Here’s what HR can do to make DEI strategies stick.
By Lisa Sterling
Many organizations have made big, public promises to improve diversity and inclusion practices since the events of 2020 sparked corporate boardrooms to pay more attention to inequities, biases, and civil rights. But translating the desire to improve diversity and inclusion into outcomes that matter has proven trickier than expected.
Why does improving diversity continue to be so elusive? Companies are turning to HR officers to drive change, but a number of challenges have prevented those good intentions from becoming actions that drive real, tangible impact.
To effect change, promises to improve diversity must be paired with redesigned processes and practices. Research from the 2021 SmartRecruiters State of Diversity Hiring Report suggests that many companies haven’t made those connections yet. These weaknesses represent opportunities for HR officers to up their game. Insights from the research suggest three key areas where HR can take the lead toward delivering meaningful improvement.
1. Unite cross-functional teams. Responsibility for diversity can’t be confined to one person or department. Driving a meaningful shift in culture and processes requires a united effort. That’s why cross-functional teams are such a powerful tool, especially when collaboration starts at the top.
Historically, diversity hiring hasn’t been among the C-suites’ strategic priorities. According to this year’s report, only 22% of companies’ senior leaders and executives have set specific goals for interviewing and hiring diverse talent.
The biggest gains companies can make toward improved diversity and inclusion often come from executive sponsorship. HR officers are in a strong position to make a case for diversity as a strategic business imperative.
When leaders prioritize workforce diversity, it sends a message that diversity initiatives are as important as other top business priorities. Elevating diversity and inclusion to a strategic priority ensures that diversity programs receive the resources they need to succeed.
Collaboration across departments is absent most of the time too. Only 10% of companies see their D&I, talent acquisition, and marketing functions working together more than 75% of the time, according to the SmartRecruiters report. Here, HR can take big steps toward attracting diverse talent simply by working more closely with marketing to update career sites and employer-branded collateral so that they better reflect the many dimensions of diversity.
When diversity programs are backed and funded at the top and driven laterally by cross-functional teams, companies will begin to see measurable changes and improvements.
2. Strengthen communication with diverse talent communities. Forming external partnerships is just as crucial a component as developing internal cross-functional teams. Companies can foster robust relationships with local schools and nonprofits to keep diverse local talent up-to-date on employment opportunities.
However, many companies aren’t using their talent acquisition budget to build diverse talent pipelines. Only 39% of companies invest in community partnerships, and only 32% invest in historically Black colleges and universities and other diverse university events, the research finds.
Diverse talent pipelines won’t grow on their own; they need to be nurtured. But without a strategic investment of time and resources into building relationships with diversity-specific groups, the commitment to diversity will fall flat.
Most companies have the technical resources to maintain relationships with external partners and potential applicants, but don’t leverage their HR technology stack to communicate with diverse candidates. Only 35% of companies use their customer relationship management system for advertising all opportunities to their talent community.
HR officers can work with IT to understand the full capabilities of their technology. Many recruitment CRMs can categorize and communicate with promising candidates, which is an important step to nurturing a diverse talent pipeline.
Allocating resources to nurturing relationships with diverse talent communities improves talent pipelines and leads to stronger hiring choices and a more robust, diverse workforce.
3. Overhaul the hiring process to ensure fairness Leveraging internal teams and building external partnerships are vital steps to improving workforce diversity. But if the hiring process remains unchanged, the biggest culprit responsible for workforce homogeneity can still step in. Hiring managers are human, and in the absence of objective criteria, they may fall back on their unconscious biases to make hiring decisions.
Hiring for objective skills, traits, and competencies has been proven to drive success in a role and decrease the opportunity for bias to impact hiring decisions. The good news is that many companies have begun adopting standardized interview processes based on job-relevant criteria, with 55% using standard interview questions all the time.
However, pre-hire assessments measuring job-relevant criteria haven’t been implemented widely, with only 26% of companies using skills assessments and scorecards to make data-driven hiring decisions all the time, the research finds.
Implementing assessments and scorecards to keep selection focused on job-related criteria minimizes the chances of bias creeping into the process, especially when it comes to the hiring manager’s final decision. It creates a legally defensible hiring process while also giving diverse candidates a better shot at landing the job.
Relying on clearly job-relevant criteria minimizes the impact of unconscious bias on hiring decisions and directs hiring managers toward the best candidate for the job.
Each of these factors is linked to the others. Workforce diversity is a complex subject that requires a nuanced, integrated approach to achieve. That’s why it’s so important that HR departments and officers take the lead to link internal and external stakeholders and revise hiring processes to drive tangible progress.
Lisa Sterling is the chief people officer at SmartRecruiters