7 diversity hiring tips from inclusive sourcing experts

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Diversity and inclusion isn’t just about race and gender. Other factors like veteran status, ability, age, life experiences and belonging to certain communities (i.e., LGBTQ+) contribute to truly diverse teams. 

And while all generations value fairness, belonging and respect, incoming Gen Z talent is particularly drawn to it. In fact, 77% of Gen Z-ers say that a company’s level of diversity affects their decision to work there. 

But diversity recruiting in the tech industry isn’t easy, even when you’re actively trying to do it. That’s why we recently partnered with PowerToFly to host a webinar on all things inclusive sourcing, featuring insights from talent leaders at Allstate, Dell Technologies and Gainsight.

Hear what they have to say about the search techniques, sourcing best practices, tools and resources they use to attract top talent from all walks of life, build diverse talent pipelines and drive a sense of belonging.

diversity hiring webinar

What is diversity hiring?

Diversity is the range of differences that make us who we are, both seen and unseen (e.g., age, ability, race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, military background). Inclusion is how you embrace and retain that diversity. Does your company culture encourage multiple perspectives? Are you allowing diversity to thrive?

Diversity hiring involves actively reaching out to candidates from diverse backgrounds to bring their unique perspectives to the company. Cyndi Cochran, Strategic Sourcing and Diversity Recruiting Assoc. Manager at Allstate, says “We […] actively seek out and leverage collective differences and similarities to improve business outcomes in our workforce, marketplace and in our communities.”

Hiring decisions are still based on who’s best for the job, but the goal is to make sure a wider range of candidates are considered, regardless of their background. 

Tip #1: Set goals and track your progress

“Good intentions and values and a mission-driven purpose are just not enough to make results happen,” says Carol Mahoney, Chief People Officer at Gainsight. That means you’ll need to have specific goals to work towards, instead of hoping a diverse set of candidates will apply for your open roles. 

Come up with one major goal + define what success will look like

“Speed kills diversity,” says Kirby Traynham, Consultant, Sales Recruiting Programs and Operations at Dell Technologies. Don’t go too big, too soon. Her suggestion? Pick one metric and work towards it to iron out the kinks. Identify external partners, the right messaging, etc. to come up with a successful formula that you can apply across other roles and parts of the business. 

For example, one of Dell’s big initiatives is to increase female representation, specifically within leadership roles. The goal? Have women make up 50% of its global workforce and 40% of its global people leaders by 2030. Similarly, Gainsight set a goal in 2019 to have at least 50% of its hires and promotions come from underrepresented backgrounds.

But if you’re just starting out, your goals don’t have to be quite as ambitious. Maybe your goal is to increase the percentage of minorities in software engineering roles by 20% within one year. Or increase the percentage of qualified women in senior-level roles by 10% in six months. 

Track diversity within your pipeline

So how do you track diversity within your pipeline? How will you know when you’ve made some progress?

The good news is that people are often willing to disclose their ethnicity/race, gender, veteran status, disabilities and more. Traynham even reports a nearly 100% self-identification rate during the talent acquisition process. 

However, if your candidates aren’t self-identifying, Traynham advises looking to what you do know. You can make some assumptions if they’re coming from a certain org, group or university (e.g., historically black colleges and universities, tribal colleges). You can also ask questions like “Where did you hear about us?” to identify patterns and gaps. 

Watch the full webinar for more inclusive sourcing strategies from our panel of experts

Tip #2: Audit your jobs descriptions

When you’re looking to source diverse candidates, your job descriptions are critical. Make sure they’re working for you, not against you.

Watch your language

Is your messaging inclusive? Research shows that the language you use in your job description might be turning off diverse candidates. Certain words are subtly coded as masculine (e.g., ambitious, driven, competitive) and some are subtly coded as feminine (e.g., supportive, warm, compassionate). Getting rid of these gendered keywords can increase the number of applicants by 42%

Traynham uses a gender decoder tool to help her reword job descriptions so she isn’t unconsciously discouraging certain candidates, particularly women, from applying. 

Not only that, but job descriptions that contain growth mindset language (e.g., strive, highly motivated, love learning) tend to result in more female hires. On the other hand, fixed mindset traits (e.g., genius, high performer, overachiever) discourage all genders from applying, but are more likely to result in a male hire.

Drill down on must-haves vs. nice-to-haves

When it comes to job descriptions, are you screening in or screening out?  “Every time you put something on a job description—a requirement or a responsibility,” says Traynham, “you’re unintentionally or intentionally eliminating someone from applying and being considered for that role.”

And when it comes to men and women, there’s a confidence gap. Studies show that women only apply to open roles if they think they match 100% of the requirements, while men apply when they’re only 60% qualified. That means if you list dozens of must-have skills, women aren’t as likely to apply as men are. To combat this, Traynham suggests going from a long list of bullet points to just 3-5 must-haves.

Tip #3: Source diverse candidates where they “hang out”

If you continue to rely on the sourcing channels you know best, it can result in a talent pool that lacks diversity. So get creative. Try a few unconventional places, like Meetup, Slack, Reddit and Facebook Groups to connect with a wider range of tech pros.

Beyond online channels, Cochran suggests partnering with external organizations and student networks to get involved in the community. Search for networking event attendee lists. Host career fairs in overlooked communities. Recruit at schools with diverse student bodies and at conferences, events and in communities that promote inclusion (e.g., Grace Hopper, Afrotech, Disability:In, PowerToFly). 

Make sure you’re not only sourcing diverse junior talent, but also diverse senior leaders. A diverse leadership team will help attract additional minority talent and create career paths for all employees. The best way to do it? Instead of focusing your efforts on campus recruiting (which is best for entry-level roles), target professional associations organized around specific minority groups, since that’s where you’ll find soon-to-be leaders.

sourcing ebook

Tip #4: Be more intentional with your search strings

Start by thinking about what a good search result will look like and go from there.

“When we’re doing search strings in our everyday practice, we sometimes take a backwards look,” says Cochran, “And say, okay if I’m doing this search string […] who are we accidentally excluding? And how do we work around that to be super intentional in evaluating the tools and practices we’re using?”

Make your existing boolean searches more inclusive by focusing on the must-have skills. Break the mold. Open up your search to industries you don’t normally recruit from (e.g., finance, education, fashion). Revisit your education and experience criteria by looking beyond top-tier universities and Fortune 100 companies. Consider coding bootcamps, for example.

As Mahoney explains:

“I think that education biases often really paralyze our effort to look more objectively at candidates. [It also] provides an invisible barrier to different groups in being able to break through that whole hiring pipeline. I think one of the things that we can do is […] not have so much of a bias for certain schools and have a little bit more of an open mind about schools that maybe we haven’t heard of.”

Beyond making sure search strings aren’t excluding certain groups of people (who might not have an Ivy League degree or lots of experience, for example), it’s also important to build diversity into your searches by adding keywords aimed at targeting underrepresented groups, schools, communities and locations.

Bottom line: Cochran believes it comes down to influencing and advising hiring managers to open doors and consider nontraditional talent pools (and share successes to keep the momentum going). “It’s everyone’s responsibility to challenge some of those limiting beliefs that might be barriers,” she says.

Tip #5: Encourage diverse referrals

While it’s true that people tend to refer people like themselves, you can get great results if you’re more intentional about your referral program. The best part? All you have to do is ask. 

“The [conventional] wisdom is that employee referrals just bring more of the same,” explains Mahoney, “but what we found is that when you ask people to refer in the spirit of helping diversify and make a more inclusive organization, they will.”

Pinterest is another company that found success by simply making the ask. The company challenged its engineers to refer women and candidates from underrepresented ethnic groups. The result? A 24% jump in the number of women referred and a 55x increase in candidates from underrepresented ethnic backgrounds in just a six-week period. 

Some companies, like Intel, are even paying out bigger referral bonuses for employees who bring in candidates from underrepresented backgrounds. 

Supercharge your employee referral program: The one question you should be asking your tech employees to drive better referrals.

Tip #6: Build a strong brand that showcases diversity

You have limited control over who applies for your open roles, but you can diversify your inbound traffic by upping the ante on inclusive branding. After all, diversity attracts diversity. 

Traynham explains: 

“I almost look at inclusive sourcing as attraction. How can I attract the talent to the opportunities we have here? And I think first it really starts with brand. What is the brand that […] you’re putting out there? And what are some of the stories we can share on a career site […] that are going to help to build that overall picture? So that then when you reach out to the individuals, they have that perspective and mindset already and they’re more inclined to respond.”

Can a wide range of candidates see themselves at your company? Show off your existing workplace diversity on your website and social profiles. Add diversity content to your careers page, including a diversity mission statement. Create diversity recruitment videos. Write stories about the work you’re doing to foster diversity and inclusion on your company’s blog. Use real photos of your team at work, instead of stock photos.

When it comes to employee benefits and perks, make sure you’re highlighting ones that appeal to different kinds of people. For example, free beer and video games might appeal to a different group than a generous parental leave policy and 401(k) match.

Tip #7: Get your employee resource groups (ERGs) involved

Employee resource groups (ERGs) are employee-led communities centered around a shared identity, interest and/or background (race, gender, ability, sexual orientation, etc.). Dell, for example, has 13 ERGs, including Asians in Action, Pride, True Ability, Black Networking Alliance and more. 

These groups can help with diversity recruiting in a few ways:

New sourcing strategies: ERGs can help you identify previously untapped sourcing channels, including minority associations, niche forums, diverse job boards and more. 

Branding: According to Mahoney, ERGs at Gainsight critique how the company shows up on its website to make sure it’s welcoming and inclusive. ERGs also help improve the candidate experience at Gainsight and increase engagement in the interview process. 

Leadership buy-in: Inclusion efforts increase by having more leaders actively involved in the company’s diversity strategy. But getting them on board isn’t always easy. That’s where ERGs come in. Traynham says ERGs can support your conversation with a hiring leader to achieve buy-in. It just takes one hire to make it easier. 

Diversity training: Dell, for instance, is working with its ERGs to come up with a training for hiring managers on how much information to include in job descriptions. ERGs at Dell also conduct training on using pronouns and gender-inclusive language. At Allstate, there’s ERG-guided knowledge sharing opportunities not just for leaders, but for individual contributors on topics like unconscious bias.

Diversity’s not just another box to check

Diversity and inclusion can be challenging to implement (or improve upon) with obstacles like the tech skills gap, intense competition for talent, cultural mismatches, a homogenous pipeline and unconscious biases.

But when it comes down to it, people are looking for places where they belong. The more open companies can be, the more comfortable employees will be bringing their whole selves to work. 

First and foremost, diversity hiring has to be intentional. And it’s everyone’s responsibility, not just the CEO and not just HR. As Cochran puts it, “[Inclusive sourcing] requires everyone to be invested and ultimately accountable from the start of the candidate attraction through employment and beyond.” 

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for diversity sourcing. But make it clear that diversity and inclusion is a priority for you, set measurable goals and hire intentionally to see the change.

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