Diversity & Inclusion Recruitment Strategies to Help You Find and Attract Underrepresented Talent

March 11, 2021

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Globally, 77% of talent professionals say diversity will be very important to the future of recruiting. They recognize the integral role they’ll play in helping companies stay accountable to their commitments to diversity and inclusion. And that starts with sourcing a diverse pipeline of candidates. 

“My sense,” says Melissa Thompson, the head of global talent acquisition at Nielsen, “is that one of the biggest myths is that diverse talent is not available. Not true. It doesn’t matter whether it’s African Americans or Hispanics in the engineering/technology space or it’s diversity for senior leaders.” She calls this excuse “bullswanky.”

And, of course, she’s right. To identify overlooked and untapped talent pools, you need to adjust your sourcing strategies — because if your go-to tactics haven’t produced diverse candidate slates in the past, they’re unlikely to do so in the future. The goal here, of course is still to hire the best possible person for the job. And an expanded talent pool gives you the best shot at finding them. With that in mind, here are my foundational sourcing strategies for attracting and locating underrepresented talent on LinkedIn:

Attracting underrepresented talent: Think carefully about the language and requirements in your job descriptions — and about where you post the job

Posting open positions on targeted job boards is perhaps the easiest way to attempt to attract underrepresented talent. But it should only be the first step if you want to build a thoroughly diverse talent pool. 

If you rely largely or solely on posting jobs on diversity-focused sites, such as Diversity.com, Black Career Network, Hispanic/Latino Professional Association, or Pink Jobs, you are only exposing your jobs to the talent from underrepresented groups that happen to be looking for a job at that time and visiting those specific sites. There may be just as many — if not more — job seekers from these groups on large sites like LinkedIn. So, it’s worth experimenting to see which approach yields the best results for your company. 

No matter where you post your job description, you need to ensure that the language and content won’t turn talent from underrepresented groups off and keep them from applying. That makes it critical to use inclusive language. There’s no shortage of advice on this topic, including posts that focus on attracting women and others that show you how to unroll the welcome mat. There are tools on the market, such as Textio and TextMetrics, that can help you fine-tune your job descriptions. 

You should also scour your job requirements for things that aren’t actually necessary to perform the job. For example, pay close attention to your education and experience requirements, and separate these into “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves.” If a degree or specific experience isn’t really necessary to perform the job well, it should go in the “nice-to-have” column — or be removed altogether. 

As for experience, focus your requirements around abilities, not years. Ask for the ability to write various types of marketing copy (web copy, white papers, brochures, and so on), rather than for three-plus years of experience at a marketing agency. Requiring applicants to have spent an arbitrary number of years in a specific role may exclude candidates who have all the right skills but haven’t had the opportunity to gain that experience — yet. 

It can be helpful to think about job descriptions as you would a promotion. Typically, people are promoted into new jobs because they have successfully demonstrated the skills necessary to do the job without having done the job itself. Job seekers, too, tend to be looking to take the next step in their career — so why would you require them to have done the exact job before, as long as they can demonstrate the necessary skills? 

As you’re outlining your requirements, be conscious of the number of skills you include in both the “must-have” and “nice-to-have” categories. Limit “must-haves” to true minimum requirements, and keep your nice-to-have list short to avoid detering candidates who might prove to be a good fit.

Proactive diversity sourcing: Efficiently search for underrepresented talent by building Boolean strings around schools, groups, and other factors

Over the years, I’ve shared diversity sourcing techniques at several LinkedIn Talent Connect events. This foundational search advice can be used by anyone interested in taking proactive measures to source and recruit candidates from underrepresented groups. 

Before we review some examples and best practices, note that it’s important to focus on the underlying strategies, not the specific searches, which may not meet your particular needs and certainly need to be adapted for use outside of the United States. 

Search using schools that enroll the diversity you’re seeking

One way to diversify your talent pool is to look at educational affiliation. For example, search for candidates who graduated from or attended historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

As you know, LinkedIn supports full Boolean search capability, so you can search for every single one of the U.S.’s 105 HBCUs (conveniently listed here by Wikipedia) as an OR statement in the keyword search field in conjunction with any skills, titles, or other search criteria you like. For example, if you were looking for engineers, your search might look like this:

engineer AND ("Alabama A&M University" OR "Alabama State University" OR "Albany State University" OR "Alcorn State University" OR "Allen University" OR "University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff" OR "Arkansas Baptist College" OR "Barber-Scotia College" OR "Benedict College" OR "Bennett College" OR "Bethune-Cookman University" OR "Bishop State Community College" OR "Bluefield State College" OR "Bowie State University" OR "Central State University" OR "Cheyney University of Pennsylvania" OR "Claflin University" OR "Clark Atlanta University" OR "Clinton Junior College" OR "Coahoma Community College" OR "Concordia College, Selma" OR "Coppin State University" OR "Delaware State University" OR "Denmark Technical College" OR "Dillard University" OR "University of the District of Columbia" OR "Edward Waters College" OR "Elizabeth City State University" OR "Fayetteville State University" OR "Fisk University" OR "Florida A&M University" OR "Florida Memorial University" OR "Fort Valley State University" OR "Gadsden State Community College" OR "Grambling State University" OR "Hampton University" OR "Harris-Stowe State University" OR "Hinds Community College at Utica" OR "Howard University" OR "Huston-Tillotson University" OR "Interdenominational Theological Center" OR "J. F. Drake State Technical College" OR "Jackson State University" OR "Jarvis Christian College" OR "Johnson C. Smith University" OR "Kentucky State University" OR "Knoxville College" OR "Lane College" OR "Langston University" OR "Lawson State Community College" OR "LeMoyne-Owen College" OR "Lewis College of Business" OR "Lincoln University" OR "Lincoln University of Missouri" OR "Livingstone College" OR "University of Maryland Eastern Shore" OR "Meharry Medical College" OR "Miles College" OR "Mississippi Valley State University" OR "Morehouse College" OR "Morehouse School of Medicine" OR "Morgan State University" OR "Morris Brown College" OR "Morris College" OR "Norfolk State University" OR "North Carolina A&T State University" OR "North Carolina Central University" OR "Oakwood University" OR "Paine College" OR "Paul Quinn College" OR "Philander Smith College" OR "Prairie View A&M University" OR "Rust College" OR "Saint Paul's College" OR "Savannah State University" OR "Selma University" OR "Shaw University" OR "Shorter College" OR "Shelton State Community College" OR "South Carolina State University" OR "Southern University at New Orleans" OR "Southern University at Shreveport" OR "Southern University and A&M College" OR "Southwestern Christian College" OR "Spelman College" OR "St. Augustine's College" OR "St. Philip's College" OR "Stillman College" OR "Talladega College" OR "Tennessee State University" OR "Texas College" OR "Texas Southern University" OR "Tougaloo College" OR "Trenholm State Technical College" OR "Tuskegee University" OR "University of the Virgin Islands" OR "Virginia State University" OR "Virginia Union University" OR "Virginia University of Lynchburg" OR "Voorhees College" OR "West Virginia State University" OR "Wilberforce University" OR "Wiley College" OR "Winston-Salem State University" OR "Xavier University of Louisiana") 

Yes, that search runs in LinkedIn Recruiter — and it returns over 80,000 results. 

The same approach can be applied to other institutions as well. For example, a search for people who have attended tribal colleges and universities could help you identify Native American candidates. You could also search for all of the women’s colleges and universities within a Boolean OR string for gender diversity. 

Search using diverse groups

You should also explore groups and associations that are predominantly made up of underrepresented talent, such as sororities. Similar to the approach for searching schools, you can search for the more than two dozen national and international sororities in a single Boolean OR statement in the keyword field of LinkedIn search. This search produces over 1.8 million results.

You can take the same approach with African American fraternities and sororities to create a Boolean search for African American men or women. Or, you could create searches for LGBTQ+ and LGBTQ-friendly campus organizations, Latino fraternities and Latina sororities, Asian American fraternities and sororities, and various other cultural interest groups.

Of course, fraternities, sororities, and other college-related groups (such as the numerous Black Student Unions, Latino Student Unions, or Gay Student Unions) are just a few of the things that could distinctively appear on the profiles of talent from underrepresented groups. While educational affiliations can be a good jumping-off point, it’s best not to limit your search solely to academic institutions, as this can of course exclude people who did not participate in post-secondary education.

As one last example, you can search for veterans by leveraging some of the many ways someone might mention their service. For example:

(“Army” OR “USAR” OR “U.S.A.R.” OR “Army Reserve” OR “Army Reserves” OR “Navy” OR “USN” OR “USNR” OR “U.S.N.” OR “U.S.N.R.” OR “Naval Reserves” OR “Naval Reserve” OR “Air Force” OR “USAF” OR “U.S.A.F.” OR “USFAR” OR “U.S.A.F.R.” OR “Force Reserve” OR “Force Reserves” OR “Forces Reserve” OR “Forces Reserves” OR “Marines” OR “Marine Corp” OR “Marine Corps” OR “USMC” OR “U.S.M.C.” OR “USMCR” OR “U.S.M.C.R.” OR “MARFORRES” OR “Marine Expeditionary Force” OR “MEF” OR “Coast Guard” OR “USCG” OR “U.S.C.G.” OR “USCGR” OR “National Guard” OR “Veteran” OR “honorable discharge” OR “honorably discharged”) 

That Boolean search returns nearly 5 million profiles. The possibilities are nearly endless.

Search with inclusivity in mind

As I’ve shared on the Talent Connect stage many times, every search you run both includes and excludes people you want to find. Not every Black professional graduated from a HBCU (nor is every HBCU graduate Black). It’s practically impossible to create a completely inclusive search for any skill or demographic, as there will always be people who mention something in a way you didn’t think of or who don’t mention the thing you’re searching for at all, both of which exclude them from your results. 

When it comes to diversity sourcing, doing nothing isn’t an option and neither, really, is doing just one thing. While posting jobs on relevant sites should always be a part of your diversity sourcing efforts, it’s a hope-based strategy: You hope that qualified talent from underrepresented groups happens to find your job and apply. 

In contrast to posting jobs, searching for talent from underrepresented groups is a proactive approach and affords you the ability to target the broadest portion of the total talent pool — those people who are not actively seeking a new job, as well as those who are. 

Final thoughts: Making a difference starts with taking action

No diversity sourcing approach can ever be completely inclusive, which suggests not that you abandon your approach but that you bolster it with constant innovation and new strategies to drive ever-increasing inclusion.

Deciding to take action and be proactive in sourcing talent from underrepresented groups is the most important step. Once you understand the fundamentals of information retrieval and the limitations of various approaches, you have the ability to make educated decisions on what actions to take, what approaches and solutions to use, and how to achieve ever-increasing inclusivity in your diversity sourcing efforts.

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