent) said the benefits of a diverse workplace outweigh extra costs. This indicates that targeted recruiting efforts will continue on the upswing, according to SHRM; 48 percent of companies said they will exert greater efforts to hire from minority groups; 35 percent will continue programs already in place; and only 3 percent plan to scale back attempts to hire inclusively.

Varied Benefits

Diversity recruitment has both external and internal business advantages. As Reed, who is black, notes, "When I see our company with a banner ad on a web site or a print ad targeted to me, I feel the company is interested in me as an individual. When I see such ads, I feel good about my company, so it benefits internal morale."

"The benefits have included expanding the visibility of our brand and logo to a larger audience," Reed says. "Diversity recruiting has resulted in 20 percent to 25 percent of company hires being members of various diverse groups. Employee referrals are an increasingly formal element of the effort, with a new program having recently been implemented. Visible diversity recruiting efforts build morale and encourage referrals by helping employees feel good about the company. We've done really well, she says."

At Microsoft, "We view diversity through a wide lens," Dorsey says. "Our recruiting practices, in particular those associated with our ongoing diversity outreach efforts, do have an impact in promoting the company's​ culture of valuing diversity. Using advertising to make its diversity commitment visible outside the company as well as within also makes it more likely that employees will refer friends and colleagues when openings occur. We believe that if people are happy in their jobs, they will likely refer others."

The message today is clear: Advertise and promote the commitment to diversity, and everyone will benefit.

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is a freelance writer/editor based in Rochester, N.Y. She has edited two newsletters for the Society for Human Resource Management on international HR and on diversity issues.

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