Is it Time to Adopt a Targeted Recruiting Effort Focused on Gay Candidates?

Unless you’ve had your head in the sand, you can’t have missed the fact that much of the world has recently become more tolerant of gay men and women. However, despite all this recent societal change, there has been no corresponding change in the corporate recruiting function, which seems unwilling to redesign its programs so that they can effectively recruit from the LGBT community (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender).

Yes, some firms have taken a few small steps by finally declaring that they welcome gay employees and by beginning to offer same-sex partner benefits. But these limited actions may turn out to only have a minor impact unless recruiting is completely redesigned to fit this market segment. The key lessons for executives and recruiting leaders is to learn that subtle prejudices and stereotypes still exist and the LGBT community has unique needs. As a result, your LGBT recruiting efforts cannot be successful without first becoming an expert in LGBT recruiting and then implementing a redesigned data-driven process that examines the issues and the opportunities during each individual step of the recruiting process.

Why Target LGBT Candidates?

There are many reasons to target and focus on LGBT candidates. The first is the size of the community, because depending on where you recruit, the LGBT community may reach 10 percent of the working population. It is hard to argue against the fact that the gay segment of the population is “different” (different is the very definition of diversity), and if you want “different thinking” it makes sense to target this group.

There is data to support that this target group is different and desirable because it is often more educated; nearly 50 percent hold professional/managerial jobs, and they have a higher average income. Others have argued that they may be more creative and that they are likely to be experienced in handling uncomfortable situations. In addition to providing your firm with great recruits, a focused and publicized recruiting approach may also help to build your firm’s employer brand image among the rest of the non-gay population because many (and especially recent generations) may view a proactive LGBT effort as an indication that your corporation is progressive and tolerant. There may also be some positive business impacts, because having gay customer service workers, salespeople, and product designers will likely increase corporate sales from gay customers and gay corporate representatives who make purchasing decisions. And finally, sexual orientation discrimination will continue to grow as a legal issue, so eventually recruiting will have no choice but to re-examine the entire hiring process.

Action Steps for Developing a Targeted LGBT Recruiting Effort

One of the basic tenets of marketing is segmentation, where you customize your effort so that it meets the unique needs of a particular targeted segment. Because LGBT prospects have unique expectations, your recruiting effort must also be tailored to meet those needs. So if you are one of the few corporate leaders who has the courage to proactively and publicly recruit gay candidates, I have provided a list of 15+ tailored action steps that I have found to be effective not just among the LGBT community but also for most diverse populations.

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  1. Make the business case — obviously if you want funding and executive support, you need to demonstrate the productivity, innovation, and creativity that this LGBT population can bring to the business and the loss that will occur by not having a representative gay population in your workforce. The best business cases are not developed independently but instead in conjunction with the CFO’s office because they can help you to credibly quantify the business impacts of the program on corporate revenue, product development, and customer service. A segment of the business case further needs to demonstrate that not having gay people in your employee population discourages other recruits, increases turnover, and wil  negatively impact business results. You also need to identify and make a list of potential executive concerns and put together arguments to counter each. Having a senior executive sponsor the effort is also an excellent idea.
  2. Use market research to find out how to target efforts — as with any group of recruiting targets, you must identify both the positive factors that attract and the negative factors that detracts. Be aware that currently employed and relatively satisfied employees at other firms will have a different set of “attractors” than prospects who are actively looking for a job. The best way to identify these “attraction factors” is through surveys of a sample of your current employees, applicants, and new hires who have self-identified themselves as gay. Outside focus groups with potential applicants can also be helpful. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that things like partner or same-sex marriage benefits are the primary attraction factor.
  3. Use market research to find out where recruiting messages would be most effective — even a perfectly sculpted recruiting message has no value if your target audience never sees or reads it. Work with your product marketing team or a vendor experienced with this population to identify the Internet, social media, and traditional locations where your message would most likely be seen and read by the LGBT population. Use the same approach to identify where they would likely see and read a job posting. Also update your corporate website and careers page so that it is obvious to visitors that you welcome and understand the unique needs of gay employees and customers. Also consider offering blogs and videos of gay employees to be sure to provide some detailed information on each of the features that LGBT prospects care the most about.
  4. Move beyond traditional diversity recruiting approaches — all too often corporate diversity recruiting is narrowly focused and limited in scope. The traditional approach normally is limited to diversity inclusion statements, a few flashy PR ads, celebrating gay pride, donations to diverse groups, and attending diversity job fairs and association events. In my experience, these well-intended approaches are often insufficient. What is needed is a comprehensive approach that includes tailored employer branding, trained sourcers, identifying candidate assessment problems, a customized offer process, a focus on recruiting gay interns, and a tailored candidate experience. Each individual recruiting sub-process and step must be targeted to this audience and later on each must be monitored with metrics to ensure that it remains effective. Incidentally, there is no data that shows that you must be gay to be a great LGBT recruiter; instead exceptional recruiting skills, specialized training, and empathy appear to be the key competencies.
  5. Develop a story inventory — stories and illustrative examples are powerful selling tools. So work with your current employees to identify examples and stories that would help to authentically illustrate to prospects that your firm actually is a great place for members of this community work. Make sure that hiring managers, recruiters, and employees all have easy access to these stories, so they can help to spread them.
  6. Employee referrals should be the cornerstone — your employee’s contacts and employees’ authentic sales ability are the chief reasons why employee referrals should be your primary LGBT recruitment source. If it doesn’t already have one, your employee referral program should adopt a sub-focus on recruiting diversity and specifically LGBT candidates. Obviously you want to publicize this focus so that your employees know that you are actively encouraging the recruiting of LGBT candidates. You should also educate your employees and provide them with information on the most effective ways to approach and sell this unique target audience. Include college students and corporate alumni in the referral effort.
  7. Study benchmark firms — surprisingly government agencies have led the way in redesigning recruitment programs specifically for LGBT talent. Although they still have a way to go, the most comprehensive and proactive diversity recruiting efforts have occurred at the San Francisco, New York, and Boston Police Departments and in the U.S. military. In the corporate sector, Ford, IBM, and Google stand out for moving beyond diversity career fairs and events.
  8. Identify current negative employee treatment issues — because of the wide availability of social media, any negative LGBT issues will be quickly revealed through social media, YouTube videos, and Internet comments. Obviously your targeted recruiting effort will not succeed if it is overwhelmed by negative comments based on the perceptions of applicants or your current or past employees. HR should take the lead in proactively identifying and resolving these discrimination and perceived unfairness issues. If you have an LGBT affinity group, involve them in the process.
  9. Work with affinity groups — if your firm has an employee LGBT affinity group, you obviously want to include it in your recruiting and retention efforts (Bain is a benchmark firm).
  10. Find out what worked — identify the most and least effective aspects of your recruiting effort. Start with surveying all new hires during onboarding (you cannot ask new hires their sexual orientation) to determine which of your LGBT recruiting components worked and didn’t work. An email survey can also be sent to a sample of applicants, interviewees, and finalists. Regular employee surveys should also include questions related to LGBT employee treatment.
  11. Metrics and accountability are essential — early on, a single individual needs to be made accountable and rewarded for LGBT recruiting success. Next, you must put together a set of performance metrics that will show if your effort is reaching each of its goals. You also need operational metrics to examine the recruiting “funnel” to determine if you are getting enough LGBT applicants or if you are disproportionately losing them during the initial screening, interviewing, or offer process steps.
  12. Work with LGBT vendors — if you want to get up to speed quickly, the firms that specialize in the marketing and recruiting of this LGBT segment can initially provide great value until your team develops its own competencies. Avoid all firms that do not have a data-driven and market-research-based approach.
  13. A flexible global approach is needed — the level of tolerance and the legal treatment of members of this community vary significantly depending on the region (Russia being a recent extreme example). To meet that variability, some degree of local flexibility needs to be built into the recruiting program’s design and implementation.
  14. Expand the definition of diversity to be more global — almost all large corporations have diversity recruiting efforts, but in most cases, the target audience is narrowly defined using the U.S. government’s EEOC focus on sex, race. and national origin factors. If you want to reflect the realities of a global environment, your definition of diversity needs to be expanded to better reflect the composition of your current and potential customers. It should include often underrepresented populations in your geographic area, including local underrepresented minorities, older and younger workers, disabled workers, and obviously LGBT workers and applicants.
  15. A retention component is also needed — there also needs to be a component in your retention program that targets self identified LGBT new hires and employees. This will require a set of retention goals and metrics to ensure that once hired, the retention rate of this target group is higher than average. Delayed post-exit interviews can help you identify the real reasons why key known LGBT employees left.
  16. Consider a product and service focus also — work with the corporate staff on the product side of the business (i.e. marketing, product development, customer service, sales etc.) to make your products, services, and customer processes more appealing to the unique needs, interests, and expectations of this target community.

Final Thoughts

Many in the corporate world unfortunately think of gay issues as mostly civil rights, political, or social issues. However, it is a major mistake not to make it a focus of people management programs including recruiting, retention, and employee benefits.

Even though it’s time has come, don’t expect any LGBT effort to be easy. It takes some time to become an expert in understanding, attracting, and hiring from this community. Be prepared for significant resistance from risk adverse lawyers and HR professionals, as well as from employees and managers with conservative religious, social, and political views. Also expect some pushback from diverse employees (that fit under the current definition of diversity) and even from your customers. But despite the potential issues, the time is right, and in my view, it is the right thing to do.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website and on He lives in Pacifica, California.



29 Comments on “Is it Time to Adopt a Targeted Recruiting Effort Focused on Gay Candidates?

  1. I agree with Mitch on this. Ultimately, you can use the strategies outlined in the article to target audiences of any diverse background/culture.

    Maybe corporations should run their interviews like a dating game show. Candidates can sit behind a curtain, completely hidden, and asked questions from the HM or group. The person with the best answers (for the group)gets the job. This might eliminate discrimination and biasness.

  2. I was thinking if I should reply to this blog, because since I am a member of the gay community ( yes I am a member of a little diversity community, wiiiiii!!) the blog didn’t really reach out to me. You know, to my gay lingo brain and so.

    I am not an easily offended dyke , lesbian whatever the word is, that your HR community would like to identify me but this blog post, actually does offend me. The way it is written , like what do you think? I , buy from a company quicker if the person I am dealing with is gay?

    I buy from a company because I like the person I deal with and I trust their services.

    Maybe we should all just stop pussyfooting around the term “diversity”and hire on skill set , how street wise a person is, if they have the sense of humor we like and if they bring value to the organisation.

    I as a ( oh wait..>> ) I as a lesbian european person think – diversity is just another word so companies can feel better and have another marketing tool for themselves.

    Be a company that treats humans with respect , do what you say you will do and deliver. And I and probably most people will be just fine.

    Obviously I am not a representative of the entire LGBT community , but just me. Call me Bianca, that’s just fine.

    I am an awesome Recruiter, being gay has nothing to do with it, and adds nothing to a company’s values. I just want to say that one more time.

    What a load of … fill in as you please

  3. Wow, meaty topic I’m sure to not spend enough time typing on and I’ll probably get something out of context but here goes.

    I agree with Bianca in the sense that when we treat candidates differently for any reason, it can cause issues. I remember being asked by a hiring manager once, “Well, where are we posting for the black or asian candidates?”

    “Mr. Manager, why do you think black or asian professionals aren’t using LinkedIn?”

    So companies continue doing outreach to organizations like SWE, SHPE, NSBE, Black MBA etc. focusing on the opportunity to prove their outreach efforts to limit litigation potential.

    Again, to Bianca’s and Seth’s points, why don’t companies just focus on hiring great people? Answer, because people tend to hire like. Like will always hire like. We see that in referral hiring %’s. HR lives in this world of tracking and numbers, OFCCP, EEO etc. So in some way it you’re darned if you do and darned if you don’t. Do we target the LDS community because of their 2-year missions and languages capability? Maybe some call centers should (and do).

    I think the strongest organizations are the ones which self-create affinity groups internally, with little to zero of HR input/involvement. I remember that viral Google video It Gets Better.

    It certainly can’t hurt to tap into affinity groups from a recruiting perspective, we need talent. But I think our message needs to be on Mission, Vision and Values of an organization, and less on the there are people like you here so maybe you should be to messages ….

    It’s a bizarre co-existence diversity outreach ….

  4. Dr. Sullivan is a stable and weekly contributor on ere, and as such has written many informative analytical and ‘how to articles’ some that hit right at the heart of where it matters and is relevant.
    However whether this article as a result of topics drying up or because he thinks this merits a whole separate article I do not know, but I have to ask myself why.
    This is and ought really as respectively Mitch and Bianca point out a non subject and really has little relevance when question is skill and ability to do a job and the process involved to establish that.
    Whatever hobbies people have in their spare time is little of my business and concern, as well as to sexual observation and beliefs. Whether the whole equal rights and non discrimination a US thing or not I cannot say, and as much as I subscribe to equality and non discrimination for anyone, gender, background, religion or sexual observation I cannot see why we have to place so much emphasis and attention on this subject. It should n e v e r be an issue that enters the mind of good recruiters that have one sole purpose, finding the skill, abilities and personality wise best match for a role period.
    If we start going down the route of catering to various groups we do nothing more than what Mitch and Bianca (superb comments by the way) say.
    Please can we stick to the main topics and not digress into whatever else we can throw at making the whole hiring activity a question of whether we appease this and that group in society.

  5. Jacob, fair question. But staffing leaders are required to have an Affirmative Action Plan, and to track percentages of hiring. If for whatever reason your organization doesn’t meet a target, you have to prove outreach methodology. If the EEOC and OFCCP are going to perhaps soon measure LGBT, it’s something worth noting.

  6. Good point, Robert. Dr. Sullivan predicts that sexual orientation discrimination will become an increasingly larger legal issue as time goes on, so it makes sense why this article or topic would be written.

  7. @ Mitch” “those people”? Sounds a bit condescending, like “those African Americans”, “those Muslims”, those “Latinos”.

    I think Dr. Sullivan has a point- it might be good for a company’s brand to do some “gaywashing” as it may already do “vetwashing” and “greenwashing”: doing well-publicized lip- service to a given goal without doing anything substantial to change the status-quo. This might be a good anticipatory strategy as Robert D suggests. I can also imagine a time within 5-10 years where companies will be approached by LGBTQ organizations and advocates with: “How is your company working with the elected state legislators of YOUR STATE HERE to overturn YOUR STATE’S prohibition on same-sex marriages? Oh it’s not? Sorry you want to hurt your company that way.”
    BTW: are there any “out” Fortune 500 founders or CXOs?

    Next on the horizon: Outreach to the Autistic Spectrum community (for non-tech and tech jobs). Has anybody seen this expression on a t-shirt or bumper sticker:
    “Asperger’s: We’re the new gay!” (maybe that’s just a Silicon Valley thing…)

    I worked in DR for an EOC which meant looking for female engineers. Diversity at this place meant:
    “We hire all kinds of young, attractive, upper-middle-class, mainly white people, just like us!”
    Here’s a diversity recruiting rule of thumb:
    “Reach out to hire the very best people you can who AREN’T like your founders, board, and CXOs.


  8. Keith, on basis of:
    ‘Next on the horizon: Outreach to the Autistic Spectrum community (for non-tech and tech jobs). Has anybody seen this expression on a t-shirt or bumper sticker:?“Asperger’s: We’re the new gay!” (maybe that’s just a Silicon Valley thing…)’

    Look here:

    So while you may have picked the group of Autistic Spectrum community deliberately or not someone is actually addressing this exact group of people!

    @Robert. I have seen and been part of enough diversity initiatives to know that one thing is on paper and in theory, another is reality. Little you can do if a hiring manager has the attitude of ‘I do not care (and will disregard any HR guidelines) whether male, female, cat, dog or hamster, I just want the best solution for my open role’

    I am yet to see the HRD that successfully has gone against the wishes of the business and got it their way!

  9. I am not going to go into a long comment here, but if you really can’t figure out why any of this outreach is important, you really need to do a little more research.

    As stated in a couple posts above there is the compliance reason to reach out to organizations, and there is best practices. If you are not branded as a diverse friendly employer, you are missing out on an entire array of talent. If you rely on referrals, I would refer you to the latest polling numbers that tell us 40% of white Americans only have white friends.

    In addition, while it is true that Asians and African Americans do use LinkedIn, it is a fact that the membership of LinkedIn over-indexes for white, older male.

    If you need more information, contact me and lets discuss.

  10. @TIm
    I am not disputing that diversity is important or playing down the need to have a close eye on this, address it or set goals to be reached, but I am saying that there is a big gap between theory and HR dreams and goals and what is happening on a daily basis. I have been part of diversity programmes that focused on specific areas, served majority of a shortlist to address that, only for the hiring/line manager to do exactly what he/she wanted. (example: marketing role, 6 shortlisted candidates, 5 female, 1 male, – male chosen!)

  11. Jacob, I wasn’t referencing your post, and I believe what you say to be true. I hear it all day everyday. Every companies website has a diversity blurb on tyhe employment page, but the amount or resources allocated to recruiters to actually do diversity recruitment is minimal, and if the internal culture is not aligned or on board, it doesn’t matter how many diverse candidates are pipe lined.

    I think the book “Blindspot” by Banji and Greenwald should be required reading for all recruiters and hiring managers. It gives great insight into just this topic.

  12. Millennials, Gays, Veterans, Dog Lovers, Cat Lovers, Panda Lovers…there will be always affinity groups that become the recruiting target du jour. Balancing every group’s needs isn’t easy which is why recruiting isn’t a function that should be populated with the inexperienced AND under-appreciated by top business leaders. It takes guts and moxy to be able to present the best candidate slate in any situation where biases live out in the open.

    Incidentally, John’s 16 Step program is simply a good – and basic – recruiting strategy. I think he was just trying to stretch a bit with the LGBT angle.

  13. @ Jacob: Exactly. I’m on the boards of two non-profit orgs of and for the AS community, and one of them trains people in SQA and other related skills like the German company mentioned, and the co-founder of this org is talking with SAP about their program of hiring people on the spectrum. While we may hear of very successful entrepreneurs who are/are probably on the spectrum like Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, Mark Zuckerberg, etc. (Guys: dispute your status in it if you will, but give money to help the community!), but 80% of the community are unemployed.

    @ Everybody: We should know that deep down, the role of diversity recruiting isn’t really to *change the overall composition of the company, but to be caught pretending to try something good in the eyes of the law and various stakeholders.


    *As of 2011 (
    There are six Black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, accounting for 1.2 percent of all Fortune 500 CEOs
    There were seven Asian CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, accounting for 1.4 percent of all Fortune 500 CEOs.
    There were five Latino CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, accounting for 1 percent of all Fortune 500 CEOs
    There were 21 women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, accounting for 4.2 percent of all Fortune 500 CEOs

    Since a couple of the minority CEOs were also women, I get 37 out of the 500 CEOs who aren’t while males, who constitute 92.6%.

  14. Keith, if you truly believe that “the role of diversity recruiting isn’t really to *change the overall composition of the company, but to be caught pretending to try something good in the eyes of the law and various stakeholders” then you’ve known me long enough to fill in my response.

    Diversity is about taking down the barriers that prevent great and potentially great performers from making a difference; if you truly believe otherwise, again, you know me well enough to fill in my response…

  15. @ Steve: The whole concept of diversity derives from power- who has it, who wants i,t how it will be used. As Frederick Douglass said:
    Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them.”
    I strongly believe that we live in a country where the majority of people in charge seek to maximize economic and political power in as few hands (their own hands) as possible, and make sure that it stays there. Furthermore, a number of them also believe (perhaps unconsciously) that: “It’s not just that I must win, but that you must lose, too.” My description is the role of diversity recruiting for these people.

    The people who believe that diversity is a key to strength and fairness and equality of opportunity are to be strongly commended for what they’re attempting; it’s just there are a lot of very powerful people who are quite happy with the way things are, and they won’t leave “the catbirds’s seat” peacefully- just look at how some of them tried to buy the 2012 election (

    Keith “The Great Can Take Care of Themselves; It’s the Rest of Us I’m Concerned With” Halperin

  16. @ Mitch” “those people”? Sounds a bit condescending, like “those African Americans”, “those Muslims”, those “Latinos”.

    Keith, I’m not sure I can be held accountable for how you choose to interpret those two words.

  17. @ Mitch: I hear you. At the same time, I think “those people” (used like this) is a loaded term, with implied negativity. It says “they” aren’t “us”, (and we’re better than “those people”).
    -“Collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd.”
    ? Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays

  18. Quite true. You may have not known that some people might find this condescending, but now you do know, and you DO have control over saying it again- it’s your choice.



  19. Personally, I can’t think of anything less relevant to me than who an employee does or does not choose to have sex with. I want the people I hire to be qualified, I don’t care if they’re heterosexual, homosexual, or asexual. If there is any outreach to such candidates, it will be by making it clear to them that their performance is what matters, not who they’re nailing.

  20. @ Mitch: You are correct, and I choose to continue doing both, as well as being cynical, sarcastic, frustrating, irreverent, confusing, and (occasionally) mildly amusing. It’s what my audience here on ERE expects of me…



  21. Why is it that there needs to be a specific strategy for every single group? Can’t we treat all people humanely and select the best person for the job?

    Shall we start a strategy for Freckled People or what about a strategy for Denver Bronco fans. Or maybe now we can start specifically targeting the very popular group called the Gluten Free?

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