If you want diversity, you need targeted hiring

Hiring for Tech
February 24, 2020

Two Black women with laptops working together.

Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

I talked recently about interview processes that disproportionately exclude those from non-traditional backgrounds. To avoid this, I suggested a few steps to avoid hiring a non-representative subset of all capable candidates. Zooming out a bit, those steps are:

  1. Bring in candidates from a variety of sources.

  2. Ensure your interviews don’t disproportionately exclude certain groups.

  3. Invest in the employees you hire.

In this post, I want to dive deeper into the first step. This week, Carlos Barksdale published an article stating it’s not hard to hire Black professionals, if you put in the effort to do so. Part of the article covers the various sources for bringing in Black candidates: Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s), and Black professional organizations.

A few organizations like [The National Society of Black Engineers conference] include: Jopwell, Afrotech, We Build Black, National Black MBA Association, AdColor, National Association of Black Accountants, Black Women Animate . . . the list goes on and on. In fact, you can probably type “Black” before any major professional industry and find an organization. You just have to look.

With a list like this, it’s not excusable to say Black professionals aren’t out there!

But what really struck me was the targeted focus on Black professionals, and for good reason:

The word diverse is not specific. It can be stretched out, skewed to mean many different things, and allow too generic of a description. […] Black is specific. Coincidentally, it also encompasses people from various ethnic groups, cultural backgrounds, and lived experiences. Yet, it communicates a clear idea to galvanize around.

Diversity needs to include all sorts of people. But to create a truly diverse team, it starts by understanding the specific needs of hiring individual groups, then working toward a clear goal to hire from those groups.

Am I being hired because I’m Black?

I reached out to Carlos and asked him if there’s a concern, when exercising targeted hiring, of people feeling like they’re being hired for their race or gender. A feeling of tokenism is never good for the employees. He agreed to talk to me about the topic and quote him on it.

It turns out feeling tokenism is not something Carlos worries about:

Getting hired because I’m Black isn’t something I’m worried about. […] Me being Black is a huge part of who I am and is a large part of the value I bring to an organization.

Knowing that you’re already underrepresented means it’s a good thing to be targeted in the hiring process:

It’s not like Black people don’t know they’re underrepresented. It’s not like women don’t know they’re a huge minority among engineers. […] I’m happy that you’re hiring me, and I’m ecstatic that you’re looking to hire other Black engineers so that I’m not “alone.”

And it’s important to ground this in historical context. If race has been a distadvantage historically, it’s empowering to transition race into a professional advantage:

Let’s not act like being Black in America has no context or historical weight. Being Black has been a systematic disadvantage in so many circumstances before. If I’m in a position where it’s going to aid my professional and fiscal advancement then ok! It’s about time! […] Race and gender are assets.

Rolling out a targeted approach to hiring

As I said before, it’s important to understand each group of people you’re trying to hire. And of course, a company can and should work toward hiring multiple such groups. It’s just that you need to follow the framework Carlos has put forward:

  1. Start by stating the need to hire that group of people. A clear, targeted goal is key.

  2. Recruit based on where professionals from that group actually are. Leverage professional organizations as necessary.

Please check out “It’s Not Hard to Hire Black People”. There’s a lot to learn if you listen directly to those who have actually lived the experience!