“He and I would go out to lunch occasionally and chat about poetry. One time we were chatting, and he said, ‘Well, you know, I’m going to retire… And I just put your name in because I want them to hire you.”(source: Ann Arbor Observer)
Spoiler alert: the hired her.
This story plays out all the time. Friends and colleagues help each other out. They find jobs and leads and employees and contractors for each other. I know I’ve done it. You probably have, too.
Here’s the problem: hiring by referral is a powerful way to maintain employment segregation.
According to socialtalent.com, referrals make up 7% of all applications but 40% of hires.
In Let Them See You, Porter Braswell explains, “Yes, referrals are a great source of talent. But they’re also a great source of sameness. Think about it: whom do we refer? Our friends, our family members, and members of our communities. These people are overwhelmingly likely to share our ethnic, socioeconomic, and even geographic backgrounds.” [emphasis added].
It’s not just Braswell making this point. According to the Washington Post, the average White person’s social network is 91% White. That’s the least diverse of any racial group. The study reports that 75% of whites have “entirely white social networks without any minority presence.”
If you have a predominantly white workforce reaching out to their predominantly white networks to find candidates, you will end up with a predominantly white applicant pool.
It doesn’t take implicit bias. It doesn’t take ill will. It doesn’t take active bigotry. It just takes following the path of least resistance. But as Utah Philips said, “following the path of least resistance is what makes the river crooked!”
What if your whole sector is exclusionary?
Let’s go one more level down. If you are hiring in a niche field that is segregated, you may have to cast a wider net to find diverse qualified candidates.
Let me give you an example. I’m a homebrewer. Homebrewing is a very White, very male hobby. For a long time, the lack of diversity in the homebrewing community was pretty low on my list of equity concerns. .
Then I saw the stories of racism at Founders Brewery. (Read the article. You can’t make this stuff up for me. Guess I’m switching to 734 Brewing). Homebrewing ends up as a career path for pro brewers, and the pro brewing community has some issues.
So, if you run a brewery and hire a bunch of homebrewers, you will mostly get white guys. You will recreate the segregation of the industry. And you will miss out on great talent that doesn’t homebrew.
In cases like this, Braswell recommends you look for transferable skills. To be a good prow brewer, you need a good palate, good attention to detail, and willingness to do the same thing over and over. You can find those transferable skills in a lot of different careers. It applies in brewing, and it probably applies in your industry as well: When you look for transferable skills beyond your existing industry, your talent pool and diversity of talent expand dramatically.
What to do about it?
You can get outside your network to reach a more diverse talent pool. And bonus, when you do that, you expand the chance you’ll find someone amazing.
Here are a few tips.
Publicly post your job opportunities. If you are filling your positions through internal referrals, stop it. If you are posting positions internally before you post them externally, stop it. You are recreating the homogeneity in your workforce.
Expand where you post your jobs. Yes, we all know the standard, one-size-fits-all job sites. We may have a few sector or geography-specific forums we rely on. Go beyond these standard places. For example, if you’re hiring a social worker, consider posting it with the National Association of Black Social Workers.
Expand your network. If you look at your friends and peers, and they all look like you, try to expand your social network. Yes, I know it’s hard (especially in a pandemic). It’s also very rewarding. Here’s one word of advice—connect with people for their whole self, not just for their racial or ethnic identity. Chris Rock said, “all my Black friends have a lot of White friends. And all my White friends have one Black friend.” Don’t go up to someone and communicate, “will you be my one Black friend?”
Look for transferable skills. I’ve made my pitch for this, and Braswell agrees. If your industry isn’t very diverse, “the organization you work for is unlikely to find the candidate it needs if management looks only for people within your industry or at the competitor. Instead, they need to expand their search to include people from other industries who have transferable skills. With a little training and education, those workers can adapt their abilities and experiences to your industry with ease. Plus, the company will get valuable new perspectives and best practices from outside the industry, which can help improve a variety of processes.”
It doesn’t stop at the applicant pool
Expanding the reach of your recruiting is a vital first step. But it’s not the end. You also have to ensure that you treat employees fairly and create a culture of inclusion.
- When they look at your marketing, do they get the message “this is a place for people like you?”
- When they are hired, do you use hiring and promotion processes that minimize bias?
- When diverse candidates get hired, will they feel valued for their unique contributions? Or will they get the message, “now that you’re here, we want you to behave exactly like the straight, white, guy before you”? Remember, different means different. Different will change your organization for the better. But it doesn’t work if you try to bring in different and then enforce conformity.
You can do it!
There is a lot you can do to make your hiring process more fair. That’s the good news.
It can also be the bad news if you let the range of options overwhelm you.
So here’s what I want you to do: take one step.
Find one thing you can do to expand your network, reduce bias, or improve inclusion.
Then do another.
But don’t let your questions or anxiety or fear of the second step stop you from taking the first. If you want to see if Change Works Consulting can help, schedule a free initial consultation.
You can do it.