Diversity Recruiting: Why Such a Hot Issue?

On a beautiful evening last May, Paul Hawkinson and I had dinner in St. Louis. Over the years and in a variety of cities we’ve enjoyed many memorable get-togethers. This was no different. After getting caught up, laughing a lot, and sharing opinions about world conditions, we focused on the placement business and its future. We talked about diversity being such a hot issue and how recruiting firms with diversity practices remained busy even in this slow economy. Paul asked:

“You’ve been out of the business for almost three years now. Do you still get calls from HR people and recruiting firms asking you to refer diversity candidates?””I sure do. I get at least seven to ten calls and emails a month from companies, former clients, and placement firms looking for referrals and good networking sources to find diversity candidates. I still get resumes and calls from diversity candidates, too. When this first started I thought that, because of the “non-compete” with my former company, staffers were looking for “freebies.” Not so; they were just looking for help.””Do you still think that placement firms should develop specialties in placing all kinds of diversity candidates? You know, not just race and gender, but the whole range of diversity.””You bet I do. When companies start hiring and when the predicted labor shortage kicks in, the demand for the best and brightest is going to be red hot; and, today, a good number of the best and the brightest will be diversity candidates. Recruiting firms that don’t have a handle on diversity recruiting will miss out.”

Fast forward to an early July telephone conversation. We discussed the spirited exchange of ideas and thoughts on diversity recruiting posted on Electronic Recruiting Exchange. Both of us were amazed at the divergent opinions and the depth of emotions exhibited by the HR participants. Paul suggested that my next article or articles focus on why diversity recruiting is such a hot topic today and what this means to people in our business. So, in this article and in the next we will do just that.The views of the HR thought leaders who took the time to post on ERE are great starting points. Some of the postings were incredible; most were insightful. The incredible first:

  • “Isn’t diversity recruiting really a neat and clean little way of saying ‘No white men need apply’?”
  • “Since when has the color of one’s skin, which is what this is all about, contributed to out-of-the-box thinking?”
  • “Today’s … movement is not about diversity per se. It is about power, advantage, politics, about votes and about taking.”
  • “Diversity is about quotas.”
  • “Deliberate diversity hiring is bad for the companies that practice it in almost every way.”
  • “As soon as you execute a search on a diversity web site, you are discriminating against a non-diversity candidate.”
  • “Sure, diversity recruiting is a cover-up for other desires, and many in the HR world are opposed to it …”

The casual reader would conclude that these authors have either exposed their biases or they have a limited knowledge of diversity. Maybe both, or, as kids say, maybe they are “scaredy-cats” who are unreasonably afraid that the world is changing. Now, some of the insightful postings:

  • “Diversity simply means creating an organization of individuals from various walks of life, with differing backgrounds, life experiences, and perspectives.”
  • “Diversity recruiting is about opportunity. It is about equaling the playing field for all. It is about omitting discrimination and ensuring that all people are offered an opportunity, are represented, and can participate, regardless of the color of their skin.”
  • “The best way to bring in diverse people is by making sure that your organization is recognized as one of the best places to work, that employees love working there and then good referrals will flood in.”
  • “The goal of diversity hiring is to always hire the qualified candidate.”

You can see the chasm of feelings that diversity evokes. Diversity is a great deal more than race and gender. It includes: age, ethnicity, physical abilities and qualities, and sexual orientation. Some dimensions of diversity can be changed like educational background, geographic location, income, marital status, military experience, parental status, religious beliefs, work experiences, etc. Two things are certain: diversity is here to stay and diversity recruiting is hot and is going to get hotter.Most TFL readers are familiar with Dr. John Sullivan who writes for Electronic Recruiting Exchange and who has contributed articles to TFL. In an ERE article that appeared on Friday, January 14, 2000, he wrote: “There are many excellent legal and social arguments for recruiting diverse employees. However the most powerful and effective arguments I have made for excellence in diversity recruiting are related to the business and the dollar impact that diversity recruiting can have on the bottom line. Does having a workforce with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and ideas have impact of the firm’s profitability? Well the answer is a resounding yes!”You can bet that Corporate America is concerned about the business case for diversity. Some corporate leaders talk it to death but give it a marginal glance; others are actually doing something about it. Some of the reasons diversity and diversity recruiting are on the front burner:

  • Demographic changes are reshaping corporate strategies. Numbers don’t lie. The 2000 census data signaled that United States demographics are changing at a meteoric pace.
  • Diversity has changed the traditional way of doing business.
  • Diversity creates business opportunities and can open new and emerging markets.
  • The buying power of diversity communities.
  • Ignoring diversity causes lost business opportunities and paves the way for lawsuits.
  • Diversity improves workplace efficiency and quality.
  • Companies noted for their successful diversity initiatives draw from a larger labor pool to attract and retain the best talent.
  • Research proves that heterogeneous work teams improve the sharing of ideas and the creative interaction of team members.
  • An inclusive, welcoming environment where diversity thrives is the basis of achieving success in global markets.
  • Diversity builds the business, reacts to customer needs, and builds stockholder equity.
  • Companies that ‘get it’ meet business objectives, enter new markets with ease, and become employers of choice.

Diversity includes everyone, even white males. Diversity is a key ingredient in providing opportunities for everyone. Sure, managing diversity is a challenge that does present a unique set of issues. Are the benefits worth it? We know that Dr. John Sullivan’s answer was a resounding “Yes.” Michael Dell, Dell Computer Corporation’s Chairman and CEO, said in the May/June issue of Profiles in Diversity Journal: “We want to take advantage of the resources and talents of all our people. Diversity becomes very important in helping Dell fulfill its full potential and mission.” Many other organizations agree and are putting money on it. Some additional benefits to a diverse workforce:

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  • Retains top workers and maximizes workplace satisfaction for all employees.
  • Encourages strong community involvement and outreach.
  • Enhances multiculturalism and spreads the word that this is a good place to work.
  • Promotes successful recruiting activities and helps the organization to become an employer of choice.
  • Widens the labor pool, grows leaders, and improves workforce quality that results in a better return on human capital.
  • Exposes and reduces prejudices and stereotyping.

A great deal of controversy resulted from the recent Supreme Court decision that affected college admissions. Colleges are in the business of educating. Maybe the University of Michigan and other colleges are showing us the way. In an Open Letter from major educational associations and councils, entitled: “On the Importance of Diversity in Higher Education,” the world of academia adds to our understanding of the value and benefits of diversity.”Many colleges and universities share a common belief, born of experience, that diversity in their student bodies, faculties, and staff is important for them to fulfill their primary mission: providing a quality education. The public is entitled to know why these institutions believe so strongly that racial and ethnic diversity should be one factor among the many considered in admissions and hiring. The reasons include:

  • Diversity enriches the educational experience. We learn from those whose experiences, beliefs, and perspectives are different from our own, and these lessons can be taught best in a richly diverse, intellectual, and social environment.
  • It promotes personal growth and a healthy society. Diversity challenges stereotyped preconceptions; it encourages critical thinking; and it helps students learn to communicate effectively with people of varied backgrounds.
  • It strengthens communities and the workplace. Education within a diverse setting prepares students to become good citizens in an increasingly complex, pluralistic society; it fosters mutual respect and teamwork; and it helps build communities whose members are judged by the quality of their character and their contributions.
  • It enhances America’s economic competitiveness. Sustaining the nation’s prosperity in the 21st century will require us to make effective use of the talents and abilities of all our citizens, in work settings that bring together individuals from diverse backgrounds and cultures.

Next month we’ll complete this discussion on why diversity and diversity recruiting is center stage, and, what action recruiting firms should be taking to service their clients who are meeting these issues head on.

Frank X. McCarthy is Partner in Charge of Diversity Practice with The Corporate Source Group. He was a Catholic priest from 1956-70, working in parish and school assignments, serving as a paratrooper chaplain with the 101st Airborne, and as pastor and director of an African American community project in Paterson, NJ. He founded Xavier Associates and conducted diversity searches for over 25 years. Frank is a well-known and widely respected author and speaker on workplace diversity, recruiting, and candidate research. He can be reached: frank@diverseworkplace.com

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