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Best Practices for Building a Diverse Pipeline of Talent


Diversity matters for many reasons and savvy employers know this. They recognize the value that diversity brings in terms of employee innovation and insights. And they know that today’s employees themselves value diversity and favor companies that reflect the diversity of the world we live in. Unfortunately, despite their commitment to building a diverse workforce many employers struggle to find and retain diverse staff members. Here we take a look at best practices for attracting and retaining diverse workers, you can see the others parts why companies are challenged to build a diverse workforce and why diversity in hiring is important.

Best Practices for Building a Diverse Pipeline of Talent

To boost their success in drawing diverse candidates into their organizations, organizations need to be willing to do things differently. They must be willing to look at things differently and, in some cases, to change their expectations and approaches accordingly.

Here we take a look at some best practices for building a more diverse pool of employment candidates to help grow a diverse talent pool.

Make it a Top Priority

“Diversity and inclusion within Paylocity’s hiring process has and will continue to be a top priority,” says Tauhidah Shakir, VP of human resources and Chief Diversity Officer at Paylocity.

“We don’t just talk about the importance of incorporating DEI within hiring and recruiting, but we take proactive steps to ensure it,” Shakir says. At Paylocity, she says, hiring managers and talent acquisition teams are not only given a diverse set of candidates, but they are also trained on how to reduce unconscious bias and what questions to ask that are skills-focused and rooted in our core values.

“We also have diverse interview panels and partner with diverse job boards and positing sites to make sure we’re doing everything in our power to promote a diverse and inclusive community of talent,” she says. “In addition, our applicant tracking system allows recruiting teams to track, collect and analyze candidate demographic data.”

When Shakir first joined Paylocity, she says, the short term goal was to assess formal and informal internal process to understand where bias might be present. “It’s important to take a deep dive into the minutiae to identify what can be improved or changed that can generate better results for our current employees and future candidates,” she says. “Establishing a strong foundation is important, and this takes time and multiple reassessments.”

It’s an important and foundational first step that few companies are currently taking according to recent research from XpertHR. Their Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Employer Trends Survey 2021, based on input from 383 US employers, found that fewer than one in five (14%) had conducted a DEI audit. They’re beginning to realize the value, though, says surveys editor Andrew Hellwege. “While few responding employers have conducted a diversity, equity, and inclusion audit, about three in 10 are planning to do so in the near future,” he says.

Reconsider Your “Must Haves”

It can also be an important best practice for companies to revisit some of their core beliefs and assumptions related to talent acquisition.

For instance, companies should consider opening the gates to candidates who may not have all of their checklist items—thinking differently about their “must haves” or throwing them out entirely. Then, they need to have a support and training program in place that enables them to obtain quickly and securely [candidates with] these experiences, exposures, and skills.

Jennifer Reid, AC Lion’s Director of Diversity and Inclusion Lead

Communicating broadly about DEI efforts is a good way to ensure all employees are on board—and playing a role in helping to spread the message. Getting that message out through other channels should be part of the talent acquisition process.

Communicate Your Commitment to Diversity Broadly

Willie Greer, the founder of The Product Analyst and leader of the firm’s HR team, says: “When hiring new members, we put in the job description that we’re open to all races, genders, religions, ages, and those on the autism spectrum.” Doing this up front, he says, “makes it easy to spout us for people looking for a diverse workplace.”

That type of communication can and should be incorporated broadly in all of a company’s communication materials—from traditional recruitment materials to the company website and even marketing collateral.

And, of course, it’s important that potential job applicants can see the diversity of your workforce through their interactions with representatives of your company. If your company doesn’t look diverse, it’s unlikely that it will attract diverse candidates.

Go Where the Diverse Candidates Are

Elizabeth Green is an occupational therapist and the owner of Link OT, LLC, a firm that supports neuro-distinct individuals seeking or sustaining employment or other life goals. With her focus on the neurodiverse talent community, Green says that many opportunities to widen the recruitment pipeline to attract these individuals exists, for instance.

“Companies should be connecting with local university student disability services and community agencies such as Division of Vocational Rehab to advertise for and recruit neurodiverse talent,” Green says. Amazon, she notes, recruits diverse talent “by building training programs in inner cities that will route high school and local diverse talent through college and into Amazon.”

The same types of communities and resources will exist for other diverse candidate pools.

“When a company makes its presence known in a community and blends itself into the fabric of the community, diverse talent will come,” Green says.

Build Diversity Through a Remote Workforce

In addition, says Reid, organizations can become more successful in building a diverse workforce by being more open to either relocation assistance or remote workforces. In fact, the pandemic has pointed out quite compellingly that it is not only possible to work with employees remotely but that, in some cases, if may even be preferable.

Consider, for instance, if your company is located in an area with a low level of diversity among its population. That’s been a traditional barrier to diverse hiring for many organizations. But if employees don’t need to be physically based in the community where you’re headquartered—and we’ve learned through the pandemic experience that many don’t—your field of candidates suddenly becomes much more broad, and much more diverse.

There is, of course, a human element that creates barriers to diversity in hiring in some settings—unconscious bias. While HR professionals, recruiters and hiring managers may not be aware that bias may be getting in the way of their hiring decisions, that bias is unfortunately a real issue that faces many organizations. It’s one that can be challenging to overcome.

That’s where new digital recruitment tools and technologies—like artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing (NLP) can come into plan to help move the needle forward.

A Role for AI and NLP for Attracting and Recruiting Diverse Talent

Traditional methods of recruitment, says Austin Fain, the owner of Perfect Steel Solutions a company in the home improvement industry, often included “gender and social bias which led to many groups feeling unmotivated to apply for the job even if they would be good at it.” But, he says, “through the digital transformation of the recruitment process, companies are able to remove that bias and recruit the best talent out there regardless of skin, color, or race.”

For instance, Fain says, “through machine learning and AI, job advertisements language can be double-checked to make sure they aren’t enforcing any bias or gendered language before being signed off on.” Tackling the issue up front at this point, he says, “means that companies can expand their talent pool to make it much more diverse.” When you have a diverse talent pool to work with, you have a better chance of building a diverse team.

Focus More on Inclusion Than Diversity

Finally, Yinnan Shen who teaches Managing and Cultivating Cultural Differences at Columbia University and is an associate at the Logos Consulting Group a corporate responsibility and crisis management/ strategic communication firm, offers a compelling reason to stop focusing on diversity. Because inclusion matters more.

Shen says: “The best way to promote diversity hiring in the digital world is to stop promoting diversity—promote inclusion instead.” Diversity, Shen points out, doesn’t drive innovation or performance, inclusion does. “Without the right culture that embraces differences and values diverse perspectives, any diversity and inclusion initiatives will be a waste of resources,” she says. “Even worse, it can be counterproductive.” For example, a company that hires a millennial into a workplace dominated by older generations may face an audience that fails to take her seriously.

Yolanda Chase, Chief Diversity Officer for the Washington Technology Industry Association, agrees. “Most companies are spending their time on recruiting more diverse candidates, but a gap exists when it comes to retaining and integrating diverse talent within these organizations.” Importantly, she points out: “Recruiting efforts are only one piece of DEO—companies must progress beyond this and consider the full ecosystem. It’s a combination of culture, value, integration and a focus on intersectionality.”

We live in an increasingly diverse society—a true melting pot of different backgrounds, beliefs and behaviors reflected not only in observable ways (race and gender) but often in hidden, unobservable, ways (sexual preference, certain types of disabilities, religious or political beliefs). Savvy employers recognize the importance of building a diverse pipeline of talent so they can reap the value of various viewpoints to spur engagement and innovation.

Alan Cutter

Alan Cutter founded New York City's premier digital recruiting agency, AC Lion International, and continues to lead the growing company as their fearless CEO. For over 20 years, AC Lion has been the trusted provider of revenue generating talent in the digital and technology landscape. Our reach spans from innovative venture-backed startups to enterprise level organizations. AC Lion is a proud member of the Lionseye Group, a collective of brands furthering talent acquisition through Venture Capital, HR Technology and Thought Leadership.