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Why you shouldn’t believe companies that say they can’t find women and minority hires

July 23, 2015, 7:02 PM UTC
Photograph by Getty Images

Just this Wednesday, I spotted a story on the Columbia Journalism Review website titled, “Why aren’t there more minority journalists?” In one form or another, this question seems to be everywhere these days:

Why aren’t there more women in STEM careers?

Why is the unemployment rate for people with disabilities so high?

Why do less than half of women of color feel they have a chance to advance at work?

Why are transgender workers at greater risk for unemployment?

We all know that the country’s demographics are changing: We’re getting older and more culturally diverse. We also know that there are benefits to cultivating a workplace full of people with different backgrounds and ideas. Yet many industries are still dominated by white men. And when companies are called on the carpet for a lack of diversity, they often cite the pipeline, saying, “we’re trying, but it’s just so hard to find diverse candidates.”

I say that’s baloney.

Roughly a decade ago, I wrote a book called The Business Case for Diversity. And here we are, in 2015, with more recruitment resources than ever before—still making the same excuses. It’s time to stop. Qualified women and minorities are out there. You just have to be willing to do what it takes to find them and show them that your organization is a place where they’re going to be welcome.

So, you say you’re serious about cultivating a more diverse workforce? Here’s where to start:

1. Say it. You can’t assume that everyone knows you’re looking for diverse candidates because, let’s face it, many companies just aren’t. The organization’s leadership needs to step up and make it a priority. Include your commitment to diversity in your recruitment information and on your web site. Reinforce the message with existing employees.

2. Train your hiring managers to hire for diversity—and hold them accountable for doing so. Too often, we tend to feel comfortable with people who are like us. They should be interviewing diverse slates of candidates when new job openings arise.

3. Tell your executive recruiters that you’re looking for female and minority candidates. Yes, sometimes you need to spell it out for them. If they can’t deliver, fire them and find new recruiters who can. Last week, I spoke with Chicago-based diversity consultant Sharon E. Jones, who said it best: If your company has a history of hiring only one type of candidate, recruiters are going to keep sending you more of the same.

4. Build relationships with referral sources. Reach out and recruit at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs). Attend meetings of the myriad special-interest and diversity-focused professional associations and initiatives for people of color, women, people with disabilities, LGBT professionals and groups you want to see.

5. Use diversity-focused job listings. If job advertising is part of your recruitment efforts, list jobs on boards that are focused on diversity, such as DiversityInc, WorkplaceDiversity.com or DiverseJobs.com. Be sure to vet the sites first to find out how many candidates you’ll reach and what types of results others have gotten.

6. Use diverse images. It may sound simplistic, but when candidates see those job ads and check out your company, they’re going to be looking at whether you walk your talk when it comes to diversity. Use images that look like the people you want to attract to your company—homogeny can undermine your message.

7. Tap your current employees. Incentivize employees to recruit qualified candidates from their personal networks. Good people typically know good people. Use the people who are already successfully working for you to help you find and hire the diverse candidates they know. Employee advisory committees or councils can also help you keep a finger on the pulse of cultural issues that could be improved. For example, you may need diversity training if some employees are uncomfortable working with people who are different than they are.

8. Institute mentoring programs. Mentoring programs are a good idea in general, but formalized mentoring programs that include the goal of cultivating and preserving diversity may hold additional benefit for your organization.

9. Promote for diversity. Employees typically want to see a future for their careers within the organization. If no one above a certain level in the organization looks like them, they’re going to notice.

These nine relatively straightforward steps will help you cultivate a talent pool that brings new experiences, viewpoints, creativity and opportunity to your organization. They’re out there. Whether you choose to find and attract them is up to you.