The 7 Deadly Sins of Diversity Recruitment

by Kathie Sandlin, Diversity Strategist

It's one thing to recognize that adding diversity to your workforce can add value to your

business. But it's another thing altogether to make it happen. No matter the size of your organization, or what industry you're in, on your journey to building a more diverse workforce, there's a chance you'll run into a few potholes along the way.

But just like everything else in life, learning to do it right doesn't mean you have to make all the mistakes yourself.

In our years as recruitment specialists, NAS Recruitment Communications has heard from countless organizations who have been frustrated when it appears their initiative has stalled.

But avoiding some of the most common mistakes that can stop your progress in its tracks—we call them the "Seven Deadly Sins of Diversity Recruitment"—can help you bypass some of the bumps in the road, and keep your recruitment efforts moving in the right direction.

Sin #1: Omission

Is everyone on board?

"Diversity? Oh, that's just something the CEO's into. It has nothing to do with me." If you're hearing this about your recruiting initiative, you've just encountered the result of the First Deadly Sin: Omission. You didn't get the entire organization on board. While you may have gotten buy-in or even direction from the top, it's important that the rest of the organization—not just managers, but employees at all levels—understands the importance of diversity recruitment to your organization.

Start by explaining how bringing in the broadest possible variety of ideas, perspectives, lifestyles and experiences can improve your organization's decision-making, product design, service delivery, etc. Make your goals explicit. And not just once, but often. When everyone is "on the same page," three very important things will happen:

  1. Any cynicism or lack of respect your diversity efforts may be encountering will slowly dissipate.
  2. You'll get more diversity referrals—and stronger referrals overall—as members of the organization begin to understand that tapping into a variety of people and ideas is the key to the organization's growth.
  3. You'll heighten the engagement of your employees—not just in recruitment, but in the success of the company—as they discover that a more "inclusive" environment means more respect for their ideas and contributions as well.

So how do you get everyone on the same page? No one will argue that positive and continuous communication to each and every employee isn't paramount. However, the most important thing you can do to ensure buy-in from the entire organization is to get middle management on board. That's because managers are leaders—even when they're not necessarily consciously leading—and they have the power to influence the behavior not only of those in their charge, but other managers, as well.

Want to get their attention? Tie bonuses or significant rewards to recruiting diverse candidates and/or increasing minority development for promotion. It sends a clear message that diversity recruiting and building a more inclusive workforce are being seen by the C-suite as a corporate priority and a business imperative.

Sin #2: Limitation

Is your corporate structure limiting its ability to recruit?

"We thought our diverse workforce would be a big draw, but we still hear "no thank you" far too often."
Are women and minorities in your company represented in professional and management-level positions, or are they clustered in lower positions? Diversifying upper management is a priority if you're going to attract talented people and keep them.

Check to see if there are processes or policies that have been put in place that might impede the success of women and minorities in your organization. Top talent wants to know there is real opportunity within the organization, that they can have a career there. They want to hear "The sky's the limit." If women and minorities are well represented throughout the upper echelon, it's important to let candidates know that's the case. If there's no one they can look to as a role model, as someone that has already "made it," it makes it hard to believe it will happen for them.

If the top level of your organization is "diversity deficient," and you're trying to improve representation of women and minorities in more senior levels or across your company, make sure diversity candidates are aware of that fact. You'll make your company more attractive to them than it would be, otherwise.

Sin #3: Imitation

Innovators get a real advantage.

"I don't get it. We're doing the exact same thing our competitor is doing. Why aren't we getting the kind of response we want?"
Follow your competitor's action plan, and chances are your competitor will get all the attention, not you. When organizations are uncomfortable seeing diversity recruitment as a facet of their overall recruitment objectives, they have a tendency to mirror those they perceive to be successful. Sometimes organizations are frozen by fear of not being absolutely politically correct; these are the organizations whose recruitment campaigns are so bland and generic that they don't say anything at all. Often, they are seen by the reader as merely a gesture, not a real effort to entice them to the opportunity.

Your diversity recruitment tools and strategies should receive the same attention to creativity and innovation as your overall recruitment efforts. The key here is to create an action plan that will put into play different approaches that can show your unique identity.

First, you'll need to create a brand for your organization. What makes your organization distinct? What gives it a memorable identity? And what makes it the one place a candidate will want to bring their career? Differentiate your opportunity from the competition's—not just through the look, but the feel and message of your advertising and other recruitment tools. We believe that creating this compelling recruitment brand for your organization overall is one of the first steps—and probably the most important step—to successful diversity recruitment advertising. Keeping all of your recruitment advertising in the same visual family and with the same distinct message will keep your diversity recruitment advertising from looking like a token gesture, or a b-2-b trade ad, or worse, like you're "playing" to an audience you don't understand.

Another way to keep from being an "also ran" is to find new ways of reaching your candidate, such as utilizing the Internet or other technology, and to develop ways to engage the community from which you want to hire. But we'll be talking more about that later on.

Sin #4: Under-representation

Don't forget to polish the apple.

"We show diverse people in all our ads. Isn't that enough?"

What message is conveyed by your current diversity recruitment campaign? Are you like our friend here who believes picturing a diverse group of people tells a compelling story? While it may be your organization's way of saying "We invite everyone," there's a big difference between that and "There's a unique opportunity for you to grow here." Considering how few recruitment campaigns have the message "We don't invite everyone," there's little in the first message that can give you any competitive advantage.

Your campaign is your chance to "polish the apple" of your opportunity. What is it like to work at your organization? And what does it mean to candidates? Building the company's image as a great place to work is truly important when recruiting for diversity. In fact, a positive image as a high-growth environment—as a great place to work—is one of the most important things you can do to improve the quantity and quality of diverse and non-diverse applicants alike.

A great first step is to get your organization on one of the many "Great place to work" lists. The "lists" with the most impact include both of Fortune's lists (Diversity and "Best place to work") as well as those produced by Working Woman, Latina Style, and Diversity Inc. Don't overlook the "employment specialty" lists, either: If you're an engineering or technology firm, making a "Top Employers" list from the Society of Black Engineers or Wired magazine's "Most Wired Organizations," will attract more driven and ambitious individuals.

The second step would be to have your people and diversity practices "talked about" in business and professional publications that your target audience reads. Getting your PR or marketing department onboard in this way will magnify your organization's diversity recruitment efforts, and improve your reputation in the community.

It's true: To increase your reputation as a great place to work takes some effort and resources. However, the investment in time, people and effort is not so substantial that it would keep even smaller organizations from pursuing this goal. And the payoff is substantial over the long haul; not only does this type of effort increase the company's name recognition, visibility and image externally, but it increases internal appreciation of the growth environment you've built. Imagine having thousands of employees acting as "evangelists" on your organization's behalf, telling their friends and acquaintances about your organization's great diversity and people practices. You couldn't buy a more effective marketing tool!

Sin #5: Presumption

Do internal market research before you act.

"I don't think the skills I'm looking for are out there."
As most successful recruiters will tell you, recruiting is really about identifying what candidates want and need in an opportunity and then "selling them" on the notion that your company will satisfy those wants and needs. It's hard to do that without an understanding of the candidates you wish to attract.

Don't presume you know.

You can gain an understanding of the basic demographics of your target candidates through market research. Knowing the demographics makes it not only easier to locate the diversity candidates you seek, but also to identify what these candidates expect in a position.

Remember, you're trying to sell a product (in this case, it's a job). You can advertise all you like, but unless you have the insight into your customer's desires, it's unlikely you'll be able to "close the sale." The large majority of recruiting programs—for both diverse and non-diverse candidates—has a tendency to focus their efforts on finding and screening candidates. In looking for top talent, and especially top diversity talent, finding and screening are the easiest part of the job. You must find out what criteria they will use to make their decision and then convince them that your job meets them all. You've got to sell them on your opportunity.

Much of the in-depth information you need is easily within reach. Start by identifying diverse top-performers within your organization, individuals that have the type of personality, ambition, and skills you'd like to have more of in your organization. In effect, find out "How can I find you again."

You'll do this by learning what they read, what they watch, what they do for entertainment, what conferences they attend, which organizations they're a part of, and what websites they visit.… Get specifics so you can design the recruiting program that could effectively reach them again. Often you can work in collaboration with your marketing department to get this type of information; if not, you may have to hire an outside firm to gather this information for you. Then, ask them why they joined your organization. What they'd like to see more of. What would make a difference if they had to choose between your organization and the competition? Be specific. This can help you identify key decision criteria and provide you with the necessary information so you can better "close the deal."

Sin #6: Neglect

Use onboarding as follow-through.

"We can't keep our diverse candidates. And now it's getting harder and harder to recruit them in the first place."
Even the best recruiting efforts in the world can't keep your diversity recruitment program alive if diverse candidates feel "abandoned" once they've been brought on. Adequate employee orientation—onboarding—can make a world of difference in the way your organization is perceived by your new employees. And because so many people ask their friends during their first few weeks in a new job what it's like to work there, you can be inadvertently tarnishing your reputation within the often closely-knit diversity community if you fall into this most costly of the Deadly Sins.

Not only is an effective onboarding program a relatively inexpensive way to help retain your new hires, but it can be an important marketing and recruiting tool to attract future hires, as well. Onboarding can help improve any candidate's success rate, but is especially important for diverse candidates. That's because the right onboarding program can help diverse candidates feel more welcome and give them more ownership of their success by helping them to understand your corporate culture and introducing them to the tools at their disposal, such as mentors or preceptors, and affinity groups. A formalized onboarding program also ensures there's someone checking in to answer questions, to keep tabs on their progress, and to show them they're valuable to the organization.

Sin #7: Exclusion

Referrals are still the best source.

"With a diversity program in place, I guess it's useless to have an employee referral program."
With a diversity program in place, your employee referral program (ERP) will be more important than ever. Every employee can play an important role in identifying women and minority candidates who would make a good "fit" with your organization. Here's the key: Highlight the importance your company places on diverse referrals. Communicate your organization's goals and where you are in the process of building a more diverse and inclusive workforce. Not only will everyone feel like they're "on the same page" and empowered to help build a strong, diverse workforce, but this information will get back to the candidate, and you will be seen as a stronger organization for it. Diverse employees usually know other diverse individuals. Not only will they be important to meeting the goals of your ERP, but they can also help identify organizations and sources with great potential for diversity referrals, such as community, religious or neighborhood leaders, or organizations and networks.

For best results, broaden your base, and allow non-employees to participate in your ERP. For example, should you keep in touch with former employees, let them know about the high priority that you place on diversity and the value you place on quality referrals. Customers and vendors can be good sources, too. In fact, anyone who knows your organization, your goals, and your needs can be tapped for diversity referrals. If possible, reward them for both providing names, and for actual hires. This will help them remember your goals each time they meet someone else that's a "good fit" for your organization!

Sins can be forgiven.

It takes time and effort, but if your organization has fallen into one of these "sins," you can get right back on the road to building the type of inclusive environment you seek.

About the Author: Kathie Sandlin

Kathie Sandlin, Diversity Strategist at NAS Recruitment Communications regularly speaks, writes and participates in podcasts designed to help employers succeed with diversity staffing. NAS Recruitment Communications specializes in human resource communications and workforce diversity.