When I was in elementary school, we read the Body Ritual Among the Nacirema — an anthropological research paper that detailed a foreign culture and their customs. The article describes how the nation was founded by a cultural hero, Notgnihsaw, that was famous for feats of strength. It discussed chopping down a cherry tree, how medicine men write down ingredients for curative potions that are gifted by herbalists to tribe members, as well as various body rituals, one of which is a daily mouth-cleaning rite.
After reading, our class had a discussion about the Nacirema and their culture. My classmates thought that the Nacirema’s traditions were weird. The students made assumptions that the Nacirema wouldn’t fit in with our culture. The teacher then informed the class that the Nacirema was in fact us! Nacirema is American spelled backward and all of the Nacirema traditions and practices were, in fact, ours.
This was one of my first lessons on cultural awareness, understanding, and appreciation of differences. These educational lessons extend to life and to industry. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) strategic initiatives are fundamental to a business’s culture, innovation, and success.
What is DEI? — A Breakdown of Elements
Diversity is the demographic representation of your community. This includes race and ethnicity, age and generation, gender and gender identity, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, disabilities, socioeconomic status, etc. A diverse workforce would include people representatives of multiple pools.
In recruitment, diversity means people from different demographics are considered for the available role.
Equity refers to the fair and just practices that enable everyone in this community to thrive. This includes equal access to opportunities, resources, training, and growth.
Equity in the workplace means equal consideration for promotion, equal benefits, and equal space for workers to raise opinions. It means equal space for everyone in the organization to be right and to be wrong without unconscious bias or discrimination playing a part.
In the context of recruitment, equity means all job candidate demographics carry equal weight.
Inclusion is how well the different perspectives and contributions of the community are valued and integrated into the business. There should be inclusive efforts at every level of the organization to ensure belonging and spark innovation from diversity of thought.
In recruitment, inclusion would mean job seekers aren’t inherently excluded from the possibility of getting hired by the nature of their ability, person, or background. A fundamental example would be inviting a wheelchair-bound candidate to an interview, and ensuring they can access the room.
I really appreciate the way that University of Michigan Chief Diversity Officer Robert Sellers breaks down the definition:
“Diversity is where everyone is invited to the party. Inclusion means that everyone gets to contribute to the playlist. Equity means that everyone has the opportunity to dance/experience the music.”
Start DEI at Recruitment Level
DEI efforts within an organization that do not make DEI a hiring priority are almost certainly going to yield limited results. In order for a company to execute on DEI strategic initiatives, there needs to be a DEI recruitment strategy in place that ensures an inclusive hiring funnel leading to a diverse team.
This includes optimizing all recruiting practices for DEI, preparing and identifying the hiring needs, sourcing and securing the talent, screening and selecting the candidate, hiring, and eventually onboarding diverse employees.
Identifying DEI Needs
What does the data show? What’s your current state? If you’re not leveraging employees’ demographic data, your company is guessing when it comes to DEI needs.
In your internal discovery assessment, truly get comfortable with the uncomfortable within your org. What’s the current state of the employee population? What’s the diversity at each level of the organization? What are the diverse sourcing channels that you use? How many diverse candidates does it yield? Look at interviews, offers, and hires. Are your hiring managers making great decisions? Are there employee resource groups focused on DEI efforts, retention, and development? Do you have active, executive champions of your efforts? Are you in a sustainable state?
Grant Thornton LLP US Diversity Manager, Erin Thomas, says companies should “Assess where you are with diversity, and where you could be given the labor market, and use that data to identify where you’re having challenges in the process.”
Outward Facing Information
Gather your internal job titles, job requirements, job descriptions, job applications, job intake forms, employer brand materials, etc. Are these written in an inclusive, welcoming way that attracts a diversity of candidates? Focus on your employer branding and every touch point along the candidate journey.
Companies should look around the corner with the talent pipeline too. Are the current sources yielding the expected results? Is there a big enough supply of diverse talent for your hiring team to pull from given the labor market's need? Are there opportunities to reskill or upskill internal talent or talent from non-traditional sources?
SelectSoftware Reviews has a buyer guide on DEI software and diversity hiring tools. It includes full reviews on software such as Textio that can help you in the journey to inclusive language which mitigates bias.
Once you have the inclusive language down, consider whether the criteria included on your job descriptions limit the potential candidates that would apply. Differentiate between the must-haves and nice-to-haves that can be trained. For example, as opposed to focusing on years of experience, focus on people’s past behavior and accomplishments. Your pool of candidates will immediately become larger, and potentially more suited to the role.
Sourcing and Securing the Talent
The top of your hiring funnel will be the next step in refining your diversity recruitment strategy.
Start by looking at the status quo. What are your current sourcing strategies and the associated costs? What are the existing internal and external talent pools? What’s your referral process?
One approach to increasing and focusing your top of the funnel is to diversify where you’re posting jobs. Job postings can be done via partnerships with software that can scrape your jobs and share them with their diverse community. Alternatively, you can post job listings on job boards that focus on diversity.
Another approach is to actively source underrepresented candidates. Develop relationships with HBCUs, military or VA transition assistance programs and officers, LGBTQ Student Associations, neurodiverse programs like Els for Autism, etc. Look towards non-traditional pathways such as coding boot camps like Boca Code or candidates without college degrees that have the equivalent accomplishments.
Create a referral program with language that highlights your DEI initiatives and the progress that your company has made toward your DEI goals. This will plant a seed not to only promote referrals but to promote diverse referrals. Referrals are generally more likely to be hired than their non-referred counterparts, but research shares the concern that people will generally refer people like themselves. Try to open up referrals to non-traditional pathways too. Pinterest experienced success with loose connections and leads within employee networks as opposed to just referrals. Other companies experience success by seeking referrals from non-employee sources within the diverse community.
Screening and Selecting the Candidate
You’ve now increased DEI in your hiring funnel and your candidates are moving on to the next step in the candidate journey.
How do you ensure your efforts translate into the candidate experience, and that your hiring managers are making great hiring decisions within underrepresented groups?
You’ve probably heard members of your hiring team use phrases like “I could get a beer with them” or “they’re a great culture fit.” These responses aren’t based on how a candidate is going to bring value to the company, but rather how like-minded they are to the current team. Using this like-mindedness as a conscious or unconscious criterion for hiring decisions may be creating homogeneity within your hiring process and company culture. Breaking this down and developing diversity of thought, opinion, and culture will help to accelerate your company’s growth and yield innovation.
One way to mitigate bias in hiring practices is to follow a structured interview process. The Department of Veterans Affairs uses a structure called Performance Based Interviewing which seeks to elicit behavioral examples of past performance. Research shows that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. This process is fair and consistent from candidate to candidate.
Everything from the interview questions you ask to the metrics for determining a candidate’s skill level can be assessed for bias. Conduct training for any new interviewers and put a hard stop in place until they receive the training. This helps with organizational alignment on your DEI and interviewing efforts and mitigates risks of legal ramifications as a result of bad interviews, discrimination, and unequal treatment.
Make the recruitment process accessible for everyone. You may be interviewing a working mother or a son that’s a caregiver for his elderly grandparents. You may be interviewing someone that’s working several jobs to pay for their mortgage. Be accommodating and fair in how you take up their time.
For sustainability at this step, gather candidate feedback on the process and consistently gather interview, offer, and hire data to evaluate your diversity channels and hiring manager performance. If there is a point of concern in your hiring processes, it is better to find out from direct feedback than a bad experience shared on social media or Glassdoor.
Hiring and Onboarding the New Employee
Let’s assume your DEI strategy is working and new employees are starting out at your company. How do you retain your top talent and help them grow within the organization?
Today’s workers expect a healthy, inclusive company culture. Ensure that your leadership is diverse to reflect this, and that inclusiveness is part of their employee and career growth experience. Prioritize diversity and inclusion for internal opportunities. Promote DEI in your internal communications and company branding efforts. Make DEI a priority within your organization.
Leverage people data and gather employee feedback on diversity initiatives. This could be something as simple as running one-question-a-day pulse checks on a range of topics from communication to leadership to employee engagement. Does the environment that your front-line leaders foster align with your DEI strategy and efforts?
Design employee resource groups (ERGs) that promote your DEI efforts and inclusive culture. Have executive champions for each group that are active in the efforts to provide the best experience to the employees in these ERGs.
Why Should a Company Focus on DEI initiatives?
Yes, it’s the right thing to do. But pushing DEI efforts isn’t just morally right, it also makes sense from a short-term and long-term business perspective. McKinsey has a multi-year research series that makes the business case for DEI. In each of the three studies, there is a link between executive team diversity and financial outperformance.
Boston Consulting Group also reports a statistically significant correlation between the diversity of management and overall innovation. Companies with above-average diversity in their management teams reported innovation revenue that was 19% higher than companies with below-average leadership diversity.
Even in the competitive eSports gaming space, an industry valued at over a billion dollars, culturally diverse teams with players from more than 1 country win 30 percent more prize money on average.
It makes sense from a talent attraction and attrition perspective too. DEI has high stakes in the talent space.
The Decoding Global Talent series compiled by Boston Consulting Group (BCG), The Network, and Appcast showed that 51% of U.S. workers would exclude a company from their job search if their DEI stance doesn’t match their own. An iCIMS survey of 1000 adults across the U.S. shows that 89% agreed that DEI in the workplace is important to them, and 56% would be more likely to work for a company that promotes DEI. A CNBC poll of 8233 US adults reflects much of the same; nearly 80% of those surveyed said that they want to work for a company that values diverse talent.
There are other business imperatives or KPIs that are likely to improve with enhanced DEI strategies as well — such as internal communication favorability ratings.
I hope this insight helps your teams with some ideas on the groundwork to get your DEI efforts rolling. DEI is imperative if you want your company to continue to grow, succeed, and bring value to your communities. Identify DEI and DEI recruiting KPIs and continue to identify ways to bring diversity to every level of the business.