3 Smart Ways to Recruit and Hire for Diversity

06/16/2016 10:42 am ET Updated Jun 17, 2017

Which gender diversity initiatives have been most successful in making an impact? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Sarah Nahm, CEO at Lever, passionate advocate for diversity in tech, on Quora.

When it comes to diversity, "impact" usually implies percent representation of diverse candidates in your workforce. I can talk about how to improve hiring for diversity, but first want to caveat with:

  • Set goals based on what your employees care about. People define diversity differently, so naturally, impact will be defined differently, too.
  • Start by building an inclusive culture that retains diversity
  • You're usually never done. Even after you may make an initial impact, continuing to invest is the only way to sustain it.

OK - that said, hiring for diversity is a great thing for companies to invest in. Some of the most impactful things are quite simple to carry out.

1) Invest in better job descriptions

If you write inclusive job descriptions, without a laundry list of (unnecessary) requirements then you'll likely see a greater number of diverse candidates apply. Companies like Buffer are intentionally avoiding words like "Hacker" and "Ninja" because they found that applicants to postings with those words in the job title skewed significantly more male. But even nuances in language find that some words are more gendered, i.e. when a sales job is framed heavily in the language of "fiercely competing" to "hunt down deals," it can avert candidates who don't associate with that level of aggression.

Meanwhile, that lengthy list of requirements could also be dissuading qualified candidates. Most recruiters figure "more is more" and list out many descriptors of the skills required, assuming candidates who are missing just one will apply anyways. Studies have found that men and women have different interpretations of those lists, resulting in fewer women applying.

Instead, frame jobs in terms of the work to be done, not disqualifiers and requirements. We're proud of how we do at on Lever's job pages, where we talk about what you'll achieve in 1, 3, 6, and 12 months in the role. It also helps interviewers and hiring managers interpret and evaluate candidates, and makes our ultimate hiring decisions more compliant (because we're not ultimately hiring people who have mathematically fewer requirements covered than other candidates). If you have very few resources, this initiative is impactful and basically free.

2) Remove "culture fit" as a disqualification reason

Get more specific than that. Break down your culture into its components and use those as reasons why you should or shouldn't hire someone. If you deem it important to hire for culture, then make sure you ask the right questions of candidates and interviewers. On your feedback forms, instead of "Is this person a culture fit," ask, "How would this person contribute to the culture?"

3) Talk about diversity in public, preferably the CEO and founders

You don't need to have answers; even just raising the topic, commenting on your company's current diversity/progress, or asking questions of your employees is a huge signal to the rest of the company -- all the people who interview and refer -- that this is something you are thinking about, that all of *them* should be thinking about. It can really change people's behaviors and awareness.

Other initiatives that have proven to be valuable, but require more significant or longer-term investments:

  • Find passionate advocates in your company and train/resource them to source and sell
  • Run unconscious bias training for your interviewers
  • Build a diverse recruiting team (this tip comes from Rachael Williams at Yelp)
  • Hire someone fully dedicated to D&I and make sure they have the backing of the CEO and senior leadership
  • Commit to fair compensation

And if you're still looking for more, Project Include is doing a fantastic job open sourcing best practices.

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