The Reason Most Diversity Hiring Efforts Have Failed - and How Technology Could Be an Answer

February 14, 2022
4 min

It goes without saying that diversity is now top of mind for everyone. Over the last year, as we witnessed a global pandemic coincide with a series of unthinkable racial injustices, the topic of diversity in the workforce elevated to an even greater state of urgency for most organizations. Nearly every leader began to wrestle with the lack of diversity on their teams and asked themselves how they could finally see this important change. 

Throughout this time and over the last few years my team and I have been developing technology for diversity hiring, leading research around equitable hiring practices, and interviewing hundreds of leaders around their diversity hiring strategies as we’ve been authoring our upcoming book, Hiring for Diversity

The Glaring Gap We Discovered in DEI Research

One central theme that emerged in all of our findings is that despite the urgency leaders vocalize to grow diversity, they continue to delegate their diversity hiring efforts down to a select few in the organization instead of empowering their entire teams to play a role and take responsibility. This means that hiring efforts continue to fall on the shoulders of HR and recruiting teams alone with limited resources, capacity and reach.

But this translates to a massive risk and missed opportunity. Because not actively engaging the broader team in diversity hiring efforts means potentially failing to build awareness or address personal bias on the part of anyone participating in the hiring process. It means missing the opportunity to unlock the collective diversity network of the full organization tied to each role for which the organization is recruiting.

Existing teams are the secret weapons in growing diversity of an organization, and this consistently gets overlooked. Imagine the power of unlocking the collective network of a combined team to cast a significantly wider net for every new hiring decision. Imagine equipping every person involved in the hiring process with the ability to be more fair, consistent, and more effectively address personal bias they might bring. 

Thinking beyond a one-time unconscious bias training

Many organizations believe a single unconscious bias training is enough to engage their teams in diversity hiring efforts. The majority of organizations we researched facilitated a one time unconscious bias training for their teams at some point. But we found that, while these training sessions raised awareness at the time, few, if any, resulted in meaningful behavior, change in their teams, or progress in diverse hiring. 

Simply put, most employers have unrealistically high expectations for what unconscious bias training will achieve or the role it plays. Addressing unconscious bias isn’t the same as learning a new technical skill or rote memorization. It’s much more complex. Addressing bias is about chipping away at a deep-rooted mindset, values system and mental shortcuts (heuristics), that our brain makes on a continuous basis for nearly every decision. Bias is completely natural and often shows up in hidden ways, in our daily actions and decisions such as:  

  • Should I look at this candidate’s resume? 
  • Is this candidate qualified? 
  • Should I refer this candidate? 
  • How should I ask this interview question? 
  • Should we hire this candidate?  
  • What should we pay this new hire? 

To address this type of specific behavior change in daily decisions we can’t expect a single training alone to be everything we need. Instead we need to think of this as “planting the seed.” Unconscious bias training is about making bias more ‘conscious’ - but it alone will not be all that we need to change behavior. Instead we need to think about the ways we meet people where they are in their work at the time they actually are making decisions. This is where we began to see a potential solution through technology.  

Leveraging technology to meet the need

These collective findings inspired our team at Mathison to go to the drawing board to explore how we could develop a technology that would democratize diversity hiring efforts in a way that could enable everyone in an organization to play a more active role in the efforts. We realized we needed tools to achieve this. 

One of the innovations that resulted to meet the need was the Diversity Sidekick, a web browser app that is available to every team member in an organization. It provides a side panel application that pops up whenever team members would like to help with these five core actions: 

  1. Source and refer candidates from underrepresented communities on LinkedIn
  2. Anonymize LinkedIn profiles to remove upfront selection bias
  3. Analyze job descriptions and communication for exclusionary terms 
  4. Build structured interview scripts to address bias in interviews
  5. Access diversity training content and insights in real time

Organizations like Betterment, Slickdeals, Glossier, Theory and Horizon Media are leveraging this across their teams and sharing that it’s the first thing they’ve seen that’s enabled them to pursue diversity hiring outside of their recruiting teams alone. This not only relieves pressure off of HR and recruiting, but it also makes diversity hiring a company wide value.

We know that many organizations have always dreamt of engaging their broader team in this work but have just been missing the technology to support them in doing so.

The opportunities of engaging everyone around diversity hiring are endless. Not only will this unlock the full potential and reach of your team - it means your diversity hiring pursuits start to feel like a movement in your organization, and that makes them truly sustainable.

There’s one thing we are certain of when it comes to diversity hiring goals - they will require every single person. We can no longer pretend that unconscious bias training alone will be enough. The employers that are recognizing this are already seeing their diversity goals becoming reality.

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