Diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) should be top of mind for talent acquisition leaders – not just because it’s the right thing but also because it’s the smart thing to do.

That doesn’t mean it’s an easy thing to do. In her acclaimed Netflix The Call to Courage, Houston based research professor Brené Brown puts the central challenge this way: “It’s not a question of whether you have a bias or not, it’s what biases do you have, how many, how bad, and how deep?”

Unpicking these biases takes deep examination and commitment to do things better. Just putting more diverse candidates in the pipeline will not ensure that you hire diverse candidates. It takes courage to go deeper and really make DE&I work.

In this article, we take four of the most common challenges that talent acquisition functions experience when it comes to DE&I and explore some of the strategies talent leaders can use to turn failure into success.

Challenge #1: The sourcing challenge

Symptom: “There aren’t any appropriate candidates” reports the talent acquisition adviser.

This is the often-given explanation for the lack of underrepresented talent in sourcing and hiring pools. But is it valid?

In short: no. And what’s more, it’s an explanation steeped in bias – whether racist, sexist or otherwise – masquerading as a merit-based argument.

Of course, talent pools need to be defined by the right set of education, skills, and experiences, but they also need broader demographic parameters. The data tells us the diverse talent is out there, which means organisations can’t keep doing things the same way. They need to find new ways to build their talent pools inclusively.

Challenge #2: The selection challenge

Symptom: Underrepresented candidates don’t progress past the interview stage.

If disproportionate numbers of underrepresented candidates are dropping off at the interview stage, a likely culprit is a bias (unconscious or otherwise).

This selection challenge is a glaring example of Brene Brown’s challenge in The Call to Courage. Bias can exist both at a behavioural and structural level. It may be one or both creating hurdles in the selection process. If you can see the symptoms, you need to address the cause.

Challenge #3: The attraction challenge

Symptom: Diverse candidates from underrepresented groups turn down job offers.

If diverse candidates aren’t accepting your offers, it may be their way of saying: it’s not me, it’s you. Candidates want to be able to see their place in your organisation. Are you offering them what they want? Do they see diversity in the culture of the organisation?

Challenge #4: The retention challenge

Symptom: Diverse candidates accept roles, but they don’t stay.

You can design and implement the most inclusive hiring practices in the world, but if the rest of your organisation doesn’t change, you will still struggle to attract and retain diverse talent. You may be able to bring diverse talent in, but encouraging them to stay means developing an EVP that continues to speak to them.

What can TA leaders do?

There’s no doubt that DE&I requires organisation-wide effort, but the talent acquisition team is in the privileged position of being able to champion DE&I initiatives across the business.

They can do this in the following real and concrete ways:

1. Setting diversity goals for talent acquisition.

2. Collecting and analysing data to uncover what stories your data can tell you about DE&I.

3. Actively removing bias from the recruitment process, including through using language thoughtfully in job ads by avoiding words known to appeal more to men than women, for example, ‘confident’ and ‘competitive’ and referring to ‘must-haves’ over key tasks.

4. Using technology/bots to help reduce conscious and unconscious bias in the recruitment process, including through training AI to ignore demographic information as well as markers of socioeconomic status, such as the names of schools attended.

5. Developing and communicating a compelling EVP that unifies individuals through common purpose but speaks differently to different groups to reflect different needs.

6. Championing the DE&I cause through an authentic, long-term commitment to behavioral and structural change.

Each of these actions requires a deep understanding of the conscious and unconscious biases in the organisation. With courage, organisations can root these causes out. And they must, because only then will DE&I hiring become truly ingrained in the organisation.

 To learn about building more inclusive DE&I practices, download: The DE&I Hiring Champion.

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About the contributor

Vinod Mohan is the Head of Professional Search. Based in Singapore, Vinod has over a decade of experience in the executive search and the talent sector and 6 years specific to the APAC market. Vinod's areas of expertise include talent management, sourcing strategies, market mapping, "High Po" search solutions and project and managed search. Vinod has successfully delivered "high impact" talent solutions to a diverse range of sectors including Aviation, Oil & Gas, the broader Industrial practice, Consumer and Healthcare across geographies.

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