When we talk about diversity in the workplace, we often think in terms of demographics. Do women make up a certain percentage of your company’s leadership? Are you recruiting more candidates from underrepresented backgrounds than in the past?

A diverse workforce is one in which people of all genders, ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds, ages, abilities and more feel welcome, but “diversity” and “inclusion” are more than just criteria to be met. Also, these are critical elements of the employee experience that can make companies more innovative and successful.

If diversity goes beyond simply having employees of different backgrounds, how can you truly make hiring more inclusive? We’ve got some suggestions for how to incorporate diversity and inclusion into recruiting and facilitate positive workplace experiences.

Partner with outside organisations to meet new candidates

If you want a more diverse workforce than you have now, you’re going to have to try something different. While it may be tempting to rely on the same sourcing strategy that has worked for you in the past, this may ultimately be limiting your company’s ability to recruit a larger — and more diverse — pool of candidates. Partnering with organisations in your industry that represent people of diverse backgrounds is a great way to discover candidates you may never have met otherwise.

HubSpot is an example of a company that found success by looking outside their own hiring department. To recruit a more diverse set of candidates, HubSpot collaborated with organisations devoted to expanding science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) opportunities for students from underrepresented backgrounds, such as Hack.Diversity and Resilient Coders. As a result, HubSpot was able to meet candidates — and eventual hires — from a wider range of backgrounds, creating a more diverse workforce.

3 tips for making your job descriptions more inclusive

The language you use in job descriptions can be losing you top talent. In fact, a Harvard University study found that women were less likely to believe they were fit for a certain role when the description used words associated with male stereotypes. Reevaluating every job description might seem overwhelming, but a few small steps can make a big difference in attracting diverse candidates:

  1. Use online tools to decode job descriptions.There are a variety of online tools available — such as Textio and Gender Decoder — that detect bias in job descriptions. These tools are helpful for identifying words or phrases that may be limiting your company’s ability to recruit a diverse talent pool.
  2. Use gender-neutral words.Certain words, such as “decisive” and “dominant,” are associated with masculinity. Meanwhile, words such as “interpersonal” and “support” are associated with being feminine. Using these gender-coded terms can impact whether a jobseeker feels they belong at your company — and may keep top candidates from applying.
  3. State your company's inclusive benefits.Don’t make applicants go out of their way to discover inclusive perks your company offers — list benefits such as paid parental leave or tuition reimbursement programs clearly in your postings.

Company spotlight

Job descriptions are a recruiting strategy within themselves because they’re often the first glimpse a candidate gets of your company. Using inclusive language in job descriptions can help you recruit a wider net of candidates, making for a more diverse workforce.

Technology company Buffer realized the importance of this tactic, and it paid off big time.

In the company’s early days, Buffer needed more software developers to join their team. In the process, they discovered that less than 2% of candidates for these positions were female — and their job descriptions were a major reason why.

Buffer was using the term “hacker,” which can run the risk of being alienating to women or people of colour, in descriptions for software developer jobs. Buffer originally liked the term because they associated hackers with working efficiently — but not only was this turning people off, “hacker” was also not the best way to describe the role’s day-to-day responsibilities.

After exploring alternative titles, Buffer settled on the more inclusive “developer.” Since the title change, the percentage of developer candidates who identify as female has increased to 11%.

Use inclusive interview panels to make candidates more comfortable and increase hiring

Throughout the recruiting process, much of the focus is external: it’s about getting the right candidates to the table. But equally important is putting the right internal people on the other side of that table and ensuring you have the right interview structure in place to counter bias.

Interview panels are one way to create an environment that highlights the diverse backgrounds and experiences of both candidates and employees. In a traditional interview process, candidates may only meet one or two people from your company. By allowing a candidate to interact with a whole panel of employees of different ages, genders, education levels and professional backgrounds, there is a greater chance they’ll meet someone they identify with.

The more they can see themselves working at your company, the greater your chances of hiring more diverse candidates. In fact, 52% of employees would be reluctant to accept a job offer if they went through the recruiting process without meeting employees of different races, ages, genders and personality types.

52% of employees would be reluctant to accept a job offer if they went through the recruiting process without coming into contact with employees of different races, ages, genders and personality types.

For instance, in 2014 Intel began requiring that their interview panels include at least two women and/or underrepresented minorities. Within two years of implementing this, the percentage of new hires who were women or people of color increased by 13% (from 32% to 45%). It is unreasonable to put the onus of diversity success solely on the candidate because it takes the organisation off the hook. It has to really be a parallel effort.

Use interview techniques designed to reduce unconscious bias

Stereotypes can play out in ways you’re not even aware of. That’s why a gut instinct isn’t always reliable — it’s often being influenced by unconscious bias.

For example, if you have a good feeling about a candidate, it may be because they’re similar to you. Perhaps you’re from the same city or studied the same thing in school. Ultimately, what may seem like a great personal connection doesn’t always translate to high job performance.

To reduce unconscious bias in the hiring process, try conducting structured interviews using predetermined questions and a rubric for how to evaluate a good response. This way, you’ll be equipped with the tools to objectively evaluate future job performance.

To make sure your structured interview runs smoothly, follow these best practices:

  • Prepare a set list of open-ended questions to ask candidates, considering both the hard and soft skills you’re looking for.
  • Provide interviewers with the questions and evaluative criteria prior to the interview so they can ask clarifying questions of the hiring manager ahead of time.
  • Ask candidates the same questions in the same order.
  • Evaluate candidates using standardised evaluative criteria, such as a rating scale or rubric (what a “poor,” “acceptable” or “great” response to each question looks like).

Structured interviews can be supplemented with blind reviews of CVs or cover letters. In blind reviews, the candidate’s personal information (including their name) isn’t revealed until near the end of the selection process. Withholding this information helps reduce the influence of unconscious bias on the hiring manager, which can lead to more diverse hires.

Crash course on unconscious bias

Unconscious bias, also known as implicit bias, is a common term — but what does it actually mean, and what is the impact on who and how you hire?

What is unconscious bias?

Unconscious bias is a social stereotype that a person holds, outside of their own awareness, about another person or group. Oftentimes, unconscious biases contradict conscious beliefs and values.

How does unconscious bias play out in our brains?

These biases play out automatically, without your explicit attention or effort. Since your brain takes in more information than it can handle, it often relies on stereotypes — quick judgments based on previous experiences — to make decisions.

For example, consider this riddle: “A father and son are in a horrible car crash that kills the dad. The son is rushed to the hospital; just as he’s about to go under the knife, the surgeon says, ‘I can’t operate — that boy is my son!’ Explain.”

If you said, “The doctor is the boy’s mother,” you are among only 15% of adults who were able to imagine a female doctor in that scenario.

How is unconscious bias reflected in hiring?

There are certain situations where it’s harder to fight unconscious bias than others, such as when you’re in a time crunch to make a hire or are juggling several different candidates at once.

Unconscious bias can take many forms, including confirmation bias and personal similarity bias. Confirmation bias is when you look for information that supports your preexisting beliefs. If you’ve made the implicit judgment that a candidate is the perfect fit for your role based on information from their CV or their appearance, you may be more likely to look for information during the hiring process that supports this.

Meanwhile, personal similarity bias is when you unconsciously view people who are like you more favourably than people who aren’t. For example, if a candidate looks like you, went to the same school or likes the same sports team, you may be more likely to rate them favourably than if you didn’t have any of these attributes in common, regardless of how qualified they are for your role.

How can we combat unconscious bias in hiring?

Everyone has unconscious biases, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t take active steps to combat them. To limit the role of unconscious bias in your company’s hiring process, consider implementing:

Unconscious bias training, which enlists professional trainers to point out blind spots that are hard to see on your own. At the University of Wisconsin, departments that participated in unconscious bias training increased the percentage of women hired from 33% to 47%.

Blind CV reviews, where a candidate’s name, gender, graduation year and other personal information is not revealed until the end of the interview process.

Structured interviews with predetermined questions and criteria so candidates are evaluated on the same standards.

Inclusive interview panels with interviewees of different backgrounds and from different roles.

Work-sample or skills tests, where candidates complete a task similar to what they’d do on the job.

Test a candidate's ability instead of relying on their past experience

One of the most common measures for evaluating future job performance is a candidate’s past experience. Many recruiters fall into the trap of thinking a candidate must check off certain boxes to be qualified for a job.

For example, research finds the SAT exam is not the most effective predictor of college success; similarly, there is mixed evidence as to whether common metrics for predicting job success, such as years of education, actually predict future job performance. In fact, companies such as IBM and Penguin Random House have gone so far as to eliminate a college degree as a job requirement.

Rather than defaulting to educational requirements, it turns out that the best way to predict job performance is to put candidates to the test. One way to do this is through work samples. Asking candidates to complete tasks similar to the ones they would be expected to do on the job, then reviewing their work without their names attached, is a great way to see their work quality firsthand and avoid bias or preference.

Another approach is measuring their general cognitive ability in conjunction with a structured interview or with an integrity test — a personality test that indicates a candidate's tendency to be dependable, honest and trustworthy. General cognitive ability (also known as general intelligence) can be measured using commercially available tests.

If you’re using virtual Indeed Hiring Events, you can add screener questions to the process to give candidates an opportunity to share information beyond their CV.

Focus on inclusion: Supporting employees after the hire

There are countless stories of employees from underrepresented communities being drawn to a company for its diversity efforts — only to later discover that they aren’t supported on the job.

Inclusive hiring isn’t only about what happens before a candidate walks through the door. Perhaps more importantly, it’s about creating an environment to support people after the hire — embedding diversity in your company culture, not just using it as a talking point. Not only is this the right thing to do, it’s also expensive and time-consuming to replace an employee, and no one wants to lose top talent.

To create an environment where employees feel at home — and want to stay — diversity must be a core value, embodied at every level of your organisation. On a tactical level, consider implementing practices that encourage inclusive experiences for employees, such as employee resource groups (ERGs) — employee-led groups formed around shared experiences or interests. For instance, Workday has eight Employee Belonging Councils to create safe spaces and community outreach opportunities for employees from underrepresented communities.

How to jumpstart your company's Employee Resource Group program

Forming ERGs may seem like a daunting task, but it’s possible that your company has already taken its first steps toward creating them. For example, maybe you hold monthly networking events for female-identifying employees or host a panel featuring LGBTQ+ employees during Pride Month.

If not, don’t fret — here are four tips for jumpstarting ERGs at your company:

Gauge employee interest

The best way to determine what your employees want is to ask them directly. Consider a survey about what types of employee-led groups they’d like and what experiences and activities they are interested in.

Learn from experts

There are external groups that have expertise in starting or supporting existing ERGs at a company, such as Lesbians Who Tech and Latinas in Tech. Research groups in your industry that will support the ERGs your employees want.

Recruit members from all levels

From the C-suite to interns, encourage employees of all experience levels to join your ERGs. Having an executive sponsor is helpful for showcasing your company’s commitment to fostering an inclusive workplace.

Spread the word

You can advertise your ERG through a company-wide email or newsletter, an internal company site or a networking event. The added bonus of publicising ERG activities? They serve as a recruiting tool for others with these interests.

Company spotlight

Implementing diversity and inclusion initiatives is a priority for companies of all sizes. In fact, smaller companies may find it easier; change management is often easier in smaller groups, where teams have greater familiarity and interaction with one another. Smaller companies can also host company-wide events where employees can showcase their diverse backgrounds.

For example, project management and accounting software company based in the U.S., BQE Software has a culturally themed Happy Hour, where employees share food from their cultures of origin, such as Greece, India or Japan. This provides the opportunity for employees to showcase different aspects of their cultures and learn more about their colleagues. This helps create an environment where diverse backgrounds are celebrated.

While there’s no guarantee that these practices will help you hire more diverse candidates immediately, they can certainly help you take steps in the right direction for a longer-term payoff. It’s not enough to check boxes or host events aimed at promoting diversity — potential talent will see through this if a company isn’t living its stated values. What’s more important to attracting a diverse array of candidates is making sure diversity and inclusion efforts are embedded in your company culture and represented in everything you do.