American Heart Association’s Diversity Recruiting Investments Pay Off

Status quo diversity efforts need a refresh, experts say

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer November 10, 2016
American Heart Association’s Diversity Recruiting Investments Pay Off

The American Heart Association (AHA) experienced a 400 percent increase in its diversity application-to-hire conversion rate after it launched microsites targeted to diverse candidates in 2014.

In addition to implementing the niche sites, the Dallas-based public health organization hired a diversity recruiting specialist, set up partnerships with hundreds of local diversity organizations across the U.S., and created a career fair advertised to diverse communities.  

All of this was done to go beyond just giving lip service to diversity hiring and to make meaningful, measurable gains, said Michael Goldberg, former director of talent acquisition at AHA.

"When it comes time to build diversity programs for recruiting purposes, most people take the 'if you build it, they will come' methodology, which is often limited to adding a diversity statement on their website and hopes that diverse candidates will just storm the gates," he said. "Unfortunately, it just does not work that way. Diversity recruitment is in many people's minds 'something we have to do' rather than something ingrained in and valued by the organization."

Employers' diversity efforts are primed for a refresh, agreed Katie Gechijian, lead consultant for Proactive Talent Strategies, based in Birmingham, Ala. "Our diversity efforts today are an unfinished work. We as recruiters feel it. The key to making the workplace more diverse is on our shoulders. As a sourcer, I know how to reach out to diverse individuals and try to attract them to the company. But the bigger picture is creating a company that diverse people want to join."

Focus on Culture, Tools and People

Employers can improve their diversity hiring efforts tremendously by designing a work environment and sourcing strategies that aim to achieve diversity in thought, experience and geography, Gechijian said.

Ways to achieve this include:

  • Using workforce analytics to identify geographic alternatives to current work locations. While she was vice president for talent acquisition at Wells Fargo, Gechijian used CareerBuilder tools that analyze labor market data as well as proprietary CareerBuilder data to forecast the availability of talent within geographic areas. "The analysis provides gender and race/ethnicity breakdowns within specific roles and occupation codes and can even forecast the availability of talent 10 years from now," she said. "If a team was looking to become more diverse, they might add locations outside of their traditional hub cities with different demographic representation to increase their opportunity to achieve diversity of thought within their team."
  • Removing artificial job requirements from job descriptions. "Make sure that requisitions really match key skills needed," Gechijian said. "Too often, descriptions include things that are nice to have, such as credentialing, that are not necessary to the work being performed."
  • Asking recruiting solutions vendors about the makeup of their monthly active users. Are they engaged and are they diverse? Gechijian strongly suggested using Facebook for sourcing. "Facebook is simply incredible for sourcing," she said. "It has the most diverse and most engaged user group by almost any measure and the platform seems to be adding more professional-related fields such as skills."
  • Neutralizing bias by recognizing its influence. "Train hiring teams on unconscious bias, and consider data tools to assist in the neutralization of bias," Gechijian said.

What AHA Did

First on the organization's to-do list was to build the business case to hire a diversity recruiting specialist. The decreases in time-to-fill and lost revenue more than make up for the specialist's compensation when he or she builds relationships with diverse student bodies and partner organizations, Goldberg explained.

The toughest roles to fill at AHA are in fundraising and sales, but he is confident the metrics will improve now that the organization is partnering with over 40 diverse campuses across the United States to build a pipeline of entry-level candidates.

AHA also created a specialized event called Explore the AHA Life Career Fair, to educate attendees on healthy eating and learning CPR, while providing an opportunity for onsite interviews.

"Our advertising focused on attracting different races, veterans and individuals with disabilities," Goldberg said.

Targeted Microsites

AHA made a key investment in 2014 by working with Direct Employers, a nonprofit recruitment marketing company, to build six microsites focused on diverse candidates, veterans and people with disabilities. Direct Employers became partners with SHRM Enterprise Solutions in 2015.

"Since the launch of the SHRM Enterprise Solutions we added two niche career websites focusing on disability and diversity," Goldberg said.

He added that the team started back-linking those sites and placing specific language in job postings about veterans, diversity and inclusion, and individuals with disabilities. Since making these changes, AHA has seen a 15 percent increase in veteran and diverse candidates. "The key is back-linking and making your sites welcoming to the various diverse groups you are trying to attract," he said.

AHA is currently considering additional resources to drive more traffic to these niche career sites through social media marketing, encouraging employees to share the site URLs, sharing links with relevant local organizations, such as student disability and veterans offices, and joining active veteran, disability and diversity groups on LinkedIn and Facebook.

Gechijian prefers using social networks where prospects are organically participating. "I think rather than trying to target via microsites, a better effort is to truly understand target prospect personas so that recruiters can find authentic ways to participate where their candidates already gather," she said.

Was this article useful? SHRM offers thousands of tools, templates and other exclusive member benefits, including compliance updates, sample policies, HR expert advice, education discounts, a growing online member community and much more. Join/Renew Now and let SHRM help you work smarter.



Hire the best HR talent or advance your own career.


Find your peers in SHRM's online community.

Find your peers in SHRM's online community.

Join SHRM Connect


HR Daily Newsletter

News, trends and analysis, as well as breaking news alerts, to help HR professionals do their jobs better each business day.