The Great Resignation Doesn’t Have to Threaten Your DE&I Efforts

The “Great Resignation” has major implications for companies’ diversity efforts. Many talent teams that were already facing capacity issues are now struggling to fill gaps with qualified and available candidates, much fewer ones from diverse communities. In a climate where underrepresented job seekers are in high demand and many will be part of the cadre leaving their jobs in the next year, organizations face a major risk of seeing their diversity numbers get worse. To avoid sliding backwards at this critical juncture, organizations need to break traditional conventions and fundamentally shift their approaches to diversity hiring. The author presents six strategies for talent leaders to translate this massive shift in the workforce into significant progress.

Following a whirlwind year that disrupted most workplace norms and elevated diversity to a top priority for nearly every organization, a new challenge came knocking at the door when leaders realized that upwards of 40% of their teams might be leaving their jobs in the next year. The combination of new return-to-office mandates, previous departure plans that were delayed by the pandemic, and many new revelations about the need for better work-life balance started what seems to be a record-breaking departure from jobs in a shockingly small window of time.

This has major implications for companies’ diversity efforts. Many talent teams that were already facing capacity issues are now struggling to fill gaps with qualified and available candidates, much fewer ones from diverse communities. In a climate where underrepresented job seekers are in high demand and many will be part of the cadre leaving their jobs in the next year, organizations face a major risk of seeing their diversity numbers get worse.

Over the last two years, we studied hundreds of employers navigating their diversity hiring strategies and noticed the strongest collective focus and action around diversity we’ve seen to date. But the shift in the labour market poses a threat to that focus, redirecting proactive efforts to increase diversity to reactive ones to fill gaps. A chief talent officer told me in a recent interview, “In this hiring climate, we are going to struggle to find qualified candidates for our roles, much less meet our diversity hiring goals. Most of our leaders are hiring the first qualified person they can find, without any consideration of diversity.”

To avoid sliding backward at this critical juncture, organizations need to break traditional conventions and fundamentally shift their approaches to diversity hiring. In such a competitive environment, the natural tendency will be to revert to old behavior. Leaders will need to view filling gaps and advancing diversity not as an either/or but a both/and. Getting there requires dispelling some myths that have historically haunted diversity recruiting and hiring. Here are six strategies for talent leaders to translate this massive shift in the workforce into significant progress.

Slow down to think strategically, long-term, and reset time requirements.

Myth: We have to move quickly and accelerate our hiring process in this new climate.

The greatest challenge leaders face right now is resisting the urge to move quickly and hire impulsively. Rushed recruiting efforts usually cause us to revert to our most familiar ways of hiring. We abandon structure and make short-sighted gut decisions, both of which are the perfect recipe for hiring bias.

Despite the instinct and pressure you might feel to move quickly and fill gaps, your diversity recruiting efforts actually depend on slowing down and taking a strategic, long-term approach. All of the following steps require a reframing and behavior change that begins with accepting the fact that none of this will happen overnight. For each role you’re hiring for:

  • Consider the impact of rushing a hire who does not contribute diversity to your organization.
  • Grant yourself the additional time you would normally take to ensure the hire you make brings diversity to your organization.
  • Communicate the new time expectations to everyone involved in the hiring process so there is shared understanding.

Reframe your definition of “diverse hire” to account for underrepresented groups you may not see.

Myth: The most effective approach to diversity hiring and goals is to narrow the focus on visible aspects of diversity, such as race and gender.

Many organizations base their diversity goals purely on increasing gender and racial representation and leave out entire groups from their efforts.

In our research for the book, we studied 100 organizations and found that fewer than half (47%) accounted for people with disabilities in their diversity tracking and goal setting and only 11% accounted for the LGBTQ+ community. To make real progress on diversity, we need to start with a more holistic and inclusive definition of diversity in the first place:

  • Have a discussion with your team about the 12 underrepresented job seeker communities you could potentially recruit from.
  • Encourage your team to map their awareness of underrepresented communities. Using this short assessment, they can create a personalized diversity map.
  • Consider where diversity is particularly lacking in your organization.

Scope out more accessible, simple, and straightforward role requirements.

Myth: The best path to finding the ideal candidate is to narrow the “perfect candidate profile” and set high requirements.

Many diversity recruiting efforts fail the moment an open role is first defined because the “perfect candidate profile” must meet exorbitantly high requirements.

Candidates from underrepresented communities might have highly relevant skills for your job but an unconventional talent profile. Not everyone went to a pedigree school or worked at the employer you love to recruit from. Try to abandon any thinking around the “cookie cutter candidate profile” you must recruit. The more specific qualifications or experiences you require, the more you limit your pool. In a study we conducted of underrepresented job seekers in January 2021, we found that 50% of respondents reported having observed exclusionary language in a job posting. Here are some ways to make your job descriptions more inclusive:

  • Remove high degree requirements — or any degree requirements at all. It’s been proven that they don’t translate to success on the job and only narrow your pool.
  • Break away from only recruiting from certain organizations, industries, or pedigrees of schools.
  • Remove preferred qualifications from job posts. They only dissuade job seekers from applying. If something isn’t absolutely required, don’t mention it.

Develop a role-specific diversity sourcing strategy.

Myth: There’s a universal diversity recruiting strategy that will yield the same results for all of your roles.

It’s a common misconception that you should only hire through the same external channels you’ve used in the past. In reality, you have many more options, many of them right in front of you:

  • Consider the makeup of the pool you can recruit from and where diversity is most lacking in your organization so you know where to focus your efforts.
  • Explore promoting internally to increase representation for a specific role.
  • Empower teams to play an active part in assessing their own networks and referring job seekers from underrepresented groups.
  • Brainstorm new, unconventional networks that could be a strong source for the role and consider how you can start to build long-term, reciprocal partnerships.

Ensure a more equitable, structured, and unbiased hiring experience for candidates.

Myth: If your diversity sourcing efforts are effective, everything else will be fine.

Our January study found that 62% of underrepresented job seekers observed bias in the hiring process. Much of this comes from a lack of structure or consistency in key parts of the process or a lack of training for team members participating. Without consistent structure and training, individuals making hiring decisions rely on fixed mindsets for what they’re looking for in candidates and often base decisions on intuition and subjective factors instead of objective criteria. You need to walk through each step of your hiring process and ensure each candidate is receiving a fair, consistent experience that’s accessible and rooted in objective decision making.

We found that, for the vast majority of employers, major parts of the hiring process aren’t accessible to people with disabilities. Additionally, we found that a great deal of bias shows up in interviews due to the lack of structure and the tendency for leaders to approach the process informally. Here are steps to immediately begin creating a more equitable hiring process for candidates:

  • Check your career page application and hiring systems to ensure people with disabilities can apply and add an open field to ask if candidates require special accommodations.
  • Educate your team on the common biases that show up in the hiring process that can hinder their fair sourcing, selection, and hiring decisions.
  • Institute a structured interview scorecard and encourage every team member completing interviews to use it. Schedule time before every interview to prepare and after to fill out the scorecard.

Define specific ways to set the new hire up for success in their new role.

Myth: Making the hire is the hardest and most critical part of achieving diversity goals.

It might come as a surprise that, following even the most impactful diversity hiring efforts, many employers miss the chance to set their new hires from underrepresented communities up for success in their new roles. In our January study, 47% of respondents reported receiving proper communications, resources, and assistance to onboard into their new job and only 22% reported receiving mentorship or sponsorship. It’s important to remember that employees from underrepresented communities have often defied the odds to successfully land a new job, without a great deal of guidance.

Many talent leaders point to noticeable attrition of new hires from underrepresented communities, usually within the first three months of being hired. This is often due to a lack of proper support on the part of the organization from the outset. Here are two ways to set newcomers up for success from day one:

  • Ensure your onboarding process is structured, transparent, and comprehensive. Make sure there are people in place to support new hires and check in on their well-being in their first days on the job.
  • Create formal or informal mentorship or sponsorship opportunities for new hires to connect them to senior leaders who can regularly offer guidance. Consider reverse-mentorship structures to ensure this is reciprocal — leaders can learn a lot from newcomers as well.

Following a year of what feels like endless change, the thought of even more feels daunting, especially at a time when capacity and resources may be scarce. But it’s important to see this as an opportunity to open the door to making remarkable progress on diversity that could have otherwise taken years to materialize. If we can break away from conventional thinking and approach diversity hiring in a way that’s holistic, strategic, and systematic, organizations could soon see their workforces more accurately reflect society.

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