Two organizations share their secrets to building an inclusive hiring process.
By Marta Chmielowicz
In today’s increasingly diverse world, the case for corporate D&I initiatives that deliver real progress is stronger than ever. In fact, McKinsey’s 2020 Diversity Wins report found that in 2019, companies in the top quartile for ethnic diversity outperformed those in the bottom quartile by 36 percent in profitability.
“We believe that diversity and fostering an inclusive workforce is critical to maintaining a competitive advantage in today’s marketplace,” says Melissa Jones, executive vice president and CHRO of CSAA Insurance Group, a company that has been widely recognized for its diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives. “It enriches our environment, leads to improved leadership effectiveness, a more fulfilling employee experience, and greater customer satisfaction and performance.”
But creating a workplace culture that welcomes diverse talent and fosters a sense of belonging doesn’t happen by relying on isolated talent acquisition initiatives; rather, it has to be a company-wide effort.
According to Greg Summers, president of North America at Cielo, this begins with company values. “It really starts with a philosophy that an organization holds for itself, and this philosophy needs to be 100 percent genuine. If it’s not real, it won’t feel authentic to your candidates and your employees, no matter how well you source diverse talent,” he explains.
To succeed, organizations need to make an intentional effort to evaluate their existing D&I strategy through a critical lens and actively consider inclusion in the programs, policies, and overall systems they create. Summers recommends that HR leaders look at diversity hiring initiatives as a three-part cycle that involves both talent acquisition and talent management:
1. Define diversity objectives and set goals that align with the available talent for each role.
2. Find diverse talent. This requires sourcing underrepresented groups; leveraging inclusive communications and targeted messaging; and engaging leadership teams.
3. Develop an inclusive culture and employer brand that backs up the messaging shared with candidates.
“Your D&I initiatives need to be more than just front-end marketing to attract talent,” he explains. “Basically, your strategies for building diverse hiring pools need to work hand-in-hand with the ways you manage your already-hired talent and the workplace culture. If an organization isn’t aligned to embrace an individual when they come for an interview or after they join the organization, then initiatives won’t stick, and it’ll be even harder to get diverse talent to join the business in the future.”
Partnering for Success
Organizations also need to consider where and how they source diverse candidates. “The biggest excuse is that recruiters just say they don’t have a diverse talent pipeline, but it’s because they’re not looking where diverse talent actually exists,” says Audra Jenkins, chief diversity and inclusion officer for Randstad US.
She recommends that rather than “posting and praying” for diverse candidates on new requisitions, recruiters adopt a “hunting and gathering” mindset where they actively search for and engage with diverse candidates. This is where external community partnerships can be leveraged with great success. For CSAA Insurance Group, sustaining community relationships is a key element of the D&I hiring strategy.
“We see ourselves as members of our communities, and we are committed to them for our mutual benefit, including volunteerism and philanthropic support,” says Jones. “We value these relationships highly and we take a holistic approach to them to ensure they’re authentic and aligned to our core beliefs. For us, it’s about building longterm relationships.”
The company’s community outreach includes:
• actively recruiting on campuses that historically serve minority populations, such as University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Rutgers University, Temple University, and Langston University;
• organizing in-person recruitment events (prior to the coronavirus pandemic);
• building brand recognition to attract community members and their families who have benefited from the company’s engagement;
• participating in partnerships that are focused on building skills, helping people transition to the workforce, and connecting them with professional opportunities; and
• engaging with affinity groups like Prospanica, Chicanos Por La Causa, 100 Black Men of the Bay Area, and the National LGBTQ Task Force.
Internally, CSAA Insurance Group’s hiring team works closely with the organization’s 10 employee resource groups (ERGs) to increase the diversity of employee referrals and engage with university and college alumni and their alma maters.
JSX, formerly known as Jetsuite, also leverages partnerships with diversity-minded organizations to develop a more robust hiring strategy and culture. According to Kevin Horan, chief corporate soul officer, the company has fostered relationships with affinity groups and historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to change the landscape in an industry that is historically not diverse.
“The way I facilitated these partnerships was by putting myself out there,” he says. “Aviation in general is not diverse, so it got their attention when the head of HR of a business aviation company says, ‘We want to be your partner.’ There are lots of schools that never even hear about jobs in this industry, so we wanted to work with those organizations to build the next level of leaders and crew members to join the aviation world. We decided to go to HBCUs and smaller organizations and bring in a different, more diverse candidate than large universities.”
Pre-COVID-19, JSX’s campus recruitment tactics included participating at affinity group conventions, speaking at student events, sponsoring events, and creating intern opportunities. Now, the company has pivoted to developing a three-part web series on resume writing and interview skills, communication and behavioral styles, and personal branding and self-development. Almost 200 students signed up, of which 50 percent were people of color.
Horan also partnered with affinity groups in the aviation industry, such as the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals, the National Gay Pilots Association, Women in Aviation, the Society of Women Engineers, and the Association for Women in Aviation Maintenance, to refine the company’s hiring practices. JSX’s HR team leveraged these partners’ expertise to evaluate what was missing in their existing D&I strategies, identify focus areas, and develop policies to support diverse hires.
This is a role that has since been taken over internally by a crew member-led group called “IDEA” that meets monthly and brainstorms ways to improve the company’s diversity efforts, but Horan says that initial feedback from affinity groups was essential to helping him grow and formalize JSX’s D&I program, particularly in its efforts to recruit students in underserved and underrepresented colleges and universities. In addition, as a result of these partnerships, JSX made significant adjustments in its employee benefits plans and nursing mothers policy, resulting in a score of 100 percent in HRC’s Corporate Equality Index.
Designing an Equitable Hiring Process
Organizations may have robust programs in place to source diverse talent, but that doesn’t mean that unconscious bias can’t creep in during the hiring process. Here are some best practices to confront bias and ensure a more equitable outcome.
• Provide unconscious bias training. “For starters, every company needs to introduce their employees to the concept of unconscious bias,” says Summers. “Unconscious bias training is critical not only for recruiters and the TA team, but also for hiring managers. And once you get those individuals trained, it’s important keep them certified on an annual basis to make sure they’re keeping those skills.”
JSX offers unconscious bias training to every employee in the onboarding process. This is framed as an exposure grid exercise where new hires are asked to think about who they most commonly interact with along the diversity spectrum and identify gaps.
“Inevitably, we all have gaps, so we talk about how to fill those gaps in a non-confrontational way,” explains Horan. “We’re all prejudiced in one way or another—it’s knowledge of that that allows you to be inclusive. If you know you have a gap of Hispanic people, it’s up to you to be aware of that and bridge that gap by seeking out ways to learn more about the culture or background that you’re not aware of. Then, we offer up some outside resources and the ability to dig deeper.”
In addition to its company-wide D&I training programs, CSAA Insurance Group also offers specific training for its hiring teams. Recruiters are given the resources to facilitate sessions with hiring leaders on growing diversity and mitigating bias.
“This month, we also launched a micro-learning video and job aid focused on mitigating bias in the hiring process and creating a great candidate experience that are automatically pushed to any employee participating in an interview,” Jones says.
• Engage a diverse hiring team. Another way to bring an unbiased lens into the hiring strategy is by involving people from different backgrounds and parts of the organization in the hiring and interviewing process.
“If the company has a diversity initiative and they don’t have a team that’s representative of many different demographics, that can hinder the diversity efforts,” says Jenkins. “Make sure you have a diverse team that’s looking for diverse perspectives. That also helps the organization be more relatable to diverse talent.”
At JSX, Horan ensures that hiring decisions are made fairly by designing a hiring process where no one person is responsible for any hire. Each hire goes through a multi-stage interview process, including:
1. an initial screening;
2. a hiring event;
3. a large group interview, featuring an activity to identify bias or communication gaps;
4. a one-on-one interview; and
5. a social event, such as a happy hour or lunch, with six to eight members of the JSX team, including HR and members of the leadership team.
After the steps are completed, the group of interviewers convenes to share their feedback and reach a consensus. If even one person does not agree with the decision, the candidate is passed.
“You’ve got a diverse group looking at everyone and we have the opportunity to see how people react to others—if they’re open and inclusive or more closed off and to the side,” explains Horan. “I’ve worked at other airlines where all of that hiring was done by a single person so there was no uniformity across the system in terms of hiring styles and approaches. We work together as a team.”
• Adapt screening strategies. Often, recruiters limit the diversity of their talent pool by only seeking out gold medal candidates who check all of their boxes, Jenkins says, but this practice could unfairly eliminate quality candidates, shrink the pool of available talent, and artificially raise barriers to entry for diverse employees.
Instead, she recommends that hiring teams focus on engaging more diverse, silver medal candidates who have demonstrated the potential to succeed and who bring transferrable skills to the table—even if they don’t have direct industry experience or meet all of the basic requirements of the position, such as four-year degree or internship experience.
She also recommends that hiring managers evaluate the day-to-day needs of the role, regularly updating job descriptions to reflect current responsibilities rather than a conceptual image of what the role could be. Then, they can critically evaluate whether a degree is really necessary to do the job. While it might be essential for technical roles, recruiters should not automatically rule out candidates who have chosen alternative paths to education.
• Leverage technology. There are many technologies on the market that can help organizations diversity their talent pipelines.
“Sourcing tools are able to search diverse sources to find candidates,” says Summers. “There are also tools and platforms that can help eliminate unconscious bias by creating structured interview guides that allow hiring managers to remove unconscious bias from the process itself. Just remember that the tools, especially those leveraging artificial intelligence (AI), are created by humans, and naturally, you may stumble on an unconscious bias through this process.”
For example, in 2018, Reuters reported that Amazon was forced to stop using its new AI-enabled recruitment tool after learning that the system was biased against women. Because the tool was trained to vet applicants by observing patterns in resumes submitted over the prior 10-year period and those applicants were primarily male, the system developed a bias to prefer male candidates and penalized resumes that included gendered keywords, such as the names of women’s colleges.
According to Jenkins, digital platforms can also be used to ensure that job listings and branding communications are written with inclusive language. For example, her organization uses a tool to ensure that job posts are not alienating to certain segments of the population and are not attracting one demographic over another.
CSAA Insurance Group uses Textio in its hiring process. “We use technology to score our job postings for any potential bias in the language being used,” says Jones. “The tool provides a score for how the job posting will perform and highlights verbiage that should be reconsidered. It helps recruiters and hiring managers understand if the way the job opening is written may inadvertently discourage some people from applying.”
Driving Diversity with Data
For significant, long-lasting change, adopting a data-driven approach that monitors progress and reveals areas for growth is essential. First, hiring managers have to understand where they are today—and that starts with tracking hiring data that gives visibility into who the company is engaging with at the top of the funnel, who they’re bringing into interviews, and who they’re hiring. According to Jenkins, organizations should examine diversity at all stages of the hiring process to find where diverse talent falls out.
This is a key strategy adopted by CSAA Insurance Group. “We measure our candidate pipeline diversity at the applicant, candidate, and hire points,” says Jones. “This provides insight to the rate at which groups are applying for roles, making it to the viable candidate stage, and then being hired.”
Jones says this approach has driven real change. For example, the organization noticed a lack of female applicants for leadership roles and now are focusing on improving that pipeline. This includes efforts like:
• recruiting interns whose gender is underrepresented in their field of study;
• ensuring internal leadership programs at all levels are gender balanced;
• amplifying the voices of female leaders in speaking engagements and social media to attract more women to the company; and
• connecting with the networks of female employees to source talent.
Demographic information obtained at key points of the hiring process is supplemented by a candidate survey that provides input into the candidate experience, including how it reflects the company’s core values. Patterns in the results are used to alert the hiring team to any potential issues.
From there, Summers recommends that organizations compare the demographics of their existing workforce to the demographics of the available talent in the geographic markets they operate in. “For example, if 40 percent of the available talent for a specific role in your market is diverse but you’re only engaging 10 percent of diverse candidates, then you know that you’re obviously well below what the market can yield for that talent,” he explains. “Using a metrics-driven analysis can inform you of where you stand in comparison to what’s available in the talent market. From there, you can identify a set of goals based on the needs of your business.”
To better understand diversity hiring performance in relation to the broader marketplace, JSX completes annual affirmative action plans to monitor its hiring demographics and set goals on a micro and macro scale. While this is only mandated for organizations with a government contract, Horan finds that formalizing the process helps identify problem areas and develop solutions, whether by building more diversity into the recruitment team or digging deeper into the talent pool.
“We hold the entire corporate soul team accountable by seeing if we’re improving, and if we’re not improving, why,” he explains. “If any location is having an issue, we engage ‘IDEA’ and our community partnerships to see where we are going wrong. We continue to refine the process to figure out why something doesn’t work. We want to be a disruptor in aviation, and we want that to happen everywhere—product and people.”