Diversity Hiring: It’s Time to Ask the Hard Questions

Diversity hiring has been a hot topic in recruiting for at least the past 10 years. The benefits of having a workforce diverse in backgrounds, ethnicity, and gender have been proven. Today’s competitive organizations are made up of high performing employees with different viewpoints. But often when we talk to organizations about what diversity hiring means to them, things can often get more vague. Recruiters shouldn’t be tasked with merely “hiring for diversity.” And if organizations don’t understand why they are doing it, efforts will fall flat. Here’s where skilled recruiters can provide tremendous guidance to their clients. Some basic questions can get organizations on a path to better and more diverse workforce.

What Does Diversity Mean to Us?

The first thing we ask when talking about diversity with a client, is “What does diversity mean to you?” Often we find people within the same organization have differing views of what this means. It’s critical to establish some common ground and a common language. One hiring manager might be thinking only about gender, while another is thinking about minority representation.

What Problem Are We Solving?

The next question to ask is, “what is your organization trying to solve for?” Again, this is where we need to delve deeper than merely aiming for a generally diverse workforce. Sometimes, after some research, the issue is diversity at the leadership level, sometimes it is balancing gender in a specific area, such as technology. The best recruiters are looking to solve a core problem, not attain vague aspirational goals.

One high tech employer in Seattle set out a gender balance goal, but focused in on one core challenge: getting women into technology leadership roles. They looked at their current hiring, and identified that the majority of their mid-level managers were male. They made a conscious decision to open up all leadership roles externally (rather than filling internally through succession planning). In doing so, they committed to having at least one female candidate come in for an in person interview on any given open leadership position. Over the period of a year, this increased the number of female hires in key leadership roles; in turn, these women networked with other women, brought in more talent who saw this company as a great employer, and created a supportive environment for other women coming up under them.

“We were able to drive change at the leadership level, and that changed the culture for the entire organization,” says Sippy Hira, who lead the effort. “It was a tremendous success.”

What are We Doing Right (or Wrong) Now?

Another inquiry involves taking an honest look internally at the current organization, and assessing existing diversity efforts or retention rates. The best recruiter can’t create a diverse workforce out of thin air – or one that will last long in any case. An organization needs to examine current hiring processes and any internal programs. Are minority candidates being regularly brought in for interviews? Is the organization losing a high percentage of women from a particular group or at a particular level? Are there any support programs in place to encourage or develop current underrepresented employees, such as Women in Tech groups or minority mentoring programs? Is there true equality in pay across genders? Find the holes in your hiring and retention program and fix them before seeking out new hires.

Issues around diversity hiring come into sharp relief in Seattle’s tight job market. In a city with a multitude of large companies all dipping into the same talent pool, the demand for certain skill sets (ie, data science, engineering talent) is a challenge. We also have an extraordinary number of candidates coming from other countries. Diversity is a stated goal of many of Seattle’s major tech players, and they are reaching out to the same demographic groups. Organizations need a unique game plan that addresses their diversity initiatives and a skilled recruiting team to strategize and execute.

While increasing the number of women in technology roles remains a hot topic, African-Americans and Hispanics are also underrepresented and should be a focus of diversity hiring. TalentReach’s Sippy Hira says, “There needs to be a focus on developing talent. Because acquiring top talent is a challenge, organizations must deliver on creative approaches to continue to develop and grow diverse talent. Acquisition and retention go hand in hand.” Organizations that spend resources to recruit these groups need to make sure their organization continues to support them after hiring.

Are We the Organization We Want to Be?

Diversity hiring should remain a top priority for organizations: but there must be a more thoughtful and mindful approach. The most important question to ask: Does your workforce and your hiring strategy reflect the company you aspire to be? If not, how do you change it? These questions are just a starting point for a robust strategy for the diverse workforce any organization needs to be successful in today’s business environment.

TalentReach’s team has deep experience in recruiting from Seattle’s unique talent pool and can help your organization with a diversity hiring strategy. Call or email for a free consultation.


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