Building a Diverse Talent Pipeline: 6 Meaningful Steps Every Company Can Take

October 20, 2020

Over the past five years, the number of diversity and inclusion roles listed on LinkedIn has increased by 71% globally. This is a good indicator that companies are not only recognizing that diversity, inclusion, and belonging (DIB) are critical to their growth and success, but are dedicating the time and resources necessary to prioritize them.

“Diversity, inclusion, and belonging is not only just a moral imperative — it's a business imperative, too,” says Amy Schultz, senior director of product recruiting at LinkedIn. “And in order to really enact change, we need to turn commitments into actionable strategies.”

Despite a heightened focus on DIB, particularly in the wake of the recent Black Lives Matter protests around the world, there remain significant gaps between talk and action at many companies. LinkedIn data shows that while 69% of talent professionals agree their organizations are committed to more diverse hiring, only 47% feel their hiring managers are held accountable for interviewing a diverse slate of candidates. 

To find out what companies can do to bridge that gap, Amy recently caught up with LaShonda Rahming, senior director of HR operations at Whirlpool, and Aaron Mitchell, director of HR for Netflix Animation Studios, for the LinkedIn Live webinar How to Build a Diverse Talent Pipeline. Here are six actionable steps the panelists recommend, based on strategies they’ve successfully implemented at their own organizations and lessons they’ve learned along the way. 

1. Give every recruiter the tools to recruit equitably 

When companies recognize that they need to do more to diversify their workforce, sometimes they’ll partner with external diversity and inclusion recruitment experts to help them find the talent they need. While this can be an effective strategy in the short term, it may not equip internal recruiters with the skills they need to adopt more inclusive and equitable hiring practices in the long run.

“I think it's super important that every single recruiter have an elevated capability when it comes to working in these spaces,” Aaron says. “[That way] every recruiter is a diversity recruiter, so diversity recruitment should just be recruitment.”

Netflix’s inclusion recruitment team is currently working with around 200 recruiters throughout the organization to help them develop this skill set. That way, no matter what team is hiring, someone will be on hand to offer recommendations and ensure best practices are being followed — resulting in a more inclusive, equitable approach.

“A good chunk of [our inclusion recruitment team’s] job is to actually embed the skills, de-biasing, sourcing techniques, and networking techniques directly within the recruitment teams,” Aaron says, “and then helping connect them to the communities, the organizations, the individuals that will help them expand their natural networks.”

2. Make hiring managers part of the solution

Beyond training your talent acquisition (TA) team, it’s also crucial to train your hiring managers to ensure they’re helping to actively drive your diversity efforts, rather than unintentionally hindering them. After all, it’s no use building a diverse pipeline if your hiring managers always choose to move forward with candidates who come from similar backgrounds. This will require you to have tough conversations with them about what you’re doing and why.

“Understand what it is they're really looking for, and then help them along the way,” LaShonda recommends. “And this is where, in TA, we have to be consultants many times to be able to guide along the way and to be able to get our people leaders there.”

These conversations should always revolve around one core factor that matters to the hiring manager: finding the best people with the best skills for the role. Aaron finds it useful to start the discussion by dispelling unspoken lies.

“I'll ask the question, ‘Do you, hiring manager, believe that there is any group of people on any sort of spectrum, whether it be race or gender, that has a disproportionate amount of talent?’” he explains. “The second condition would be, ‘Looking at your team, do you think that your team is representative of that reality — that there can't be any one group that has a disproportionate amount of talent?”

By framing the conversation this way, Aaron finds he can get hiring managers invested in solving the problem together — and avoid a knee-jerk defensive reaction.

“My method is making people part of the solution,” he says, “as opposed to accusing them of being part of the problem.”

3. Build awareness of unconscious biases 

Any time there’s a human involved in the hiring process, whether they’re reviewing resumes or conducting interviews, there’s an opportunity for unconscious bias to influence their decision-making. By making people aware of potential bias and encouraging them to think more critically about the reasoning behind their decisions, you can help reduce the chances of good candidates being screened out for bad reasons.

“[Think about] who’s doing the assessing,” Aaron says, “and have we really cultivated an environment that allows that person to unpack and investigate their own biases?”

“It requires us to think deeper about ourselves,” LaShonda agrees. 

One area where bias can creep in that often slips under the radar is so-called conventional wisdom. For example, Aaron points out that if a candidate doesn’t ask questions in the interview, conventional wisdom says that they lack curiosity. But in some cultures, this might be less common — and interviewers should be prepared to interrogate their assumptions before ruling a candidate out.

“[Ask yourself,] if you grew up in a hierarchical culture that doesn’t encourage challenging authority, might curiosity show up in a different way?” Aaron asks. “So that when a person doesn’t ask a bunch of questions of this authority figure that’s the interviewer, they’re not dinged for lacking curiosity, but instead the assessor is sophisticated enough to understand that curiosity shows up in different ways.”

To help leaders internalize this approach, Aaron and his team launched an initiative last year called The Rewrite, in which Netflix executives meet with external leaders from underrepresented groups. These events (initially in person, though they’ve recently gone virtual in light of COVID-19) follow the Jefferson Dinner format, with a small group meeting for a focused conversation on a particular topic — in this case, changing the composition of the C-suite.

“The conversation would not be focused around Netflix,” Aaron explains. “It would not be focused around what we're doing well, because we admit that we have a significant amount of work to do to be who we wanna be. Instead, how do we collectively solve the problem? How do we bring our experiences to the room to understand the problem and really diagnose, dissect, and put plans into action?”

These events not only allow Netflix leaders to tap the wisdom and diverse perspectives of their peers. They also create an opportunity for them to learn about the lived experiences and challenges faced by leaders from underrepresented groups.

“It's allowing them to hear where those biases may have come up in prior assessments,” Aaron says. “So instead of us saying, ‘here's a typical example of a behavior that you may mis-assess,’ we put them in a room to hear this and participate in the discussion.”

4. Ask for help internally and externally to grow your network

Building a diverse talent pipeline is easier if you have a diverse network. If you don’t, it’s okay to reach out to people, organizations, and groups who can help you make the connections that count.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” Aaron says. “For any small business, or anybody who’s at the beginning of this journey, get help from people who know the spaces.”

Even a company as big as Netflix needs to ask for help sometimes. To make The Rewrite initiative possible, Aaron’s team sought out the help of management consultancy Yardstick Management, which was able to connect them with underrepresented leaders who weren’t already in their network. 

“We had to buy our way into these networks,” Aaron explains. “We know that in a lot of cases these people were wary of big corporations reaching out to them to do diversity work.”

Help can also come from within. LaShonda recommends reaching out to your employee resource groups (ERGs) and even individual employees for support and referrals.

“I’m always amazed at who we didn’t ask for help,” she says. “Are we asking those folks who are diverse, ‘Hey, do you know anybody who could fill [this role]?’ Really tap into those networks.”

5. Reverse engineer your job descriptions to focus on potential over credentials

Job descriptions can be a gateway to your organization for underrepresented talent. But all too often, they wind up being based on the credentials of the previous person to hold the job, which can make it harder for candidates who don’t come from the same background to get their foot in the door. 

“We look at the legacy,” Aaron says. “And when you have these environments that have lacked diversity for a long time and then you say, ‘Well, I need somebody who has X number of years of experience doing it exactly this way,’ you're creating a box that it's really hard to diversify within.”

To put this in perspective for herself and her team, LaShonda did an exercise recently where she looked at the job posts that resulted in exceptional hires. 

“I went back and said, ‘What was the original job description?’” she explains. “And what I found was that there was a huge difference from what was written and the reality.”

Unsurprisingly, the qualifications the company now considered essential weren’t in the original job posts. These new requirements were based on who employees were when they left, rather than when they joined. And if they’d been in the original job post, those top performers might never have been hired

Rather than trying to clone the previous employee, Aaron’s team is working with hiring managers and leaders to codify potential. That means looking at where they want a new hire to be in 10 or 20 years and working backward to figure out where that person is today and what they’ll need to be successful.

“We're examining our leadership development practices,” Aaron explains. “We're examining even workforce planning to determine if these are the skillsets we need 20 years from now. These are the places we've traditionally gone [for talent], and this is the composition of those places — if we took a wider view, how would we have to tweak the five or 10-year mark differently to achieve that with a more diverse group of people?”

6. Ensure your interview panels accurately represent your organization

When it comes time to interview, many experts recommend diversifying your interview panel, both to have the benefit of different perspectives and to help candidates envision themselves at your organization. As a counterpoint, LaShonda notes that if you struggle to find an underrepresented employee to join a panel, this may be a conversation you need to have with the candidate.

“We need to be honest about where we are,” she says. “If we're unable to put together a diverse interview panel, I think that's telling to the organization. But that's okay, because if we are honest about who we are, and we are sharing our journey — this is where you are, this is where we are as an organization — [we can show that the candidate] would be a great addition to the team.” 

For Aaron, honesty is the most important thing you can have on the panel. He believes that if the panel is constructed to make candidates think they’ll be joining a highly diverse organization when in fact there’s still work to do, this ultimately does more damage than having a homogenous panel willing to give straight answers.

“Everybody I've met is seeking authenticity in the interview process,” he says. “I do think diversity on a panel is important, but it's got to actually represent who you are as an organization.”

Final thoughts:

Both LaShonda and Aaron are proponents of the Plus One Pledge, LinkedIn’s initiative to close the network gap by encouraging professionals to share their time, talent, or connections with people outside their network who may not have access to the same resources. This is a simple step that all talent professionals can take to support the wider community, while diversifying your own network and broadening your horizons. 

“I'm engaging in these conversations not because I want a better talent pool of people to tap for jobs,” Aaron explains. “I want to be a better person who knows more about the world. In doing so, I'll have better people for jobs. And I think if we all took on that mentality, the work does itself.”

For more tips on diversifying your pipeline and your mindset, watch the full webinar today.

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