Sunday, July 31, 2005

There has been a lot of noise about diversity recruiting lately...what are we doing, where are we posting, how can I see more diverse candidates, etc. Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce. Do you want fries with that? Kitchen -- one diverse candidate please, STAT.

I have wanted to get this off my mind for a while. My little diversity readiness dialogue... let's keep it real...

First, what do you mean by diversity recruiting?
Usually, managers are referring to ethnic diversity, but I find it useful to have a discussion about the many facets of diversity, and help them understand the link between a diverse team and achieving extraordinary business results. I like to use a large software company as an example. By chance, the company hired several developers with impaired vision, others with mobility disabilities, and still others who were hearing impaired. Some of these folks started talking with each other about the usabilty of the company's products. This led to product improvements and eventually, to the discovery of a new market segmentation and revenue stream. If a manager can't articulate the business case for diversity for his or her own business, they're really not ready to dive into diversity recruiting. I encourage managers to think broadly about diversity: Are most of the people on their team from a certain company or industry?
  • Are they all about the same age?
  • Do you have a good mix of internals who have come up through the ranks and externals with significantly different experience
  • Does everyone have the same degree?
  • Who is the biggest dissenter on the team? Do you have anyone on your team who dissents? How would you feel about someone who almost always disagrees with decisions, and more importantly, how would you react?
To keep it real, usually managers want more ethnic or gender diversity. OK. But you have to do the research to find out if what you want really exists. For example, I once supported the Legal divsion of a large company. The company needed to hire quite a few patent attorneys, and wanted to focus on hiring minority patent attorneys. So we rolled up our sleeves and did some research. How many patent attorney were currently employed in the organization [lots]? How many were diverse [very, very few]. OK, of the general population of patent attorneys, what firms were they recruited from, from which law schools did they graduate, what was their experience level. Then we looked externally, at Department of Labor Statistics, American Bar Association statistics, the statistics of the law schools that graduated smart patent attorneys, and we reviewed the structure of other companies that hired patent attorneys. What did we find? That patent attorneys are rare, minority patent attorneys are rarer still [duh], and the percentage of minority law students who enter corporate law is much smaller than we thought. Many minority students enter public service after law school, and the company had a tacit policy of hiring folks with corporate experience only. If the company really wanted to hire minority patent attorneys, they were going to have to manufacture them. Hire them from a non-traditional industry [public sector vs. corporate practice], and train them in the specifics of patent law. Was the company ready to do that? Well, um, no, not really. OK then. let's figure out how the Legal team can increase diversity without sending me off on a purple squirrel chase.

Second, do you really want to hire diverse candidates, or are you looking for the 'good faith effort'?
This question makes hiring managers and the HR people uncomfortable, but the truth is that sometimes managers don't want or don't care about hiring diverse candidates, they just want to look like they are doing the right thing. I'd rather they admit this, allowing me and my team to put a little makeup on the pig [or post to the diversity job boards] and work on the real priorities. I care very much about hiring diverse candidates, and very little for diversity PR efforts -- that is best left to the marketing team. I resent being asked to parade diverse candidates through the building for the sake of aesthetics, when the candidates have very little chance of being hired or have very little interest in joining the company because the company isn't prepared to provide the right environment, context or incentives.

Where are the best places to post to find diverse candidates?
We're posting where we find the good candidates, because that's where we find the good diverse candidates. I just don't believe posting is the way to find good diverse candidates, or good candidates in general. Posting is marketing. My way to let the network know that an opportunity exists. The people reading the posting may or may not be my target, but they surely know my target, and I want them to get the warm fuzzies when they think of my company. Think of it this way. I see an ad for breakfast cereal on TV. The cereal people want me to buy the cereal. The ad alone, will not increase sales. It is not likely that, immediately upon seeing the ad, I will jump in my car to go to the grocery to buy cereal, especially if the people in the ad were earthy/crunchy types and the cereal is supposed to be good for me. If the cereal people really want me to buy the nutty crunchy goodness, they have got to come to me more directly. Coupons might work. Maybe. Eye level placement on the shelves. Perhaps. Sample size box giveaways at the marathon I'm participating in. Closer. Samples tastings at store. Much closer. The point is, the cereal maker's job isn't done after airing the TV commercial. They have to work very hard if they want me to buy. The recruiter's [and manager's] job isn't done after posting the job. We have to work very hard if we want to hire.

Third, are you really prepared to do diversity recruiting?
It's expensive, can be slow, inexact and expensive. It requires flexibility and perhaps a change or disruption of process. Some examples:
Diverse candidates are expensive, there are fewer of them than the demand; they command higher salaries. Economic reality. Is the compensation structure flexible enough to accomodate this reality. If the company is not located in a geographically diverse [or desirable] area, relocation costs can escalate. True diversity recruiting requires extensive networking. Most corporate recruiters simply don't have the time or skills to work in this fashion; spending hours researching potential candidates, hours and hours of phone work to qualify potential candidates, more hours devoted to massaging the network and keeping it fresh, and even more time to developing these potential candidates or leads into actual candidates matched to actual job opportunity. I have heard of only three ways that companies launch a successful diversity recruiting campaign for workers with sophisticated skills.
  • Advanced campus recruiting
  • Hiring a special diversity recruiter to support the organization and perform the requisite research and networking
  • Hiring a third party recruiter that specializes in diversity to handle the job
The companies that are really good at diversity recruiting do all three. But the budget has to be there to be successful. Which brings back to the first point. Understanding the business case. With a well articulated business case, and a good, sound recruiting strategy, the dollars should come easily, and really turn out to be a small fraction of the rewards to be gained by having a good, sound business strategy based on reaching a diverse, multi-faceted customer base.


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