10 ways companies can attract a diverse pool of job candidates

Find out why your company isn't netting enough applicants from underrepresented groups and what you can do about it.

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Many companies want to employ a culturally diverse workforce but don't know how to do it. Finding and recruiting talent from underrepresented groups begins with a well-planned, intentional hiring strategy. 

However, often a disconnect exists between wanting to employ a culturally diverse workforce and actually hiring one. 

According to the Atlassian report "State of Diversity and Inclusion in US Tech: Stats Summary" roughly 80% of respondents said that diversity and inclusion are important. Yet, that same report detailed that "representation, retention, and sense of belonging among underrepresented groups remains below 30%." 

Further, the Kapor Center's "Tech Leavers Study" noted that women make up only 25% of the tech workforce, and Black or Latinx adults combined make up just 15% of the tech workforce. 

SEE: Diversity and Inclusion policy (TechRepublic Premium)

"Unfortunately, many traditional hiring methods do not prioritize creating hiring pools from underrepresented groups," said Todd Riesterer, chief people officer at LogicMonitor, a cloud-based network performance monitoring solution. "Oftentimes, insisting on precise experience requirements--whether that's a specific degree or previous experience--will limit the hiring pool, eliminating many amazing candidates who simply haven't had the same opportunities in life."

If employing a diverse workforce truly matters to your organization, you may need to revisit your hiring methods. 

"The first step is to take a close look at your barriers to entry," said Maria Cartagena, senior vice president of people operations at Kira System, a machine learning software company. 

For example, "It could be the way a job posting is written. It could have biased language that could cause candidates to self-select out of the process before it even starts," she said. "It could also be the way a careers page or job postings are showcased. Are they [potential job candidates] seeing themselves on the website? Are they seeing opportunities for growth? Are they seeing any descriptions of your culture or ways your company values diversity? Increasing your awareness of [your hiring practices] and then strategically planning around it matters."

Everett Harper, CEO and co-founder of engineering firm Truss, encourages companies to set the right goals. "We don't want to just 'reach' a more diverse pool," he said. "We want to hire, retain, include, and enable a diverse group of employees to do their best work."

Here are 10 more ways your company can attract a diverse pool of job applicants.

1. Build partnerships with multicultural professional associations, nonprofits, and academic institutions that can help your organization recruit a diverse pool of job candidates

Initiating and building partnerships with multicultural professional associations, nonprofits, or academic institutions that serve predominantly minority populations can help companies reach potential job candidates. 

The Trade Desk, a digital marketing company, expanded its recruiting partnerships to include Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). "We also work directly with industry associations, such as the National Society for Black Engineers and Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers," said Vina Leite, chief people officer at The Trade Desk.

Harper recommends that employees invest in their personal networks and support initiatives that are relevant and diverse. "When people see you or your organization multiple times, they are more likely to trust that you are making a commitment [to recruit and hire more diverse job candidates]," he said. 

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2. Create a mentorship program 

Mentorships programs can not only improve satisfaction and retention among existing employees, but can also create a culture of inclusion, which can be attractive to potential job candidates. 

"We believe that a mentoring relationship leads to greater engagement, retention and satisfaction – for mentors as well as 'mentees," said Leite. "We want our mentor relationships to encourage new team members to be their authentic selves." 

Leite continued that mentoring is about instructing and belonging. "It is an on-ramp and a safety net, knowing that someone is there for you to advise and share their knowledge freely," she said. 

Mentorship programs can work internally where employees working at the same company are paired up, or externally where a mentor volunteers their time with someone not connected with their place of employment. The Trade Desk, for example, participates in a mentoring program with the Mosaic Project, a nonprofit that serves children of diverse backgrounds.

"Our current involvement with The Mosaic Project is directed at helping Historically Black Colleges and Universities gain access to learning and development specifically focused on the advertising technology industry," explained Leite. "The mentoring taking place here is one of targeted learning to prepare students for careers in our field, where they are significantly underrepresented."

In addition, The Trade Desk is working with the American Advertising Federation's Mosaic Center for Multiculturalism to increase the number of AAF college chapters at HBCUs. 

"We are offering HBCUs our own Edge Academy certification and education platform. And we are planning ways to partner with HBCUs for student internships and professional development programs, offering another level of mentoring," said Leite, who believes that targeting HBCUs with learning and mentoring opportunities helps to level the playing field for all who seek careers in advertising technology. 

"Over time it will help bring more people of color into a continuously evolving global industry. We gain access to great talent, and more people gain access to great careers," she said. 

SEE: New employee onboarding guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

3. Reexamine your employee referral program

Leite also recommended paying attention to employee referral program. "This is often a popular and effective way to find candidates," she said. "But unless you already have a diverse workforce, the candidates may be quite similar to your current team. Try to cast a wide circle so that you receive referrals for candidates with a mix of backgrounds and experiences. As your culture of inclusion grows, so will the variety of your employee referrals."

4. Create a diversity and inclusion policy

Having a diversity and inclusion policy helps companies set up appropriate recommendations, guidelines, and expectations to attract a broad array of talent, and build a more effective and collaborative workforce.

"Policies that support equal opportunity, like pay equity, are internal systems of accountability that can improve performance and help attract stronger candidates of all backgrounds," said Vineetha Vijayakumar, a technical program manager at Esper, which provides DevOps solutions for Android.

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5. Make diversity and inclusion a core part of your company's culture

Corporate culture is critical for building a diverse and inclusive workplace. 

"Simply recruiting and hiring diverse candidates is not enough, the environment must also be welcoming and conducive to all people," said Sarah Woods, director of employee experience at DockYard, a digital product and engineering consultancy. "It's important to follow through on your promise of diversity and inclusion and make sure your commitment comes through loud and clear through company programs and communications. A candidate (and anyone, for that matter) should be able to look at your company and understand that inclusivity is ingrained in your organization."

6. Remove unintentionally-biased language from job descriptions

Job postings are often the first introduction a potential job applicant has to a company and should be crafted using inclusive, gender-neutral language.

"Having your job postings written in ways that are accessible to all is extremely important; ensuring that they are without jargon, or gender-specific language is key," said Cartagena.

After referencing a LinkedIn report that showed women candidates only apply for jobs if they are 100% qualified, while men apply with 60% of the required qualifications, Vijayakumar urged hiring managers to write explicit and realistic job descriptions in order to set correct expectations among potential candidates. 

"Remember, even 'realistic' is subjective, and setting the bar too high can skew the applicant pool," she said. 

SEE: Virtual hiring tips for job seekers and recruiters (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

7. Highlight your company's commitment to diversity 

Employers can miss out on getting job applications from underrepresented groups if they don't send out the signal that they're interested in a diverse workforce, said Riesterer. 

"By building out a robust careers page on their websites, organizations can be purposeful about showcasing the diversity of their organizations so candidates can picture themselves joining the team," he said. "Companies should also make sure that their branding and marketing efforts are intentionally focused on highlighting the diversity of their organizations to demonstrate their intent around hiring."

Another way to show a company's commitment to hiring underrepresented groups, said Riesterer, is by sharing diverse hiring efforts on the company's blog and social media channels, where potential employees seek information.

"And of course," said Riesterer. "It's imperative that companies specifically state their commitment to diverse hiring through an equal opportunity statement."

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8. Expand your search area to attract diverse populations

Organizations may also need to expand their efforts to attract underrepresented groups.

For instance, local schools and universities may provide opportunities to identify underrepresented job applicants. "By visiting career events at high schools and universities, companies can inspire students' career journeys and get their brand name out there," said Riesterer. "Companies can also get involved in career fairs hosted by nonprofits, community centers, and other local community events that may target underrepresented groups."

However, companies should not rely solely on this recruitment tactic. If, say, a company is not located in an area with a diverse population, attending a local career fair may not help them reach a culturally diverse candidate pool.

Brenda D. Wilkerson, CEO and president of AnitaB.org, a global nonprofit for women technologists, recommended that companies take a deep look into their recruiting strategy and where they pool candidates. 

"Many companies partner with universities and schools for their recruitment efforts. If you're sourcing from the same eight schools, and those schools don't offer diverse talent, companies should address this with their academic partners to understand why," she said. "Partners will likely change their efforts if the customer demand is there. Existing school relationships are valuable, however, there are many schools across the country that offer great talent and companies should heed. Additionally, companies should tap new sources, including alumni associations and professional associations to broaden their talent pool."

"Organizations limit themselves by searching for job candidates in all of the same places that everyone else does," said Riesterer. "It's much better to prioritize being flexible and thinking outside of the box. Some of the most successful employees I've seen in my career have been hired based on skills and potential rather than rigid background requirements."

"We've learned that we need to take active steps to find underrepresented candidates in our industry," added Woods. "Posting on general job boards does not always reach diverse individuals, and we look to engage with groups and channels that represent a more diverse pool of candidates."

To accomplish this, DockYard has made connections with groups that may not focus on recruiting specifically, but who support, educate, and/or sponsor culturally diverse individuals. "Our team participates in educational boot camp classes and engages with industry groups focused on diversity (such as Women Who Code)," said Woods. "To encourage this, employers can sponsor scholarships programs that remove barriers for conference participation for individuals from underrepresented groups to create more opportunities for networking with individuals from different backgrounds."

James Page, vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion at General Assembly, a global tech education company, said that investments in time and patience will help locate diverse job candidates. 

"Forward-thinking organizations will implement a diversity recruiting strategy that involves investing time prior to specific openings being identified," said Page. "This approach includes proactively creating relationships with top diverse talent both internally and across the globe."

These relationship development activities, explained Page, could be as simple as grabbing a cup of coffee or cultivating a social media connection with that person, to partnering on an industry-level project

"This form of informal recruiting is a critical component of a successful diversity strategy as it allows the formal recruiting process, when it begins, to be a warm call from a trusted colleague versus a cold call from a stranger," he said. 

SEE: A tech pro's guide to LinkedIn (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

9. Ensure senior leadership is committed to diversity

Executives and managers should be held accountable for reaching diversity goals and targets. "Leadership absolutely matters here," said Harper. "Accountability starts with the CEO. Then, the CEO supports executives and managers in setting and achieving diversity goals. Lots of data from groups like Project Include show that if D&I is seen as a side project, it will be deprioritized." 

"Our commitment to diversity is core to our culture, and the most valuable recruiting tool in our arsenal," said Vijayakumar. "Our leadership believes that diversity is critical, and the only way to maintain our pace of innovation. Senior leaders put this belief into practice by empowering women and individuals from other underrepresented backgrounds to lead large, remote technology teams.

"Attracting a diverse workforce is much easier when you already have a diverse workforce where both leaders, and tech contributors see the value of an inclusive working environment," she continued. "Authentic buy-in matters. If your interviewers fail to see that diversity benefits the organization and team, it can be apparent to candidates and cause talent to lose interest."

SEE: How to cultivate an inclusive workplace for LGBTQ employees (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

10. Don't leave out inclusion

"The most common mistake I see is when companies focus only on diversity and leave out inclusion," said Leite. "You've got to look at the whole person and understand all that they will bring to your company. Then think about how your current environment is ready to receive this person and help them succeed. 

"Building a culture of inclusion that celebrates individual differences is essential, and it is an ongoing effort," Leite continued. "Once you have joined us, we are different than we were before, and better because of what you bring."

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