With recent social movements and the emergence of complex and highly profiled workplace conflicts, there has been increased awareness of organizations’ responsibility to foster safe, diverse and inclusive workplaces. Organizations large and small have taken action to strategically learn about and implement inclusive policies and practices in order to both enhance employee engagement and foster positive organizational culture.
Prioritizing diversity and inclusion efforts has immeasurable value. Workforces that have diversity of thought, perspectives and ideas are better able to solve problems creatively and collaboratively, and diverse and inclusive organization are more likely to achieve their goals. Another benefit relates to an organization’s ability to attract and retain strong talent. Research conducted by Deloitte University Leadership Center for Inclusion reveals that workers born after 1980 – those who are increasingly the majority of the workforce – are highly motivated to join and remain with organizations that prioritize diversity and inclusion. When you have a diverse and inclusive culture, you have an edge in attracting candidates to work for you.
What is Diversity and Inclusion?
Diversity and inclusion are terms that frequently appear in organizational development literature. Within this context, diversity refers to employee characteristics that are protected under human rights legislation, including race, age, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, disabilities and other characteristics. Diversity also includes qualities beyond those protected by human rights such as education, values, knowledge and socio-economic status. Some of these characteristics are visible while others are not. Each of these characteristics influence individual views and perspectives of the world, and the combination of these perspectives impacts the way employees interact with each other in the workplace.
Where diversity is about the makeup of your workforce, inclusion is about culture and belonging. Inclusion, as it applies to the workplace is, in essence, the way an organization’s culture “shows up.” It includes the tangible and intangible workplace culture, environmental factors and rituals that impact how comfortable employees are in being their genuine and authentic selves at work. For example, are multiple voices and perspectives invited to the table to take part in discussions and decision-making processes? Can many differing viewpoints and opinions safely arrive in conversations and be appreciated by others?
Where Do We Start?
Knowing the importance of enhancing diversity and inclusion in our organizations, we must be serious about considering how we can be most impactful. An obvious place to start is to consider how we hire. This critical step in an employment relationship – the entryway to the future generation of workers – is an important part of the solution. By carefully examining our selection practices and using targeted diversity hiring strategies, we can reduce employment barriers facing underrepresented groups and in turn, provide increased opportunities for inclusive workplaces to blossom. Let’s take a closer look at how to actively engage in this process.
Acknowledge and Recognize Bias
The first and most critical step in diversity hiring is to acknowledge that bias – both conscious and unconscious – plays a very real role in the selection process. Research has identified that bias is an inescapable part of being human. These mental shortcuts help the brain conserve energy in decision-making. However, when this instinctual tactic is left unchecked in a selection process, the unintended outcome is that we are more likely to hire because of “gut instincts” and “first impressions,” neither of which are predictive of job performance. Rather, these decisions often result in bringing on new employees who are similar to those already employed in the organization, thereby increasing homogenous workplaces that lack in divergent perspective and creative problem-solving potential.
Knowing and recognizing when bias appears will greatly assist diversity hiring. If you become aware of bias, you are more able to understand its impact on decision-making. For example, similarity bias emerges regularly in the hiring process. This natural human condition results in being attracted to people that are more similar to us rather than those who appear different. This can manifest in noticing that an applicant’s background is similar to ours – such as having attended the same school or coming from the same community – and then attributing unwarranted weight to this similarity, even when it has no relation to the job they are being hired for. If we notice this bias as it enters our decision-making processes, we are more able to interrupt it and actively counteract its impact. The same is true of other hiring biases. Being aware of how you may have been triggered by a particular element of a person’s demeanor allows you to consider how it has influenced your perceptions and actions. Only then can you consciously activate strategies to counteract and make better decisions.
8 Strategies for Hiring Diverse Candidates
As important as it is to consciously counteract the impact of individual bias in the hiring process, it is equally important to examine organizational and structural barriers that impede efforts to hire for diversity. The following lists some targeted strategies to reduce barriers and enhance your chance of hiring more diverse candidates.
- Make your diversity goals explicitly clear by identifying where you need to strengthen your organization’s diversity. Know your organization’s demographics and ensure diversity hiring goals are incorporated into strategic plans.
- Ensure everyone involved in selection is trained on the impact that internal bias plays in the hiring process. An exceptional starting place is the free implicit association test developed collaboratively by Harvard, Virginia and Washington Universities.
- Ensure your job postings don’t include bias-laden language. Instead, use gender-neutral and culture-neutral language. Online tools to support this task are abundant.
- Carefully consider where and how you will recruit and engage with applicants. Several issues such as leveraging appropriate recruitment channels, enhancing your employment value proposition, and profiling your organization’s commitment to diversity should be articulated.
- When shortlisting, consider anonymizing candidates’ personal information such as names and gender to reduce the possibility that this information triggers bias in decision- making.
- Build a structured interview process focussing on evaluating only job-related criteria and ensure candidates feel comfortable through the process.
- Avoid interviewing one-on-one. Instead, establish interview committees of at least three; and wherever possible, have diverse representation on the committee itself.
- When making decisions as to who to move forward to the final interview stage, consider the Harvard Business Review study that determined that having more than one minority candidate in a final interview has a profound impact on the chances that a minority candidate will be selected.
Our hiring processes are the entry-way to diversity and are a foundational step to enable inclusive workplace cultures to take hold. Complemented by a larger organizational commitment to inclusion, these targeted hiring strategies can help foster the growth of a diverse and inclusive workplace where employees can develop a strong sense of belonging. This work is not easy and takes time. Sustained effort, honest conversations and organizational commitment are required. The outcomes are worth it.
About the Author
Janet Stewart is a human resource and organizational development consultant whose primary focus is on maximizing workforce engagement. Her work is informed by her 20-plus years working in public sector leadership roles. In addition to her Master’s in Adult Education, Janet has a Certificate in Conflict Resolution from the Justice Institute of BC, a graduate Certificate in Organizational Coaching from UBC, and an Organizational Development Fundamentals Certificate from Queen’s IRC. She is member of the International Coaching Federation and is PROSCI® change-management certified. Her book Hiring Well: Building Strong Selection Practices in K-12 was published in April 2021.
 Delivering through Diversity. (2018, January). McKinsey&Company. Retrieved May 12, 2021 from: https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/mckinsey/business%20functions/organization/our%20insights/delivering%20through%20diversity/delivering-through-diversity_full-report.ashx
 Smith, C., Turner, S. (2015). The Radical Transformation of Diversity and Inclusion; The Millennial Influence. Deloitte University; the Leadership Center for inclusion. Retrieved May 12, 2021 from: https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/us/Documents/about-deloitte/us-inclus-millennial-influence-120215.pdf
 Henneman, T. (2014, February 09). You, Biased? No, It’s Your Brain. Retrieved May 12, 2021 from: https://www.workforce.com/news/you-biased-no-its-your-brain
 This test can be found at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/
 Johnson, S. K., Hekman, D. R., Chan, E. T. (2016, April 26). If There’s Only One Woman in Your Candidate Pool, There’s Statistically No Chance She’ll Be Hired. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved May 12, 2021, from: https://hbr.org/2016/04/if-theres-only-one-woman-in-your-candidate-pool-theres-statistically-no-chance-shell-be-hired