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How to Launch a Diversity Initiative for Hiring in 2017

How to Launch a Diversity Initiative for Hiring in 2017

Look around your workplace right now. Do you see people of different races, genders, ages and abilities? What about the things you can’t see — is your organization employing people with various religious affiliations and nationalities? Are you hiring veterans or former criminal offenders? Each of these characteristics and many others, make up the diversity in your hiring pool and in your customers. It may be time for your organization to tap into that.

To find out the steps for developing a diversity hiring initiative, we spoke with Joe Gerstandt, an author and consultant specializing in making businesses better through diversity. “If you want to truly compete for ideas, for talent and for customers, diversity is part of the equation … and I think most organizations have a lot of room for improvement,” he says.

Here’s Gerstandt’s advice for launching a diversity hiring initiative at your organization.

Clarify Your Goals

When you talk about “improving diversity,” what do you really mean? Gerstandt recommends getting really specific and breaking down the buzzwords. “One of the most valuable things you can have is clarity,” he says, “starting with simple, clear and concise definitions.”

He encourages leaders to ask questions like:

  • What does diversity mean for your organization?
  • What does inclusion mean for your organization?
  • What does it mean to be included? How do I know when I am fully included?

We can all improve our diversity and inclusion efforts — and get more people in our organizations on board — by “taking better care of our language,” he says. “We keep writing these beautiful, poetic statements of commitment, but we still have a bunch of people who don’t know what we’re talking about. Clarity is a game-changer.”

Doing the upfront work of defining diversity will lead to concrete goals, he says: “Once you have a framework or a model of what inclusion really means for your organization, then you can work back and focus on the behaviors, practices and policies that generate that inclusive experience.”

Re-Examine Your Recruiting

How can you change recruiting processes to ensure a more diverse pool of candidates? And how do you begin to market yourself as a company that values diversity?

First, examine the language you use in job descriptions or ads you place, says Gerstandt. “Language resonates with people differently. I have seen some examples of this in the tech industry, where the term ‘hacking’ attracts men more than women,” he says. Review your use of language thoroughly and see how it might sound to different groups of people.

Next, be very clear internally about what qualifications, skills and certifications a candidate is required to have, he says. Get clear on exactly what the hiring decision will be based on and make sure those requirements don’t unduly exclude certain groups. As an extreme example, you’d probably never require a garbage collector to have a college degree, right? It’s not pertinent to the job, and requiring a degree would create an unreasonable barrier for people who couldn’t afford college, even though they may excel at the position.

Lastly, to be known as a diversity-friendly employer, you have to actually be one, says Gerstandt. But again, consider what that means to you. Are your organization’s hiring, retention, engagement and promotion rates balanced, or do they vary noticeably by race, gender, age, etc.? Gerstandt recommends using social media to widely share your “diversity story” — if you highlight real diversity in your organization, word will get out and people will come to you.

Scrutinize Your Selection Process

Making your selection process as fair and open to diversity as possible often means educating yourself and your hiring managers about implicit bias, Gerstandt says. And that may be harder than you think.

“Our scientific understanding of bias has changed pretty noticeably in just the past five to 10 years,” he says. Whereas “explicit bias” is a collection of beliefs and attitudes that one is conscious of, “implicit bias” is much more subtle. Research has shown bias in résumé review and in hiring decisions, but it’s generally not informed by hatred or bigotry, he says. We can only eliminate implicit bias by educating ourselves on it and making an effort to understand and notice how it affects our decisions, he says.

But even more important than individual awareness may be redesigning HR practices to remove implicit bias wherever possible, says Gerstandt. “For example, a number of organizations have started to remove names and gendered pronouns from résumés before they are reviewed. I believe there is a lot of room for improvement in how we make hiring decisions,” he says.

Evaluate Your Progress

How do you know if you’ve moved the needle on your diversity goals? Gerstandt says many organizations don’t know what to measure because “they’re still chasing vague objectives.” Here’s how he recommends measuring progress: “As I understand it, ‘diversity’ means ‘difference.’ So you can measure how much difference you have in an organization, or at least how many different ‘kinds of people’ you have.” He suggests comparing that internal diversity with the communities you’re drawing from and with the broader industry. “You can also measure the things you do to find, attract and hire more difference, including mitigating bias in the talent pipeline,” he says.

A final way to measure diversity: Share your diversity and inclusion goals with your employees and ask if their experience reflects your goals. Do they feel included? Do they consider their work environment diverse? “The answers to those questions are incredibly valuable metrics,” he says.

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