Houston expert: How to attract and recruit a diverse workforce for your startup
The recent and long overdue awakening to systematic racism in the United States has brought with it a focused attempt to create more equitable opportunities in the workforce. Organizations are investing time reviewing their historical selection and performance data, creating new strategies for attracting applicants from historically underrepresented groups, and investing resources to ensure ongoing support and inclusion for all members of their community.
Startups in the early stages of bringing in personnel and crafting organizational culture have the advantage of building from a blank slate, and can benefit from implementing recruitment and selection strategies shown to help increase diversity.
Prior to developing any strategic recruitment plan, companies must first perform an in-depth internal review of company culture, values, and future plans for growth and evolution. Defining these organizational attributes will help the company better understand the types of individuals who will thrive in the environment so that it can 1) accurately market the company and 2) maximize person-organization fit (P-O fit). P-O fit describes the extent to which an individual’s competencies, values, and preferences are compatible with the organization’s core values and offerings and has been linked to higher job satisfaction, job performance, and organizational commitment along with decreased turnover. Carving out the company’s current and desired culture, values, and goals for growth can serve as a starting point for accurately marketing the company to prospective applicants, understanding what applicant attributes and values will be the best fit for the company, and creating outreach and screening methods accordingly.
After an organization has performed a thorough internal exploration, it can then begin to share relevant information with prospective applicants. By and large, much of this information is gleaned by applicants through organizational websites. Indeed, organizational websites are often the main source of information for applicants and can provide a positive first impression and communicate its culture to leverage P-O fit. Research also suggests that companies cannot go wrong by sharing too much information about the organization on their website and through social media.
Companies can also ensure that the information provided on their websites and on social media pages demonstrate pictorial diversity, as including pictures of minorities has been shown to increase organizational attraction among Latinos and Blacks. Including video testimonials from any incumbent employees who reflect the diversity the organization is trying to attract can also enhance employer attractiveness. Finally, organizations seeking to increase diversity – but with little baseline diversity – should be honest about their current diversity climate with prospective applicants. Being transparent about current diversity figures, along with goals for future growth and specific strategies taken to enhance the diversity climate, can be a successful strategy as well. It is much better for an organization to provide an accurate snapshot of the current milieu so that informed decisions can be made, as inflated and inaccurate expectations among new entrants can result in job dissatisfaction and turnover.
Companies seeking to increase the demographic diversity of applicants can also engage in targeted recruitment by focused advertisement and promotion at schools who graduate large number of underrepresented minorities. For example, partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), such as Prairie View A&M University, Texas Southern University, and St. Phillip’s College, can ensure broad reach. Creating virtual visit days, providing lectures to students, and other educational outreach programs with these institutions can broaden awareness and interest.
Organizations must continue to ensure equitable opportunities for all even after receiving applications from a diverse group. Shortlisting applicants based on certain pieces of information in the application can be at odds with efforts to create a diverse workforce. For example, reliance on standardized examination scores, such as SAT and ACT, can negatively impact underrepresented minority applicants. Letters of recommendation are also often frequently relied upon in selection, despite their discriminatory origin and evidence showing differences across genders and socioeconomic groups. Finally, use of unstructured interviews can also increase susceptibility to biases against minority groups. Thus, companies should only incorporate screening tools and processes that will not disadvantage applicants from different backgrounds.
Other selection methods can help programs achieve their diversity goals. For example, inclusion of structured interviews can ensure interviewers avoid common interviewing mistakes and providing unbiased ratings.Often, small details can have a large impact on hiring decisions. For example, applicants with accents and ethnic names are often disadvantaged during interviews, receiving less favorable interview ratings. Similarly, overweight candidates receive significantly lower performance ratings in interviews, compared to average weight candidates. Finally, studies have shown an overall bias against pregnant women in interview settings. Fortunately, these studies have also shown that structured interviews reduce these biases. Thus, standardizing which questions are asked and training interviewers to avoid inappropriate and potentially illegal questions is critical.
In conclusion, companies seeking to enhance the diversity of their workforce must consider their practices and policies in recruitment and selection. Unfortunately, there are no “quick fixes.” Creating a thriving culture for diversity, equity, and inclusion requires intentional focus and allotment of time and resources.
Aimee Gardner is the co-founder of SurgWise, a tech-enabled consulting firm for hiring surgeons, and associate dean at Baylor College of Medicine.