A Practical Guide to Hiring Candidates with Diverse Backgrounds

Emily Heaslip, content writer at Vervoe

A lot has been written about the importance of diversity, and much of the literature focuses on why companies benefit candidates from diverse backgrounds. That’s understandable: diversity in hiring lags behind in nearly every industry.

While more and more companies are recognizing the value of a diverse workforce, fewer are realizing the effort it takes to make hiring more inclusive. At Vervoe, we’ve learned through working with other companies and building our own what it will take to build a diverse company. We’re not there yet, but we have a sense of purpose and clarity about the journey. Here’s what we’ve learned about building a diverse team of talented individuals.

Get a commitment from the leadership
The most important contributors to building a diverse company are the least tangible ones, and that only steadfast leadership will ensure an enduring culture of diversity.

“Successful hiring for diversity goes beyond HR strategies or affirmative action plan goals. It has to be a leadership and cultural mindset that welcomes and leverages diverse viewpoints and experiences in candidates. The goal, in that case, is to broaden the horizons of organizational leadership to be aware of their own unconscious biases in hiring and inculcate respect for those not similar to them,” writes one expert in Forbes.

Hiring is just the first step: employee retention is critical too. A study by Deloitte found that 23% of those surveyed had left their job for a more inclusive work culture. Microaggressions, unconscious bias, exclusion, and outright discrimination can all force diverse employees to leave. In addition to high turnover costs, that loss of talent also decreases morale and stifles innovation. It’s the responsibility of leadership to make sure once the recruiting and hiring practices are in place, the company culture encourages diverse employees to thrive.

Expand your sourcing
To find diverse candidates, you must look beyond the traditional sourcing methods your company typically utilizes. This means sourcing candidates from places outside your careers site and LinkedIn. Try collaborating with a university or affinity organization to shape your job search. Some other options:

Google Hiring also recommends expanding “points of entry” at your company, offering more paid internships, rotational programs, and contract work opportunities. By providing more opportunity – and focusing on inclusivity as you hire for these new roles – you can foster a culture of diversity and grow your talent pool with intention.

Change the language in your job descriptions
The way you write a job description sends certain signals that can unintentionally discourage diverse candidates from applying. For example, words like“strong” and “competitive” deter female candidates from applying. These words are perceived as male-specific. By the same token, terms like “sensitive” prevent male candidates from submitting an application. Make your job descriptions gender-neutral to ensure you are recruiting a diverse pool of talented applicants. The free sourcing tool The Gender Decoder can help you strip biased words from your job description.

Shape your company culture to be inclusive
“Offer benefits such as onsite daycare, childcare subsidies and flexible schedules, and let new hires know that you are willing to accommodate cultural and religious holidays and diversity-friendly (but office-appropriate) apparel choices,” writes the Wall Street Journal. Diversity isn’t just about race, ethnicity, and gender: so consider some of the adjustments you may need to make to accommodate candidates with disabilities, candidates with different religious beliefs, or candidates from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Flexible working and benefits are critical to creating a work environment that makes it possible for new hires to join your company.

Even better: consider recruiting a remote workforce. Opening your hiring practices to a global network takes diverse hiring to the next level. Remote workers are proven to be more productive, more engaged, and cost your company less overhead. Capture the benefit of innovative, diverse ways of thinking without adding to your bottom line.

Make hiring about talent
Instead of hiring for “culture fit” – a nebulous term that often feeds into inherent bias in recruiting – focus your process on uncovering a candidate’s capabilities. Replace resume screening with an on-the-job simulation like Vervoe’s skill assessments. Customize each skill test with questions and assessments that mimic the tasks required from the new hire. This style of assessment allows candidates to perform tasks that are relevant to the job they’ve applied for – and showcase their abilities in the process.

Take it a step further, and use an AI tool to screen the results of a skill test rather than having a recruiter rank candidates for the next round. A recruiter might see hundreds of resumes for a single open position. At that volume, there’s no way one person can give each application the careful consideration it deserves. This leads many recruiters to simply select candidates whose backgrounds seem most familiar or similar to theirs.

Instead, feed a merit-based, automated ranking tool data from the skills test. Vervoe’s smart algorithm doesn’t eliminate anyone; candidates are ranked for the interview stage, so recruiters receive a list of the top candidates after their qualifications have been validated.

Reconsider your evaluation process
As you shift the focus from a list of qualifications to a true assessment of a candidate’s skills, so should you reconsider who is evaluating the next phases of the hiring process. “Don’t leave interviewing to a single person. Instead, include other people from your company, especially your diverse employees. Listening to different perspectives from different people will improve the fairness and quality of your hiring process,” recommends TalentLyft.

Ask your employees for feedback on job descriptions, interview questions, and other application materials. Get leadership involved to make sure employees across the board recognize the value in a diverse workplace. When managers understand the benefits of inclusive hiring, they can devote time and resources to making sure the team is fully committed to bringing on the best talent.

Encourage employee referrals
Employee referrals remain one of the best ways to find and retain talent. Candidates who have been recommended by existing employees have high applicant-to-hire conversion rates and higher retention rates. If you’re seeking to reduce the number of people who leave for a more inclusive culture, first make your workplace more diversity-friendly. Then, encourage your existing employees to become team ambassadors. Incentivize diverse employee referrals and focus your diversity hiring on leadership roles. Talent attracts talent: when you bring in a high-profile leader, you also gain access to their network and can leverage their reputation.