Why Diversity Sourcing is so Hard

Promoting cultural diversity via talent acquisition has been an initiative we’re all writing into our strategic goals. We know organizations that have broadened cultural diversity have the potential to outperform competitors by 35%, creating a huge opportunity for HR to again prove its worth as a strategic business partner.  So what’s the catch? What’s keeping us from accomplishing this goal? Some may say the difficulties derive from the nature of the business, geographical location, lack of resources, etc. While there may be a grain of truth in that, for the bulk of us the challenges are born out of stagnant hiring practices.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results” – Albert Einstein

Step Out of the Pool

Recruiters and sourcers are a funny bunch. We like to think of ourselves as cutting edge professionals and regularly market ourselves as such. Somehow the same tired job description gets dusted off every time we hire for certain roles. The problem here lies with the language used in the description. Some language used is purely factual, while other elements were chosen for marketing purposes. A great example is the oh-so-popular word “ninja.” Yes, it was a considered a word used by the industry cool kids, but often chosen without taking into account how that word choice affects the applicant pool. Rewriting your job descriptions and associated employer branding can be the first step to catching a different sort of candidate.

The Human Bias

We are quick to point the finger at our tools when looking for a point of failure, but often we’re the real problem. Unfortunately, we’ve all been wired by birth, culture, and experience to have subconscious biases in any given situation. This carries over to how we examine and source candidates. The best way to save us from ourselves is to implement some smart fail-safe technology. This can be done with slick new automated screening tools which use artificial intelligence to turn candidate profile information into actual data. These tools not only help provide statistical logic to support (or undermine) a “gut feeling,” but can also save us a ton of time sifting through resumes.  

Change Resistant Culture

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Let’s say your new diversity centric candidates make it through the screening process and it’s now time to interview. The interview team involved can either help diversity prosper, or kill all efforts in a moment, due to the concept of “ fit.” Many organizations have a stagnant culture that unless adjusted or broadened can be used as an excuse not to pursue qualified candidates who may be a different sort of “fit” than others.

Another way a change resistant culture can kill diversity is by having a set in stone hiring process. The way a candidate moves from an applicant to hire is a branding experience, and if your organization only does it one way, it may be effectively screening out an entire population who is not compatible with it.

Old Habits Die Hard

It’s one thing to start making small adjustments from the bottom to improve diversity sourcing; it’s another thing to get leaders on board with potential investments and changes to processes. It can be hard to request any expenditure for HR functions, and even harder to encourage top leaders to change their ways. Until these leaders are on board, all changes will be undermined at every turn, making persuading leaders to give up old habits the first and hardest step.

Will Staney is the founder and principal consultant at Proactive Talent Strategies, LLC and the former head of global talent acquisition at rapidly-growing startups Twilio and Glassdoor. Prior to that he held recruiting leadership roles at enterprise software leaders VMwareSuccessFactors and SAP. 

During his career as a recruiting leader, he developed a passion for building what he calls "modern recruiting machines". With his consulting firm he is helping clients like GoDaddy, Realtor.com, and others optimize their recruiting strategy and build a content marketing approach to talent attraction.

In his free time, he enjoys riding his motorcycle, trying out the newest gadgets, and spending time with his wife, Mallary, and their two kids, Foster and Felicity.


7 Comments on “Why Diversity Sourcing is so Hard

  1. Well said, Will.
    You brought up something very important, and I’m going to put it out there explicitly:
    “An organization can not equally emphasize both diversity and cultural fit because they are opposites by definition.” or
    “True diversity in hiring means hiring people who don’t ‘fit’.”

    I believe that the great majority of individuals in charge of diversity programs are committed to success, but that many of their corporate superiors are committed to “being caught pretending to do something good”.

    I also appreciate you mentioning our inherent cognitive biases, which underlie the “GAFIS Principles”:
    the Greed, Arrogance, Fear, Ignorance/Incompetence, and Stupidity of those in-charge which dominate actual decision-making

  2. I sell diversity recruitment services and I can tell you that the pushback i hear is maddening. We’ve always done it like this, we aren’t comfortable doing anything new, etc. When you hear them say what they have been doing doesn’t work, then say that they are not going to change how they do it, I want to beat my head into the wall.

    I agree with the article that folks in the space feel like they are so innovative and forward thinking, it has been my experience that that is not the case a majority of the time. They may talk about it, but when it comes time to execute, they return to comfortable.

  3. I love that you started off discussing job descriptions, because these can be a major issue for diversity recruiting (actually, for recruiting in general). Many recruiters and hiring managers may not realize how they may be gearing their job descriptions toward men by using certain adjectives (like aggressive), or listing too many “must-haves.” Men will usually apply to a role if they’re 60% qualified, while women will only apply if they feel they meet 100% of the qualifications (https://www.lever.co/blog/eliminate-gender-bias-from-your-recruitment-process-infographic).

    Rethink if it’s really necessary that the candidate has a 4-year university education, or whether a bootcamp (or straight-up experience) could teach them the same skills they’d need to succeed. Ask yourself if 3-5 years of experience with a specific software really matters, or if 1-10 years with a related software in the same product category could be just as successful in the role. Use this type of thinking to determine what’s really a must-have skill, and what’s maybe just more “nice-to-have,” and you may find that different types of candidates come to you.

    Then, obviously, you need to have a positive employer brand and inclusive company culture so different types of candidates apply and respond to your cold outreach.

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