Diversity Recruiting in a Failure: It's Time to Raise The Bar!

by Dr. John Sullivan & Dr. Sally Baack

There are very few companies that want to talk about it in public but it's time to face

the facts. No matter how sincere the effort, diversity recruiting programs (DRPís) time and time again have failed to meet their goals! When you speak to senior executives about diversity recruiting they are almost always universally disappointed in the results produced by their programs.† Even diversity program managers, the people that design and administer the programs, are disappointed in the results of their corporate diversity recruiting efforts. Why is diversity recruiting, one of the most important HR programs,

failing? There are a variety of reasons why diversity recruiting is largely ineffective, almost all of which can be remedied.

We need to begin by acknowledging that a primary reason why these programs have not excelled is that individuals resist criticizing them out of a fear that they will be labeled as intolerant or even racist. By isolating diversity programs from criticism and treating them "differently", we are actually hurting rather than helping them. By tiptoeing around DRPís we miss opportunities to incorporate new ideas, and to develop tools and approaches that can only be realized through critical assessment. The net effect is that DRPís remain limited both in their development and effectiveness.

Given that businesses today are faced with greater and greater challenges, the ability to strategically leverage the benefits of an effective DRP can provide firms with a valuable competitive advantage. The global business arena is faced with overwhelming pressure for constant innovation and reinvention.† Successful DRPís provide the potential to enable firms to acquire the human resources to effectively tackle these issues.† Yet they remain underutilized, at best.† All too often, firms have failed to recognize either the importance of DRPís in achieving an overall excellent recruiting program, or have failed to devote the time, money and personnel required to produce such a program.

Rather than tolerate mediocre results we have decided to analyze DRPís using the same template we have utilized to build world-class programs for recruiting high demand high-tech talent in the Silicon Valley. Our analysis has shown that when you compare traditional diversity recruiting against this high-tech template, the weaknesses in diversity recruiting programs become obvious. Part 1of this article will highlight the problems that most diversity programs encounter and in Part 2 we will offer an "outside the box" look at the action steps that can be taken to dramatically increase DRP results.

Defining diversity

Diversity can be defined in a variety of ways. In this article we use an "inclusive" definition (as opposed to the more traditional equal employment definition frequently used in the United States). Many times diversity is defined too narrowly. We define diversity as the need for corporations to have a wide variation in ideas, perspectives, lifestyles and experiences in their decision-making, product design, service delivery, etc. This means that people with diverse ideas, backgrounds and experiences must participate and be listened to in all jobs and at all levels of decision making.


Most recruiting programs are developed on an ad-hoc, trial and error basis. And as a result, most have inherent weaknesses. However, if you look at world-class recruiting programs at top firms like Cisco, Intel, Texas Instruments and Microsoft you will find that the top-tier recruiting programs differ significantly from the average. This is important, because these are the exact companies that cite their human and intellectual capital as their most important sources of success. If you also look outside of corporate recruiting and see how the top executive search and Internet recruiting firms approach recruiting you begin to develop a set of characteristics or critical success factors that the top tier recruiting efforts have in common.† When you use this critical success factor (CSF) list to "audit" diversity recruiting programs you quickly find that they come up short in most categories. Because the primary focus of this article is recommending changes in DRPís we will not dwell at length on the weaknesses of most diversity programs. However, the primary weaknesses can be placed into ten basic categories.† After listing them we will spend the remainder of the article outlining steps you must take to overcome each of them.

The 10 basic reasons why diversity recruiting programs fail:

  1. Goals arenít clear Ė Organizations, and the program directors themselves, often have not articulated explicit goals for their program(s).† If the purpose and goals of each program arenít clear, it is extremely difficult to assess what constitutes success and/or effectiveness of the program(s)
  2. Lack of a strong business case - The recruiting team failed to make a convincing "business case" to individual managers that diversity has a direct economic impact on their ability to produce results
  3. Underutilizing referrals - DRP's underutilize referrals as a primary source for identifying candidates. This underutilization comes from an unfounded fear that referrals cannot produce diversity candidates, or that targeted referral programs constitute discrimination
  4. No rewards - A lack of significant rewards for recruiting diverse candidates sends a clear message that diversity recruiting isnít a priority, and therefore managers and recruiters fail to focus on it
  5. No innovation in tools and strategies Ė DRPís traditionally benchmark against each other and as a result, the tools and strategies they utilize vary very little.† In a rapidly changing world where job hunting has changed dramatically the tools and strategies that are used must be constantly updated to remain effective
  6. Weak recruiters - The people that run and staff them, no matter how well-intentioned, are all too often not experienced or trained "executive search type" recruiters
  7. Little market research - DRP administrators often fail to make use of the latest market research and sales techniques to diagnose and improve upon their existing diversity recruiting systems.† In addition, they fail to do the minimum amount of necessary market research to identify the specific "decision criteria" used by diverse candidates to select a new job opportunity
  8. Weak metrics Ė Most programs lack periodic performance metrics (numerical measures) that are needed for continuous process improvement.† Gathering and reporting metrics also sends a message to managers that diversity recruiting is important
  9. Focus on active candidates - Most programs have as their primary focus attracting "active" candidates rather than "poaching" currently employed diverse people from other firms. These ďpassiveĒ candidates are not currently looking for a job but that do meet and in many cases exceed a firmís job requirements
  10. Not enough emphasis on orientation and retention Ė No matter how effective a DRP is at attracting and hiring candidates, it is impossible to achieve the overall objectives of a world-class program without giving serious consideration to the orientation and retention of diverse candidates

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About the Authors: Dr. John Sullivan & Dr. Sally Baack

Dr. John Sullivan is a well-known thought leader in HR. He is a frequent speaker and advisor to Fortune 500 and Silicon Valley firms. Formerly the chief talent officer for Agilent Technologies (the 43,000-employee HP spin-off), he is now professor and head of the HR program at San Francisco State University. He was called the ďMichael Jordan of HiringĒ by Fast Company magazine. Information about his numerous other articles, books and manuals about recruiting and HR can be found at DJS. Dr. Sullivan is also the editor of VP of HR, an e-newsletter providing ďout of the boxĒ solutions for senior HR managers.

Dr. John Sullivan

Dr. Sally Baack is an Assistant Professor of Management at San Francisco State University. She completed her Bachelorís degree at the University of California, Berkeley and the Georg-August Universitaet, in Goettingen, Germany, and received her Ph.D. in Strategic Management from the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California. Her work with organizations has been focused primarily on leveraging human resources for optimal problem-solving and strategic change efforts. She has a strong background in international and cross-cultural issues, and is particularly interested in solving organizational problems that arise due to differences in individualís diverse backgrounds. Her practical and academic interests revolve around helping organizations identify and solve cutting-edge strategic problems. She has presented her research at premier academic associations, both in the US and internationally. She has taught undergraduate, MBA and Executive MBA students for the past eight years in the areas of Strategic Management; Business Policy and Decision-making; Organizational Behavior and Change; International Business Negotiations; and Managing Conflict and Problem Solving. She can be reached at sbaack@sfsu.edu.

Dr. Sally Baack