What Would Your Hiring Managers Say if Candidates Asked Them About Diversity?

November 4, 2020

Photo of woman talking on cell phone

I’m excited. Excited because — despite everything that’s challenging  about 2020 — my team and I are seeing many more companies move from a world of “diversity as an HR initiative” to a world where diversity and inclusion are embedded into the company culture. We’re seeing strong executive support and accountability. We’re seeing holistic thinking. And we’re seeing recruiting teams play a much bigger role than just “sourcing” diversity. Yes!

But, to get diversity really baked into our recruiting culture, we need our hiring managers (HMs) to be able to articulate the why for diversity, and then talk specifically about the actions we’re taking as a company, as a team, and — personally — as a leader, to improve diversity and inclusion. The good news is we can just send HMs to unconscious bias training, update our job descriptions, and email them talking points, right? 

Nope.

That’s not enough. We need our HMs to be able to personalize their why and identify actions they are personally taking to improve diversity if we are going to meet diversity hiring goals and create truly inclusive company cultures.  And I have an idea to make that happen faster.

What would happen if we encouraged candidates to ask our Hiring Managers about their personal role in creating an inclusive culture and promoting diversity?

It’s risky, right? Because many hiring managers, if asked by a candidate, would probably struggle. They might start with some general “we’re an equal opportunity employer” statement, or talk about something HR is doing — mandatory unconscious bias training. They may talk about how recruiting is targeting candidates from diverse backgrounds or from universities that are known for producing graduates from underrepresented groups.  Or maybe mention an employee resource group that they know exists.  None of that is bad. But it’s not really answering the candidate’s question: “What are you doing to create an inclusive culture, [hiring manager]?”

I remember in the pre-LinkedIn days of recruiting, when hiring managers at many companies didn’t really talk about culture at all during the interview. They saw that as HR’s job — “talk to the recruiter about our benefits, our culture, as I want to focus more on your technical skills.”  But today, it’s extremely common for hiring managers to spend more than half of their time explaining team dynamics, culture, selling the job and opportunity, fielding questions from candidates about anything. How did that happen? I think candidates started asking more questions of their potential peers and new managers — during the interviews — about what was really going to drive their ability to perform, get work done, enjoy their work. And that’s culture. And I think the reason hiring managers started to focus on it was because candidates asked about it, not because HR asked them to focus on it. So, that approach may also work for diversity, right?  

2020 is really the year when I think employees and customers made it clear that they want companies to focus on diversity. And I think that’s true of candidates as well. In fact, we already see this today: A hiring manager I spoke with talked about the questions he received from a female engineer he wanted to hire, and many of them connected to D&I. Candidates expect more than just a recruiting team and career site that promotes diversity. They want to know how their new potential manager creates a team culture that’s inclusive, how they promote diversity, and how welcomed they’d feel if they joined. Especially from candidates who have a lot of choices, and especially from candidates who’ve experienced the performative allyship without the action needed to effect real change.

What would be the result of these candidate questions? 

This would mean hiring managers would need to demonstrate something beyond supporting HR’s plans or some executive’s public statement…but team-level action. Do you think your hiring managers would know what to say? And if they didn’t, what would happen? What would be the natural consequences if they bombed a simple question from a Latino sales manager or Black engineer or Female executive candidate about diversity, inclusion, belonging, and equity? Do you think some candidates would drop out or turn down offers if hiring managers couldn’t articulate their why with specific action? I do. I’ve seen it happen.  

Because of that, we should absolutely prepare our hiring managers for these kinds of questions. We should ask them directly, during our new req strategy meeting, “What would our response be if a candidate asks us about things you’re doing — as their people manager — to build a more inclusive environment, to promote diversity on the team?”  

I’d hope a hiring manager who struggled to answer questions like that — from us or from candidates — would hold up a mirror and reflect on what they haven’t done (yet), and then ask for help from their recruiting and HRBP teams to build out a more specific set of actions they can take to create a more inclusive team and articulate those actions and the “why” behind them to all future candidates. Wouldn’t that be amazing? Not HR/recruiting “pushing” diversity accountability onto hiring managers, but hiring managers “pulling” from HR/recruiting to get their personal plans and actions identified and articulated.  

I’ve been promoting this idea of a “culture of recruiting” where hiring managers play much more than an interviewer and approver role since my first conference presentation back in 1999 when I worked at Amazon. I truly believe that hiring managers are the key to getting top talent — the ones who get top talent are effective at networking, interviewing, selling, partnering with us, and championing diversity. I see little evidence that a company — even one with amazing sourcers and recruiters and HRBPs and a Chief Diversity Officer and strong OD and L&D leaders — can truly improve diversity recruiting ROI if they don’t have engaged middle managers who can and do effectively articulate their personal actions to promote diversity during the candidate engagement, interviewing, and selling phases of their process.  

Now, I want to reiterate something: I’m not recommending that you encourage a candidate to ask your hiring managers about diversity and inclusion as a first step. Obviously, invest in education, spend time with them pre-req strategy meeting to talk about how you’ll collaborate to widen the aperture, ensure equal access to opportunity, focus on sources likely to generate diverse hires, and build an inclusive, fair interviewing and selection process. And, ideally, you’ll help them connect with their WHY for diversity and identify specific things they are doing to promote inclusion.  Do all of that first — the recruiter/hiring manager relationship should be a partnership filled with teachable moments and a ton of support. 

But if they’re not prioritizing it, is it time we expose them to the expectations that top candidates have around D&I? Should we encourage candidates to ask our hiring managers about D&I at the team-level? 

What do the hiring managers who are most effective at improving diversity through the recruiting process at your company do differently? Please share. You can hit me up on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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