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Finding diverse talent: Your processes and perceptions are the problem, not the pipeline

February 27, 2021, 4:00 PM UTC
Commentary-Diverse talent-Pipeline
Diverse talent is out there. If you want equity and inclusion in the workplace, don’t blame the talent pipeline, writes Anne Chow.
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There are few things that trouble me more than organizations claiming they can’t find diverse talent because there’s a “pipeline problem.”

All one needs to do is look at the facts. By 2030, Hispanics will represent 21% of the U.S. population, in addition to positive growth in both the Black and Asian communities. Women of color will be the majority of all women in the U.S. by 2060. In fact, each rising generation will be more and more diverse.

Clearly, diverse talent is out there. But to capture that talent, organizations need to step back and look at their processes, including where they go to begin the talent search. They must also assess how they develop talent across their organizations if they want to identify where the actual so-called pipeline problems lie. 

The starting point is your hiring pipeline, especially at the entry level. Are you recruiting from schools and programs without an explicit focus on diversity? If you’re not purposeful about building long-term relationships with those who are developing diverse talent pools, then guess what? You won’t be successful at systematically altering the course and complexion of your hiring.

One way to accomplish this is to establish relationships with historically black colleges and universities, as well as other potential sources of diverse talent, which could include community colleges as well as specific student and professional organizations.

This is a long-term commitment, not something you can do for a single recruiting cycle or a year at a time. To that end, it’s worth assigning key leaders and executives within your organization to nurture and develop relationships and to serve as champions for those institutions and groups within your own organization. And as with everything else, prioritization and measurement are key.

In addition to the entry-level pipeline, organizations also need to work on their mid-career hires by developing relationships with key recruiters, search firms, and professional organizations that have strong reputations for sourcing and developing diverse talent. The Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement, Ascend (for Pan-Asian professionals), Catalyst (for women), and the Executive Leadership Council (for Black professionals) are some examples of strong national organizations that focus on diverse communities with powerful networks, programs, and resources. 

Another great and underutilized resource for finding diverse hires is your organization’s own diverse employees. If you have employee resource groups or networks, harness their collective connections. Having a robust employee referral program will further encourage the surfacing of diverse talent. And tapping into these committed brand ambassadors who are already part of your culture is simply a no-brainer. 

Meanwhile, what is your screening process for luring that talent in? You can find all the diverse talent in the world, but if you can’t get them to say yes and bring them on board, what’s the point? And if you’re not doing a great job retaining the talent that you bring in, then all of your efforts are for naught.

This is where systemic perception and process issues really come into play. Are you using diverse, balanced interview panels, or does hiring power rest with a single individual? Are you requiring new hires to move to a headquarters that’s a thousand miles away, or are you offering the flexibility to work from an office closer to their homes? What other biases are potentially creeping into your processes and funneling people out? What differentiates your organization so that top diverse talent wants to join your team? 

Data is your friend here, and examining information around your organization’s hiring and recruiting, retention, and growth practices will help identify breakage points that are causing problems.

You also need to be proactive about enabling networking, coaching, mentorship, and sponsorship for your diverse employees once they’re on board. This is a must-do throughout their entire tenure with you—not just in the early days, months, or years of their employment.

Are you demonstrating your commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion as a staple of your culture? Is it a strategic imperative, supported by leadership as well as initiatives and programs for which results are measurable? It’s important to remain unwaveringly committed throughout the talent life cycle in order to support career movement and momentum.

Sure, serendipity plays a role. But enacting science and discipline is also needed in order to achieve a breakthrough. If you expect progress to happen organically, you’re going to be waiting a long, long time for any meaningful results. The power of unconscious bias alongside systemic practices and policies from the past will undoubtedly impede your progress.

So the next time someone says that finding diverse talent for all levels of their organization is a pipeline problem, remember: What they really should explore are their underlying systems and processes. They must also be courageous to challenge the embedded perceptions that exist across their culture. Because that’s what’s really holding them back. 

Anne Chow is CEO of AT&T Business and coauthor of The Leader’s Guide to Unconscious Bias: How to Reframe Bias, Cultivate Connection, and Create High-Performing Teams.