How to Incorporate Inclusion into Hiring Priorities

By Plum

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Advance Better Long-Term Applicant Outcomes with Inclusive Culture Practices


Even after reviewing resumes and references and taking copious notes during an interview, we often unconsciously gauge a candidate’s “fit” based on whether we might want to grab a coffee or beer with him or her.

This impulse doesn’t always lead to diversity. Demographic targets work to counter “gut feel” choices, but without a culture of inclusion, your diversity efforts may be short-lived.

Benefits of Diversity and Inclusion

The coffee/beer (or other beverage of your choice) test sets us up to unconsciously hire people like us. And we’re already likely leaning in that direction. It’s a lot easier to hire people like ourselves and that share our experience, beliefs, and worldview.

Still, while hiring for diversity may be difficult (especially when it is done intentionally — beyond simply checking off demographic boxes), it brings many benefits.

Diverse teams are more likely to innovate and see market share growth, according to the Harvard Business Review.

Consider also McKinsey’s findings tying diversity to financial returns:

  • Companies with high racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have above median financial returns.
  • Companies with high gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to exceed national industry median financial returns.
  • For every 10 percent increase in racial and ethnic diversity on the senior-executive team, earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) rise 0.8 percent.
  • In the U.K. greater gender diversity led to an EBIT rise of 3.5 percent.

Hiring for Diversity First

Using data to drive hiring decisions, it’s easier to move away from the unconscious bias undermining diversity initiatives. After all, fostering a truly diverse culture means hiring representatives different from ourselves. It’s about focusing on ability rather than credentials.

Facebook, for example, moved from its hiring model rooted in “fit” (which, when not qualified correctly, can be a synonym for "just like us") to one based on inclusion (and implemented managerial training on unconscious bias). Its diversity numbers improved. In a year, representation in senior leadership at Facebook (in the U.S.) went from 3 to 9 percent Black, 3 to 5 percent Hispanic, and 27 to 29 percent women.

Getting a more diverse talent pipeline in the first place starts with mitigating bias at the top of the hiring funnel. Easier said than done, considering the most conventional top-of-funnel shortlisting method — resumes — are riddled with bias, triggered by where someone went to school, what companies they've worked for in the past, or even the name at the top of the page. A pre-employment assessment that gauges personality, social intelligence, and problem solving (which have a higher correlation with on-the-job success anyways) as the first point of narrowing down your candidate pool can provide the objective lens necessary to diversify your talent pipeline. 

"Diversity is being asked to the dance. Inclusivity is being asked to dance." 


Incorporating Inclusion Too

Yet diversity and inclusion efforts can’t stop when you get a diverse group of people in the door. If that new, diverse group you worked so hard to recruit doesn’t feel included, retaining them is going to be difficult. So, we need to not only hire for diversity but also for inclusivity. An inclusive work environment allows people to be themselves at work. Without this confidence, they are less likely to engage with the team or in assigned work, and their feelings that they don’t belong can lead to low morale, increased absenteeism, and diminished productivity.

This inclusivity can’t be accomplished by hiring to meet arbitrary demographic quotas; instead, think holistically and seek candidates who will contribute positively to a culture of inclusion.

Sounds great, right? But, how do you do that?

Making cultural values transparent in job descriptions and employee handbooks is a start, Chicago area HR lawyer Charles Kugel told the Society for Human Resources Management. Publicizing values, mission, and culture to potential employees can help them assess whether they’re likely to feel as if they belong.

In posting job descriptions, use straightforward, gender neutral language. Structure interviews to promote a consistent experience for each candidate and more objective and equitable decisions. Also, moving to a team-based hiring model allows more voices to weigh in when evaluating candidates.

Consider asking the powerful question:  “Are you willing to be wrong about your opinion in the world?” After all, you’re looking for individuals who are willing and able to include other perspectives and contributions on a team.

Before making choices, slow down and reflect on what might be prompting your “gut instinct” that this is the right individual for the role.

Finally, selecting people more likely to embrace inclusivity can also be supported by industrial/organizational psychology and data-driven assessment tools. Plum’s research has shown that people who are more open minded, open to new experiences, and demonstrate compassion are more likely to thrive in and support an inclusive culture.

Ultimately, of course, inclusion needs to extend well beyond the offer letter and onboarding. Talking at employees about what it means to be inclusive isn’t the same as identifying key moments throughout the day that can help foster belonging, support community, and empower real change. Creating, supporting, and nurturing diversity and inclusion takes work — ongoing work. But if you're willing to put in the time, energy, and resources to action on your diversity goals, the proven benefits make it so worth it.