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8 diversity hiring mistakes you could be making

Diversity hiring mistakes are all too common during the recruiting process. Here are some mistakes companies need to avoid for their recruiting efforts to be truly successful.

Many companies' diversity, equity and inclusion approaches need updating, and that includes their approaches to diversity hiring.

A lot of today's recruiters are basing their practices on information they received years ago, said Jackye Clayton, DEI strategist at recruiting software company SeekOut, during her keynote on the first day of the virtual Spring HR Technology Conference, held from March 16 through March 19.

"If [we're] hoping to have a successful diverse and inclusionary organization, we have to change the way we recruit diverse talent," Clayton said.

Recruiting for diversity requires that organizational leaders understand common mistakes they're making and how they can improve. Here are eight.

Not embedding DEI into strategic priorities

Organizational leaders need to make sure DEI is a core value and not an afterthought.

"Make a commitment and put the line in the sand and make the announcement," Clayton said. "And let people know, if you don't want to be on this journey, now's a good time to say that, because this is where we're going to focus and this is where we're going."

Just as important is holding people accountable for the DEI goals, including diversity hiring.

Include relevant goals when you announce diversity-related initiatives, Clayton said.

Since managers will need to hold people accountable, hold off on rolling out programs until they are fully ready, she said.

Allowing anti-diversity sentiment

If employees aren't committed to bringing on diverse talent, achieving DEI success will be impossible.

Company and HR leaders need to understand that their culture needs to change to truly support diversity goals, Clayton said. And that can be challenging for people afraid of change or of losing power.

"The main reason that organizations cannot create an inclusive environment is not [because] there is a lack of diverse talent," Clayton said. "The problem is that there are too many racist, misogynistic bigoted sexist [and] homophobic … people in leadership today."

Receptivity is key and it's nearly impossible to move forward if the culture isn't supporting growth, she said. That means many organizational leaders will need to make difficult decisions about who to keep and who to let go.

Sourcing solely from HBCUs

Recruiters can find many great job candidates at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), but companies need to look beyond HBCUs to make sure they're sourcing as many potential employees as possible.

Only three of the top 10 colleges and universities for enrollment of Black and African American students are historically Black colleges and universities, Clayton noted.

"If your recruiting plan for Black talent stops at HBCUs, you're leaving over 50,000 candidates on the table," she said.

Historically Black colleges and universities should certainly be a facet of a company's Black recruitment candidate pool, but they shouldn't be the only source, she said.

Focusing only on entry-level roles

Thinking that you can solve diversity hiring by just focusing on entry-level roles is missing the point of true diversity, which should apply throughout the organization and at all levels. And many leaders may not realize this.

If [we're] hoping to have a successful diverse and inclusionary organization, we have to change the way we recruit diverse talent.
Jackye ClaytonDiversity, equity and inclusion strategist at SeekOut

An illustration: One organization that was 90% cis male -- male assigned male at birth -- decided the best way to increase diversity was to hire young women out of college to join their sales team, Clayton said.

"The same HR professional explained why diversity and bias training was not crucial for the organization, [or] hiring managers, because they didn't need their hiring managers to become diversity experts," she said. "He just needed them to follow directions."

For anyone studying diversity practices, such "diversity efforts" are blatantly misguided, but DEI issues are nuanced, and missteps are not always so obvious.

Organizations need to ensure they're bringing in diversity candidates for all levels of the organization, Clayton said.

"[You need to make sure] you have diverse leaders on your team to hold subordinates accountable to the company's diversity goals and also create a safe environment if one of your new members of your new diversity initiative is feeling discriminated against," Clayton said.

Hiring for cultural fit

Hiring for cultural fit is one of the primary diversity hiring mistakes organizations are making. Truly committing to recruiting and hiring for diversity requires that organizations welcome diverse candidates as they are.

While organizational leaders desperately want to bring diversity into their organization, many are at the mercy of their implicit bias and only want the people that they bring to be somehow "like them," Clayton said.

That's a major diversity hiring mistake, she said.

"Your brain creates an image of what is familiar," Clayton said. "Your brain is also opposed, and not a fan of, what is not familiar."

To successfully create diversity, everyone has to become more conscious of that.

Thinking a linear job progression is best

Many recruiters look for a clear job path on a resume. They want to see a candidate has steadily advanced through the ranks. But many people are laid off due to macro-economic issues, have an unconventional start or struggle with prejudice.

Not everyone's career moves in a linear way, Clayton said.

"More often than not, an underrepresented candidate's resume doesn't have the swoosh of continuous experience, with growing titles and responsibilities," she said. "It looks more like a staircase -- sometimes even a bouncing ball."

As just one example, a diversity candidate may have been mistreated at a past job and decided to leave their position, she said. Because of this, their past job work experience may not be as linear as others.

"Instead of asking, why did you leave your last job, consider asking them to tell you about their career journey and how they see it going forward," Clayton suggested. "Ask them how they got to where they are today and ask them what they can get from your organization to help them reach their goals."

Overlooking people with disabilities

Companies may be focusing on many other groups for diversity hiring but missing candidates with disabilities.

If companies aren't sure where to start, some colleges and universities support students with a disability, including Landmark College, which assists students who may have learning disabilities, Clayton suggested. The University of Houston assists mobility-impaired students and students with learning and psychological disabilities.

"When you are recruiting, don't overlook the often-overlooked," Clayton said.

Relying on technology to overcome culture

Addressing technology bias is important. However, if a tool's creators claim to have done so and that their tool is unbiased, a company's diversity problems aren't solved if they use the tool.

Diversity issues start with people, and that means they need people to figure out how to solve those issues, she said. Technology is merely a tool.

"[The mistake is] expecting technology to solve a problem that our lack of technology does not create," Clayton said.

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