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Study after study has shown that when it comes to increasing diversity in the workforce, companies are making little progress. After the death of George Floyd and the nationwide protests against racism and police brutality that followed, corporate America pledged to do its part in raising up people of color and making more opportunities available to minority workers. Many businesses are stepping up and showing they not only talk the talk but also walk the walk. Yet, the efforts made by the majority of companies pale in comparison to what’s possible if we all do our part and take a bigger-picture look at how we can address this problem.
The main contributor to businesses not doing enough to diversify the workforce is a lack of incentive to make changes at a micro-level and little understanding of how and where to find minority talent. For example, prior to the pandemic, companies in Silicon Valley and other major cities tended to limit their search for potential candidates to the local job market. One of the positive outcomes of the recent acceleration of remote and hybrid work is the realization that companies can now hire workers anywhere, and the ability to hire talent in locations beyond where the office is located is very real. This flexibility opens up great possibilities for hiring more diverse talent.
This begs the question: How can companies source talent in markets around the country where they’re more likely to find a diverse pool of candidates rather than stick to existing hiring methods that exclude a broader swath of the population? Finding and hiring employees with diverse ethnic backgrounds who have the required education, experience, and skill set is entirely doable, as long as companies are willing to put in the effort across all levels of organizational structure.
There are several approaches companies can take, some of which I have described below as examples that businesses can replicate to increase diversity among their employees. There are many more examples of diversity equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives that are successful. These actions are not mutually exclusive; rather, some combination of all will be the most effective way for our companies and workforces to reflect the diversity that makes this country so great.
Form a council of inclusion
Everyone has a role in recruiting a diverse workforce – from the C-suite to those on the front lines. One way for businesses to foster inclusivity is by forming a council of inclusion with employees from business units across the company, with varying roles and titles. The group can set goals around hiring, retaining, and advancing a diverse workforce, and creating a culture that helps overcome employee engagement issues among underrepresented employee groups. Several examples of companies making efforts in this area are Citigroup, with its 10 Affinities program, representing diversity of all sorts, and PepsiCo, with its Valor initiative, which recognizes, appreciates, and supports the military, veterans, their families, and communities.
Another option is to structure the Employee Referral Program in a way that encourages existing employees to give referrals for minority candidates. For example, to encourage referrals of more diverse candidates, Intel offers $4,000 for employees who refer a woman, minority or veteran job candidate who is ultimately hired double the standard referral bonus. Intel reports the bonus structure helped double its diversity hires in just one year, exceeding its goal of 40 percent diversity hires by three percent.
Support community organizations
Yet another powerful approach is to partner with community organizations focused on shedding light on diverse individuals in various walks of life. Thirty percent coalition, Girls Who Code, and Reaching Out MBA are just a few examples of organizations working tirelessly to bridge the diversity gap. Companies can support these organizations financially and draw from their members to add diverse talent to their workforce.
By working with trade schools and community colleges outside of the typical “top colleges” lists, companies gain exposure to a more diverse and highly skilled student body. Consider that according to the American Association of Community Colleges, 42 percent of the nation’s community college students are the first in their family to attend college. Another study found that of all students enrolled at public two-year colleges, 51 percent have self-identified as part of a race other than white. Particularly as the country is starting to critically examine the value of a four-year degree and recognizing that it might be overvalued, companies should ask themselves: How many of our hires come from these lesser-known institutions, and how can we better support their hard-working students? Employers need to consider these perspectives more thoroughly as they strive to diversify hiring approaches and expand their search to other relatively overlooked but just as promising sources of talent.
Use new data and analytics tools for diversity hiring
Expanding beyond existing hiring paradigms can be daunting, especially without the right tools and guidance. Fortunately, diversity-focused hiring support in the form of both technology and expertise continues to grow. For example, Canvas is a diversity-focused talent sourcing platform, and organizations like the Association of Institutional Research have detailed guidance on building DEI dashboards.
There are also tools to help HR leaders build the right recruitment pipelines, understand the demographic and ethnographic constitution of their current workforce, and even encourage hiring targets and other community actions among employees. The efforts of the London Organizing Committee for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games serve as a powerful example of bottom-up efforts to achieve ambitious diversity goals. By presenting hiring targets and progress towards them to all staff and event partners, the committee was able to successfully surpass their diversity goals with 46 percent women, 40 percent ethnic minorities, and nine percent people with disabilities in the Games workforce.
The lack of diversity in the workplace is a long-standing problem. As the emphasis on where and how we work shifts and more choices emerge for both employers and employees, companies are at a pivotal inflection point for making good on their collective contribution to the powerful societal ideals of diversity, equality, and inclusion. We as business leaders can begin to move the needle quickly if we take a step back to assess our efforts thus far, identify our shortcomings and others’ successes, embrace innovative technology and transparent workforce practices, and take a more strategic, long-term, community-based, and employee-powered approach. Our goal should be to both create more job opportunities for underrepresented minorities and people of color, as well as to invest in helping them build careers and gain influence in how companies make hiring decisions and create an inclusive culture going forward.