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Future of Work

Creating a Bias-Free, Full-Cycle, Inclusive Recruiting Process

From product development to brand management to customer experience, diversity is the future of business.


Leah Smiley, CDE

Founder and President, The Society for Diversity Inc.


Jenn Tardy, CDE

CEO, Jennifer Tardy Consulting LLC

Keep in mind that advanced technology is necessary for efficiency, communications, and high performance, but DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) serves as the glue that indicates value for employee and stakeholder groups. In other words, you can have advanced technology, but you may not have the right team in place to operate it, improve it, and customize the end-user experience.

Therefore, we need employees to help us — not just different workers, but talented ones. This is where we make the distinction between conceptualizing the need for DEI and integrating it throughout the organization. 

The former is relatively easy to do. In fact, most American employers have made significant progress in hiring underrepresented workers due to compliance requirements and a fear of being sued. From a talent management perspective, diversity isn’t viewed as a solution; it is treated like a check-the-box activity (i.e., “once we recruit and hire this worker, we’re finished”). This type of recruiting is less effective.

Alternatively, European employers tend to take a research-based approach to the diversity talent management life cycle. This approach includes other activities like sourcing, onboarding, inclusion, engagement, development, promotion, and retention, and can reduce costs, stem turnover, inform strategy, and improve productivity and performance. In this sense, talent management is not a buzzword; it implies that you must manage diversity well and commit to a full cycle in inclusive recruiting. 

Inclusive recruiting

Inclusive recruiting is the process of connecting with, interviewing, and hiring talented individuals with different identities, backgrounds, lived experiences, and perspectives. This process should be intentional, intersectional, and consider more than just race and gender. Most importantly, how can you do it better?

Start by expanding your sources. Make sure you work with credible external recruiting partners who role model the level of representation they claim they can recruit. If you need assistance, utilize your affinity groups — they can provide you and your partners with a viable list of potential sources for underrepresented talent.

You also need to understand how bias influences decision-making. Bias can show up subtly when we seek talent from certain universities; or we identify a “profile of success” that reflects previous employees who were favored; or we use algorithms to screen out candidates based on a degree, type of experience, or other characteristics. Bias ultimately determines who makes it as a finalist.

It’s more beneficial to hire for a culture add rather than a culture fit. Culture fit is subjective, and it places 100 percent responsibility on the employee to “fit in.” That’s a heavy load to lift. Culture ddd entails the organization taking action to meet the employee halfway so they can experience belonging. 

Finally, connect recruiting efforts to broader work-life concerns. Times have changed and people no longer expect to stay with one employer forever. Figure out how to make the most out of a talented employee who may only stay with the company for anywhere from six months to two years. Also, create a wider range of flexible opportunities for people in various career stages.

Ending bad practices

Keep in mind that it is important to consider what more you can do as an employer to increase diversity, but it is just as essential to consider what you must stop doing. Companies are funneling thousands — and often hundreds of thousands — of dollars into campaigns and partnerships meant to source and attract untapped talent, but employers are moving said talent through a bias-filled obstacle course that pushes them out of the hiring process.

To a candidate from an underrepresented background, navigating the hiring process can mean jumping over landmines of appropriate versus inappropriate behavior, dodging microaggressions, swimming through unconscious biases, and balancing the tightrope of assimilation versus authenticity to be likable and make others feel comfortable. 

If you truly want to disrupt bias to increase diversity, what should you stop doing immediately?

  1. Stop posting job descriptions that are too restrictive and create unrealistic barriers. These job descriptions exclude candidates who might reasonably be able to do the job successfully. Too many unnecessary qualifications and restrictive sourcing parameters to recruit a certain pedigree, or to source solely within your current industry, are all indicators that bias has penetrated your hiring process.
  2. Stop prioritizing referrals of employees with homogeneous networks. Creating an effective and inclusive workplace referral program means inviting your employees to consider the level of diversity within their personal networks. For example, if your employees’ immediate network (and their networks’ network) of professionals includes only cis-gender, heterosexual, able-bodied white men, there’s a greater likelihood that referrals submitted into your workplace will also reflect cis-gender, heterosexual, able-bodied white men. Increasing diversity within personal networks will increase diversity within your workplace. 
  3. Stop rejecting candidates based only on interview performance. Some candidates interview extremely well but cannot do the job. Other candidates interview poorly but can do the job successfully. Assess candidates based on qualifications and do not get overly distracted by one’s interview performance. If you find yourself rejecting a candidate for a reason you would not feel comfortable sharing directly with the candidate, it is likely connected to factors that are irrelevant to their ability to do the job. Disrupting your bias means getting used to asking yourself, “But can they do the job successfully?” 
  4. From a talent development perspective, stop allowing unwritten rules to drive who gets access to internal workplace opportunities (e.g., lateral transfers, promotions, highly visible projects). Equitable access to opportunity is not just a hiring issue, it is also a promotional issue. If it does not follow your company’s policy and/or it leads to a small, select group of employees accessing all of the new opportunities, it is likely an unwritten rule. For example, befriending the right executive can be an unwritten rule if it leads to a hidden job opportunity at your company. To create more equitable access to internal workplace opportunities, either publish these “unwritten” rules or nix exceptions to your established policies. 

We need talented employees with diverse lived experiences and unique perspectives so we can have highly competitive teams in place to operate, improve, and customize our technology, products, and services. We can get there by effectuating inclusive recruiting practices that we can all implement and evaluate now, but if we really want this to work well, we cannot forget about the practices that we must also end. Good luck to you. 

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