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Hiring Diverse Teams: You’re Probably Doing It Wrong

Stop handicapping your diversity efforts before you begin.

By Abe Taleb

Hiring managers fill my inbox with email blasts for their open roles. Most are benign, many are chock full of cliches, and some really catch your eye. Too often it’s for the wrong reasons.

“We are particularly looking for great qualified candidates of color! Please pass along to your networks and let me know if there is anyone you think I should reach out to.”

Stop handicapping your diversity efforts before you begin.

For all our good intentions, it’s time for leaders to reflect and adopt a strategy deserving of results. This approach won’t work and it sends the wrong message. It feels good to write it. But if it doesn’t work, then it’s time to abandon it.

When I question this approach, it raises eyebrows among peers. It’s as if they think there’s a secret cohort of black and brown candidates just waiting to apply if they are asked. Since a lack of outreach has held us back for far too long, isn’t this what we’ve been waiting for?

Outreach is a problem, but asking for diverse candidates this way will only consistently backfire. Without the right approach, it won’t yield the results we all need for diverse teams to form and flourish.

Create an environment where diversity is paramount. Always couple your diversity efforts with inclusion.

It can be good to be direct. Sometimes being explicit offers clarity. But if you send me a pitch like the one above, one thing becomes abundantly clear. You haven’t encouraged people of color to apply. You’ve only reminded candidates of the lack of diversity on your team. As CEO of a recruiting company, I immediately roll my eyes. As a person of color, I immediately feel uncomfortable.

Stop reinforcing the concept of “otherness.”

To an applicant who represents a racial or ethnic group, you have labeled them as “other.” Even if you land one of these candidates, you’ve begun the relationship on the wrong foot. It can dehumanize us, leaving us feeling like token representatives of identity groups. And that makes it difficult to form a cohesive team. Without cohesion, you will miss out entirely on the many benefits that diversity brings.

You want to use each lever to diversify the makeup of your team — hiring included. Taking diversity seriously means beginning long before sourcing for an open role. If you’re on a diet, you know you have to think about your entire meal plan. You can’t continue to eat pizza every night and lose weight by just changing what you order for dessert.

Tactics aren’t enough. Qualified candidates of color see right through patchwork, last-minute tricks. Still, there are some strategic steps you can take now.

Here’s what to do instead:

1. Show your team and culture.

Fostering an inviting and open environment begins at home. Create an environment where diversity is paramount. Always couple your diversity efforts with inclusion. In other words, start with your current team and culture. Allow your success to extend to your hiring process.

What is it really like to work there? Provide a candid, buzzword-free assessment. Don’t try to be all things to all people. Allow candidates to opt in to the environment best suited to them. Is it fun and easygoing? Is it competitive and hard-charging? Is it hierarchical or more team-oriented?

If you haven’t done it already, know that it’s never too early to outline your team values. Commit to an inviting environment where anyone can feel welcome. Bake it into your everyday work. Show candidates why you’re committed to fostering an inclusive environment.

2. Define the job; not the person.

From a job description:

“Required Qualifications: MBA degree”
“Candidates of all backgrounds are encouraged to apply.”

Confusing, right? Requiring a MBA degree to apply is a proxy. You’re not searching for what you want.

Relying on proxies in hiring introduces opportunity for bias. The word is thrown around enough that’s it’s important to specify its meaning: Proxies are variables that that serve as a substitute for something you can’t directly observe.

Hiring managers often say they need a MBA on their team. They rarely mean that they need a MBA on their team. When you dig a little deeper, you find that the MBA is a marker for the traits they need, but can’t be directly observed.

3. Break down the job.

In a job description, write about the job-to-be-done — not the person-to-be-hired. What does a MBA represent to you? Some options:

Academic success
Project management
Financial or analytical skills
Ability to conform and get along
Access to a network

Which is most important? Get specific. Then follow evidence of the skills you need and avoid the shiny glamour of a prestigious institution. How?

4. Test for skills.

From our experience hiring at ReWork, and verified by large scale enterprise research, there’s one best way to see if an applicant has the skills. It’s to see if they have the skills. Hiring Exercises give you a chance to observe how candidates perform in a simulation of the actual work. Don’t only ask candidates to tell you how they can get the job. Let them show you by giving them a real-world task.

5. Make it blind.

And better yet, we’ve begun a blind review process with our clients recently. It’s possible to remove resumes from the final stages and get a better hiring result. Here’s how we do it. After finalists submit their hiring exercise, we obscure identity before review. Names are separated from the results so bias does not creep into the final critical stages. Instead, reviewers can assess simply — and only — the work.

6. Get started.

It’s not extra work; it’s better results. Combine assessment techniques (resume screening + structured interviews + trial projects + reference checks) rather than relying on any single technique. Better sourcing coupled with fair screening will eventually bring the diversity results you need.

Start with these foundational steps and you’ll be closer to reaping the moral and outstanding organizational benefits of greater diversity and inclusion. Abandon what won’t work and keep more of what does.

Abe Taleb is an experienced entrepreneur and recruiter who is passionate about helping mission-driven organizations and social enterprises find the strongest talent to support their missions. He currently serves as Vice President at ReWork by Koya.

Originally published on Unreasonable.

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