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Eight strategies for strengthening your firm's diversity
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Eight strategies for strengthening your firm's diversity

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Suited
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Improving the diversity of your firm doesn’t start and stop with recruiters — it should be an integrated effort, with shared accountability among C-suite executives, managers, board members, and investors.

We spoke directly with our in-house industrial-organizational psychologist to round up the best strategies for hiring, promoting, and supporting diverse talent.

1. Recruit from non-target schools, such as large state schools, HBCU's, and women’s colleges

There are only so many diverse students at the top universities, and everyone ends up competing for them, causing recruiting timelines to become more and more aggressive and some of your offers to be rejected. By broadening your talent landscape to include non-target schools, especially those who attract underrepresented students, you can easily start considering a more robust number of eager, diverse candidates.

2. Rely less on referrals from current employees, especially if they are familial connections

Referrals typically feel safe, easy, and result in a familiar work environment — but businesses sacrifice the possibility of improving the diversity of their workforce when relied upon. Men of color are 26% less likely to receive a referral, and women of color are 35% less likely.

If you are still interested in accepting employee referrals, know that referrals that come directly from family members or close friends have notably lower levels of satisfaction with their employer and worse relationships with their managers than those referred by a business contact or someone in an extended personal network. That being said, we would recommend thinking twice before hiring the niece or nephew of a coworker to fill your next role. 

To take this a step further, you may even consider paying out larger referral bonuses for diversity referrals, as Intel has successfully reported doing in order to achieve “full representation" in their business by 2020.

3. Include a diverse set of employees in the hiring process

To ensure you're capitalizing on the range of perspectives you already have in the organization, be sure to include those people and perspectives in the hiring process. Doing so can help check others on their “like-me” biases, a very common occurrence that is, unfortunately, the antidote of creating a diverse and inclusive work environment. Encourage your employees to speak openly and honestly about any problematic favorable treatment certain candidates may be receiving based on surface-level factors that are unlikely to be predictive of performance or suitability. 

4. Be aware of biases inherent in certain selection tools

Some candidate selection tools may contain institutional and historical biases that are not necessarily considered in their creation. For example, traditional measures of general cognitive ability have historically been biased against ethnic or cultural minorities. Resume screening, whether done manually or automatically, has been shown to be biased against women and minorities, favoring whites and males by up to 67%.

Additionally, unstructured interviews, where an individual hiring manager has no guidance on what questions to ask various candidates, are often the most vulnerable to the "like-me" bias.  There are alternatives to all of these methods that generally result in less biased evaluations.

If you employ machine learning to assist in your selection, be sure to ask whether or not it goes through adverse impact testing to ensure the models used do not favor or disfavor any subgroup of people.

5. Collect information in the application process that allows applicants to feel represented, included, and understood

It’s important to use inclusive language on your job application forms. To ensure proper representation, include more than two gender options on your form and allow candidates to choose “other” if they feel their identity is not being properly captured. If you are asking them to reveal information, make sure they understand why you’d like to know and what steps you take to secure their privacy. 

Also, giving candidates an opportunity to display their personalities during the application process will alert them to your desire to understand them on a deeper level. This can take the shape of personality assessments or open-ended questions. 

6. Focus on retaining diverse talent

Make sure your existing diverse talent feels they are included in and add value to your company culture. Show them that they have the same opportunities to progress as others, and back it up with actionable career plans that demonstrate concern about their futures at your firm.

There are easy things to do, like establishing clear criteria for promotions and making them known throughout the company, or being supportive of affinity groups in the organization.  

More hands-on efforts can pay off, too. Mentoring may be particularly important for members of underrepresented groups by providing them with career development opportunities that they have been historically restricted from. Formal mentorship programs have been linked to increased minority retention rates, in some cases increasing them as much as 38% when compared to non-mentored minorities. 

When deciding what mentors to place with female or POC employees, it may be helpful to know that oftentimes, especially in male-dominated industries, you don’t have to place mentees with mentors of their same gender or race to see successful outcomes. In fact, Ramaswami, Dreher, Bretz, and Wiethoff (2010) found that mentoring was most effective for women in male-dominated industries with powerful male mentors. 

7. Tie company and departmental performance and compensation to hitting diversity targets

More and more successful companies are tying bonuses or a portion of bonuses to the ability to hire and promote diverse talent. Incentivizing representation forces companies to measure progress, holding managers and C-suite executives accountable. This type of bonus structure will signal to your employees and industry that your firm is serious about strengthening your diversity and that it holds measurable importance.

8. Identify and address biases before starting hiring and promotion campaigns

There exist many companies and consultants who are dedicated to helping businesses properly and honestly address their innate biases. Consider hiring one of these experts to do a workshop with your recruiters and top executives aimed at naming and confronting the sometimes uncomfortable but necessary truths prevalent in your business. 

It may also be important to reconsider how you currently measure and reward performance.  Are your performance reviews objective? It has been found that women are 1.4 times more likely to receive critical subjective feedback (as opposed to either positive feedback or critical objective feedback) than men. Are your performance reviews based on the opinion of only a few, or are you continually crowdsourcing data about the performance of your people? It may be time to reconsider not only your talent sourcing methods but also your overall promoting practices.

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