How to Create a Diverse Talent Pipeline: 4 Tips from Shopify, PowerToFly, and Vrbo

August 7, 2019

Despite lofty promises to improve workforce diversity across every industry, progress has been slow — and fatigue seems to be setting in. In a survey of tech workers, Atlassian found that only 23% of respondents engaged with company leaders in 2017 about how to create a more inclusive environment, down from 56% in 2016. And the number of participants who said they’d actively engaged in discussions about diversity dropped from 42% to 35%. 

It’s true that there’s no quick fix when it comes to diversity, and making incremental improvements might not feel good enough. But even the simplest of measures can add up to major changes — and talking about what works rather than stressing over what doesn’t is a good place to start. 

This was a theme of Lever’s recent webinar, “Inclusion in Action: How to Source Diverse Talent.” Speaking on the issue are three experts: Shavonne Hasfal-McIntosh, inclusion and employee experience lead at e-commerce company Shopify; Lyndsi McNaughton, program leader of inclusion recruiting at vacation rental site Vrbo (formerly HomeAway); and Katharine Zaleski, co-founder and president of recruiting platform PowerToFly, which provides expert career advice and coaching to women in tech. 

“Getting started when it comes to diversity and belonging initiatives can seem really daunting,” says Shavonne. “It’s really important to start with some goals in mind.”

To help you build a more inclusive pipeline, here are four tactics these companies have used to successfully attract, source, and engage diverse candidates.

1. Rethink the requirements on your job description and consider creating a talent network to fill your pipeline

Your job descriptions can have a major impact on your diversity sourcing and attraction efforts. Shavonne points out that women will only apply to jobs if they meet 100% of the requirements, while men will apply if they meet 60%, so being mindful of what you’re asking for is crucial. 

“Something we do at Shopify is we preface on the job posting that if you don’t necessarily meet all the requirements that are listed, we still encourage you to apply for the role, because skills and competencies show up in lots of different ways and can be based on your life experience,” she says. “That’s something we’ve tried that’s been really successful.”

This kind of explicit messaging around requirements can be really powerful, letting a broader audience know that it’s worth their time applying. Some recruiters even take it one step further. 

“I recently saw someone put at the top of the job description that if you are an underrepresented minority, reach out to them directly,” says Katharine. “The hiring manager put his email at the very top of the job description. I thought that was a very inclusive tactic that I hadn’t seen before.”

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Related: 8 Tips to Improve the Gender Diversity of Your Recruiting Pipeline

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Another step you can take is to offer candidates who are interested in your company but aren’t completely sold on your job posts a chance to stay in touch.  

“In terms of inbound candidates, I think giving candidates an option to opt into what we call a ‘talent network’ is a great [tactic],” says Lyndsi. “[Say] let us know what you’re interested in, and then we can have our recruiting team reach out to you proactively to learn more about you.”

Katharine also recommends encouraging hiring managers to be more open to candidates who don’t meet all the job requirements — because the people who do probably aren’t looking to move into a near-identical role to the one they currently hold. 

“You want people who are going to move up and not laterally,” she points out. “People don’t want to move into something they’re already doing. They want to move into something that they can grow into. That’s a factor to bring up to your hiring manager when you’re trying to screen people in and not screen people out.”

2. Experiment with different outreach tactics, but be mindful of where bias can creep in 

Every platform has its own sweet spot when it comes to outreach best practices, so it’s important to experiment and develop a unique approach for each. But as you start experimenting with new tactics, track your results to ensure that bias isn’t creeping into the process

This can happen in a lot of little ways that you might not be fully aware of, setting your D&I efforts back. For example, recent LinkedIn data found that recruiters are 13% less likely to click on a woman’s profile when she shows up in a search

“Make sure that whatever the tactic is, you’re engaging with it in a way where you’re very aware of where bias can come in,” says Shavonne. “Make sure that the programs and processes that are linked to these tactics are as objective as possible, and do an audit to see where more systemic bias might be embedded into these platforms and the tactics that you’re building.” 

To combat potential bias in the sourcing and outreach process, Shavonne says Shopify recently held a virtual career fair, assigning neutral avatars to all attendees. 

“They were racial, age, gender agnostic so you really couldn’t see who we were meeting,” she says. “You were just having conversations and being able to gauge whether that person can do the work based on their experience and competencies.”

3. Create events and webinars to engage candidates and ensure they get something valuable out of attending, like a networking opportunity 

Holding regular events aimed at diverse candidates is a fast way to source at scale. But pushing the recruiting angle too hard can turn candidates away.

“In 2018, [Vrbo] had five hires from one event, which was really exciting,” says Lyndsi. “But it’s not ultimately just about hires for us. We attach a lot of ROI to [...] just engaging with communities that wouldn’t normally engage with us.”

One success story that Lyndsi shares is a female software engineer she’d been trying to source for a long time, to no avail. But after the candidate was invited to an event, Lyndsi received a message from her apologizing for the slow response and saying she’d love to meet in person. 

“The key is to create an environment that’s authentic [where] people can get a bit of insider information about what the company is doing,” says Katharine. “We really don’t focus on jobs. We focus on ‘come learn about a company and how the company is working to become more inclusive.’ The key word here is working, trying. Not one company is perfect. It’s about having an open and transparent conversation.”

“Sometimes you need to build trust in certain communities,” adds Shavonne. “Make sure that they understand who you are, what you stand for, what are the problems you’re trying to solve — and then over time you can move into the ‘we’re also hiring’ space.”

Giving candidates something of value, like an interesting peek behind the curtain of your company or a chance to network with like-minded professionals, helps shift the focus from recruiting. You can still let hiring managers meet and get to know candidates, but think carefully about which people you choose to represent your company. 

“Make sure there are people in the room from your organization that look like everybody,” advises Shavonne. “That sometimes can be a really huge missed opportunity, because candidates will look at the people they’re meeting and not see themselves in that space. Even if they’re attracted to your company, they might self-select out of the process completely.”

Large in-person events can sometimes be tricky, time-consuming, and costly to organize, but there are simpler alternatives you can use. 

“I can’t stress how important it is to do webinars,” says Katharine. “You can use tools like Zoom or even Google Hangouts which are very low cost. Even if you’re a small organization, just having an ‘ask me anything’ every quarter to keep candidates warm is going to help your passive candidates pipeline tremendously.”

4. Leverage your ERGs to help those involved in the recruiting process better understand biases and barriers, and be sure to recognize them for their hard work

If your company doesn’t already have employee resource groups (ERGs) aimed at helping diverse groups connect, now is a good time to set some up. These groups not only support one another and can help you build your pipeline with a more diverse slate of referrals, but can help you develop and implement your D&I strategies. 

Shavonne says that at Shopify, ERGs play a crucial role in making unconscious bias training stick by building empathy and understanding between different groups. This may make people reevaluate their approach to sourcing and engaging candidates from underrepresented communities, and can help them think more critically about the challenges these groups face in the hiring process. 

“We sometimes connect hiring managers with ERG leadership teams so that they can understand systemically what the barriers to entry are for those groups, to help really inform them and build empathy,” Shavonne says. “Training is great, but exposure to those communities that you’re trying to engage with to hire from is really invaluable.”

Shopify has made it part of the ERGs’ mandates to engage with employees from different backgrounds to help people broaden their perspectives. Shavonne encourages other companies to leverage their ERGs in this way. 

“It’s an avenue for people to gain exposure to and develop an understanding of what that group’s lived experience is and to learn about the challenges that they confront,” she says. “Really promote that two-way learning and that two-way sharing of perspectives.”

Shavonne also recommends finding ways to thank ERG participants for the work they do in supporting your D&I initiatives. 

“Try and figure out how you’re going to reward and recognize people who are engaging in the work,” she says. “This is in addition to their full-time jobs. Make sure that managers recognize that they’re fundamentally helping you create a sustainable business — that should be part of the conversation in performance management.”

Try these tactics, gather data, and pivot as needed

These tactics can help boost your D&I efforts and fill your pipeline with interested, diverse talent. Whatever you try, track the success of each strategy to see what’s having the most meaningful effect, and what’s maybe not working out the way you hoped. This data will help you develop even better strategies in the future. 

“It’s really hard getting started, especially when you don’t have good data to start with,” says Lyndsi. “But implementing a tracker is a good place to start, and then you know where you need to go from there.”

Certain strategies will always work better for some companies than others, so try them out, measure your success, and tweak them as you go. Good luck! 

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* Photo from Shopify

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