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  • Writer's pictureRobin Rosenberg

Diversity in the Hiring Process

Updated: Jul 8, 2021

I’m a hiring manager, and I’ve been given a directive by my COO to consider diversity (and even more overtly, to make sure to bring on a person of color, ideally a Black woman) when hiring for the two open spots on my team. Lip service is paid to our diversity hiring efforts in management meetings, but from what I can tell, this directive has not been shared or enforced with my peers, who are also hiring managers. I’ve focused my recruiting efforts on building an overwhelmingly diverse pipeline of people, and am currently only speaking with candidates of color. However, the two Black men whom I’ve brought in for onsite interviews were rejected with non-specific feedback and I was told to go back to the drawing board. I feel like there’s some lip service to diversity being paid, and I don’t know how to have this conversation with my COO. Help me figure this out, Robin!

It seems as if there are several issues to unpack and then address here. First, the COO’s directive may not have been adequately or powerfully communicated to the teams that are interviewing and making hiring decisions. Check with your peers—has the COO communicated the same directive to them? If so, what have their experiences been? If they’ve been similar to yours, then it may make sense for you, collectively, to try to address the issue. If they haven’t received the same directive, that’s something to raise with your COO.

When meeting with the COO, you might start out asking questions: who has been given this directive? Did the COO communicate that information to those involved in the hiring process and if so, what specifically was communicated? How was that information received? Clarifying with the COO can be very helpful here: Together you can identify who should be responsible for conveying the directive to those in positions to weigh in on hiring, and what is said to them.

Of course the message will be more powerful coming from the COO than from you. If the directive has been communicated clearly (and the rationale as well—people like to understand why they’re supposed to do something different) but the desired goal hasn’t been met, this would be important information for the COO to have. In other words, was it a communication problem (and if so, where in the process did that happen) and/or a behavior change problem?

Second, it can be helpful to work with teams doing the hiring to create clear, specific criteria for hiring and how those criteria are assessed during the hiring process, including the interview. Meet with the people who gave non-specific reasons for rejecting the candidates and have them get specific, even that makes them uncomfortable. They should be able to defend their decisions. If a non-specific reason is “culture fit”—ask more questions. What do they mean by that? What would be a good culture fit?

Often employees use that term to indicate whether they like the candidate or not. Rather, research suggests that “culture fit” should focus on whether the applicants’ values are aligned with those of the company (not the personal values of the individual doing the interviewing). Talking with these interviewers creates an opportunity to explain about the COO’s directive, and why it’s good for the team and company and, depending on the how the conversations go, to address directly whether behaviors rooted in bias are cropping up in the hiring process.

Finally, if the efforts to hire people of color have been systematically stymied, it’s worth thinking about the larger picture: Even if a candidate of color is hired, if leadership isn’t working to create an inclusive, respectful culture, or employees aren’t aligned with such a mission, then any hired candidate may well leave after a short tenure, accurately feeling unwelcomed by enough colleagues. Hiring is only one part of the talent pipeline for development, and the company may need to do some work to help people in the hiring decision process—and perhaps all employees—understand why the company wants a more diverse and inclusive workforce and how each employee can help make that happen. That may be part of the conversation with your COO as well.

Please keep us posted on how events unfold.

Disclaimer: This question and response is provided for informational purposes only, and you should not act or refrain from acting on the basis of this content. It is strongly recommended that you immediately seek legal or other professional advice if you believe you are experiencing a problem requiring professional assistance. Robin Rosenberg and Live in Their World, Inc. disclaim all liability for actions you take or fail to take based on Dear Robin content.

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