Cultivating meaningful change that will benefit your organization.

Here’s what it takes.

Diversity and inclusion aren’t just good business — they’re good for business. Companies with the most gender diversity (top quartile) are 25% more likely to have above average financial returns. That number grows to 36% for organizations leading on racial and ethnic diversity. Diverse teams also tend to be smarter, more innovative, and better decision makers.  

Despite the advantages diverse hiring and talent retention bring, many companies and industries are still falling short. A good example: While more than half of Toronto residents identify as a “visible minority,” only  10% of executive roles at the Big six banks and two larger life insurers are filled by this fast-growing population. Likewise, in the tech industry, women are four times less likely to be hired — and when they are, even when accounting for the same background, education, title, and occupation, women still make less than men.

The solution, though, isn’t so clear-cut. The majority of Canadian companies say they’re actively working to promote a more diverse and inclusive workforce. As part of that, 19% say they’re changing their recruitment and hiring practices. In many cases, though, that’s not enough.  Simply adapting or updating external communications doesn’t address unconscious bias.

To truly impact change and boost much-needed diverse and inclusive hiring, HR leadership must take a two-prong approach that emphasizes both reflective internal work and systemic change — change that’s structurally ingrained into an organization. From here, organizations can check their existing biases and, with that, attract, engage, and retain the diverse hires.

Understanding — and reducing — bias at each stage of the recruitment process 

Creating a more inclusive hiring environment means identifying and working to eliminate bias at every stage of the recruitment process. That starts at the sourcing stage, when your company initiates recruiting and shares initial job posts.

Eliminating unconscious bias at the sourcing stage 

Job descriptions are oftentimes the first instance where unconscious bias presents itself. For starters, it’s critical that job posts are gender neutral — using titles like “Chairperson” instead of “Chairman” plus gender-neutral “they,” “he/she” or a more direct “you” is immediately more inclusive and welcoming.

The same goes for exclusionary words or traditionally gendered terminology — mentioning “grandfathered” plans, seeking out “young, dynamic” sellers, or calling out to “hackers” and “rockstars” may feel alienating to a potential candidate. Even words like “expert” and “leading” should be avoided — women are less likely than men to speak to their accomplishments, and superlatives may make them feel a job is above their qualifications. Corporate jargon may have a similar reaction to prospects. A highly qualified application who lacks a specific niche vernacular may feel excluded, despite having the right qualifications to excel in a role.

To that end, limiting the number of requirements or identifying what’s essential to a role is likely to empower more women to apply — studies show many women will pass over positions unless they feel they meet all requirements, while men will apply with far fewer.

Companies can also call out and empower candidates who may be less represented in a particular role or industry. Bank of Canada, for example, offers a master’s scholarship program for women and Indigenous students in economics, with an eye on building out a more inclusive pipeline. Alternatively, review where you’re sourcing and recruiting candidates and, if you aren’t getting the applicants you’re looking for, expand out. P&G Canada, has several partnerships with diverse employee resource groups such as the Black Professional Network and 13+ Black student associations. These have long helped P&G reach diverse talent pools from all career stages and backgrounds. 

Lastly, as you’re preparing job posts, be sure to integrate your diversity and inclusion policies. Link candidates to your policies and best practices from job posts and, ideally, point to hiring or review sites where your business is lauded for its inclusive practices and processes. The majority (66%) of Canadian job seekers say they read company reviews before they apply for a position,* and one in three job seekers have passed on an offer because of negative reviews. Without positive online feedback, you could be missing out on top talent. 

Reducing unconscious bias at the screening stage

With candidate credentials received, it’s essential to ensure all candidates are evaluated by identical standards. This starts by asking the same screening questions. From there, aim to anonymize resumes — or, like the Canadian government did, remove candidate’s names from applications, which can help reduce unconscious bias. Likewise, the City of Ottawa overhauled its diversity and inclusion interviewing and recruitment practices, removing email addresses, country of origin, and name from applications, to overcome unconscious ethnic and cultural bias. 

With these common barriers removed, it’s also essential to curb traditional “red flags” from interviews and applications. An employment gap in a person’s resume may immediately conjure up negative perceptions. In reality, though, a break in employment could be an intentional pivot, a planned course change, career shift, or some other move that, in fact, makes them an ideal candidate. 

Curbing unconscious bias at the interview stage 

Though not typically intentional, hiring managers tend to bring on people who they’d “like to hang out with” or who they consider the “right” candidate — often an applicant who reminds them of their last successful hire. If the majority of past hires have similar backgrounds (predominantly white men or people with advanced degrees from well-known universities, for example) that trend is likely to continue, derailing inclusive hiring strategies.

This is a challenge because this particular bias often manifests itself in seemingly well-meaning ways. Companies or hiring managers may indicate they’re looking for a good “cultural fit” within the existing corporate framework. While, at first pass, this may sound reasonable, continuing to hire against a “type” pushes against diversity and inclusion work; candidates who don’t fall in line are often systematically screened out early on.

Instead of looking for cultural fits, consider what a candidate could add to your company culture. By considering traits, qualities, experiences, or skill sets your environment lacks, you’re opening your hiring process up to people who don’t fit the traditional mold. By taking an additive mindset and looking for reasons to hire rather than reasons to eliminate a candidate, you’ll be better positioned to diversify your team and enhance your skills and capabilities as a direct result. 

Overcoming homogeneous hiring may also be difficult because hiring for “sameness” feels more comfortableHomophily is common within social networks and relationships — similarity breeds connection but, also, limits people’s perceptions, attitudes, and connections. To avoid these implicit bias hurdles, aim to diversify hiring committees or interview in pairs. You can start by integrating diverse interviewers and screeners in the process to strike a balance and ensure different voices are weighing in on each candidate. 

Fostering a sense of inclusion and belonging

Striving for diversity and inclusion in your recruitment process is just a piece of the puzzle, though. Companies can’t successfully diversify by, simply, adding new hires. True workplace inclusion means diversifying in every sense, from management and executive decision-makers to policies and mindsets. Trying to fit new hires into an existing homogeneous workplace won’t work because it ignores the needs, wants, and preferences of people who may not be cookie-cutter fits to your existing corporate culture. You can’t change policies but overlook mindsets, or vice versa. Meaningful change only happens when companies shift both the personal and the systemic: understanding our own implicit biases, deconstructing them, and implementing strategic changes in policies and procedures. 

Then, to retain top talent, organizations must continue to do the work on both the personal and systemic front. As a hiring manager or executive stakeholder it’s essential to broaden your pool of candidates rather than simply hire against quotas to raise specific diversity numbers and markers. Without the right intent and environment, you’ll only be working against your inclusion goals.

You must act on these strategies not just to attract diverse hires, but to ensure they feel comfortable within your environment and they have ample opportunities to be recognized high-performers who bring powerful perspectives and creative thinking to your business. 

Ultimately, inclusive hiring means doing the work, being reflective, responsive, and forward-looking, with an eye on how and when your own subconscious biases enter the picture. From here, your organization can be more mindful and future-focused, with a workforce that reflects where you’re heading, with a dynamic, innovative, broad-reaching team committed to your success. 

*Indeed survey, n=896