Forget your referral program (and 8 other tips for recruiting a diverse workforce)

Tess Sloane from Eleven Eleven Talent Collective says inclusive recruiting can't be about who you'd rather get a beer with.

Credit: Courtesy of Eleven Eleven Talent Collective

Eleven Eleven Talent co-founder Tess Sloane

Tess Sloane from Eleven Eleven Talent Collective says inclusive recruiting can’t be about who you’d rather get a beer with

So you want to make diversity a priority in your business—that’s awesome. It’s work that needs to be done, but it needs to be done right. We chatted with Tess Sloane, co-founder of Eleven Eleven Talent, a Vancouver-based global recruitment collective, about how to improve your hiring practices in a mindful way. It’s the No. 1 topic candidates and current employees are asking about, Sloane says. If you want to stay competitive on a local and global scale, it is critical to build your team with diversity and inclusion top-of-mind.

1. Involve your executive team

“One of the biggest mistakes we’re seeing is companies making reactionary hires—for example, a chief diversity officer—or forming committees without buy-in or involvement from the executive team,” Sloane says. She stresses the importance of laying a proper foundation: “Not addressing current cultural issues that stand in the way of this work ultimately wastes time and energy.” Inclusivity should be part of everyone’s job.

2. Ask for anonymous feedback

Get feedback on your company’s current culture from your current employees—anonymously. “Ask the tough questions,” Sloane says. It’s difficult work, especially if you haven’t done it before, but everyone has to start somewhere. Your employees are more likely to be truthful if the responses are anonymous, and honest work requires honest answers.

3. Get some help

Treat inclusivity the way you would any other business goal: look to the experts, and be prepared to invest time and money. “We strongly recommend working with a specialized consultant to conduct appropriate training,” Sloane says. “Then build a thought-out plan—not a one-shot training exercise or a check-box approach.”

4. Look remotely

Due to COVID-19, many companies have realized (by necessity) that working from home is totally possible. Remote work opens up a global talent pool, Sloane explains, and that could deliver dramatic results for diversity and inclusion efforts. It also opens up accessibility for those with extra mobility needs.

5. Check your job descriptions for exclusionary language

This seems like a no-brainer, but Sloane warns that younger and more progressive businesses often fall into dangerous territory when trying to make a job seem cool and fun. “I’ll look online and see posts looking for a ‘social media ninja,'” she says. “This has potential for unconscious bias, or for people to exclude themselves from it.” Besides having cultural connotations, Sloane observes, the term “ninja” is traditionally associated with men. “You might think it’s harmless, but it’s not,” she adds. “It also can be misleading. We really just encourage our clients to keep it simple and concise.”

6. Have a structured interview process

Interviews look a lot different than they did 10 or 20 years ago. Most of the change has been for good, but if you’ve been judging employees through a casual chat rather than a traditional Q&A, you should think about changing your process. “Free-flowing chats lead to a very biased interview where you’re just looking for someone you jive with who has similar interests to you,” Sloane says. “It’s hard to compare apples to apples when you’re having unstructured conversations.” Sloane suggests asking all candidates the same five to 10 interview questions.

7. Forget degrees and certifications

“I’ve worked for top companies locally for 15 years in global recruiting, and degrees have never trumped experience or potential,” Sloane claims. “We always have them on job descriptions, but when it comes down to two people, it’s never come down to a degree—ever.” Because not everyone has the same access to education, it shouldn’t have to be a deciding factor when seeking out employees. Instead, Sloane suggests looking at their past work and relevant experience.

8. Make your interview panels diverse

If your interview process includes a panel, make it count—having the same panellist three times over (like George, John and Jeff from accounting) won’t help you chose the right person. At the same time, this isn’t about tokenizing, Sloane warns: “It’s not just about having an optically diverse panel; you want three different thought perspectives on the candidate.” For example, consider including someone the individual will report to, someone from a cross-functional department and someone more junior.

9. Avoid using your referral program

This is a tough one, even for Sloane herself. “In recruiting, it’s just known—referrals are the best,” she says. “But like-minded people attract like-minded people, and then you are just growing a collective of like-minded people.” Often, those people will also have similar cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. Forgetting your referral program is a tough but necessary mindset shift. “A lot of employers are thinking about who they would like to be stuck in an elevator with—but that’s off the table,” Sloane says. “It’s not about being friends at work; it’s about who is going to bring in the most valuable experience, or about who is going to best round out your team.”

Credit: Courtesy of Eleven Eleven Talent Collective

Eleven Eleven Talent co-founders Tess Sloane (left) and Alisha Adams