Is Diversity a Science or an Art?

By Andrea Park

Jul. 11, 2014

When it comes to recruiting a diverse and qualified workforce, what’s the best approach? Some might say there’s a certain art to hiring employees of all races, genders and socioeconomic standings: that it’s an organic and deeply personal process. Others believe true workplace diversity can be achieved with an algorithm.

The recruiting database Entelo is a proponent of the latter school of thought. The company recently launched a new program that promises to help employers accrue a diverse pool of applicants by pre-screening social media accounts.

“Entelo Diversity uses a proprietary algorithm to find candidates whose social profiles indicate a high probability of meeting a specific gender or ethnicity as well as candidates who may have previous military experience,” the company said in an April press release.

The program is aimed at Silicon Valley firms. The technology industry is notorious for its lack of diversity, a problem that has been closely scrutinized in recent months, following Google’s release of its workforce demographics.

With a 70 percent male and 61 percent white workforce that is likely reflective of the rest of the tech industry, Google’s best option might be to pursue a methodical approach like that offered by Entelo. But what about less technologically minded companies?

Prudential Financial, for example, has been recognized as one of the National Association for Female Executives’ top 50 companies for executive women and DiversityInc’s 10 best companies for diversity recruitment, and has received a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index every year since 2004. And while it does take advantage of social networking and other consumer-level technology, Prudential’s recruiting is more people- than numbers-focused.

“We’d be silly not to use the technology that’s available in the marketplace,” said Marietta Cozzi, Prudential’s vice president of staffing. “But at the same time, from a recruiting perspective, there’s a very personal aspect to all the work we do.”

In this vein, a main focus of Prudential’s diversity recruitment strategy is building relationships with both sourcing organizations and individuals. According to Cozzi, these personal connections serve to establish the firm’s commitment to looking at employees as whole people, rather than simply a series of demographic data.

“We work hard to build these relationships because we understand that recruiting is a very personal situation, and we want to make sure that we care for both the candidates and our hiring managers inside the company,” Cozzi said.

Sodexo is another firm that has received high praise for its diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Despite being outside of the tech industry, though, Sodexo’s approach to diversity recruiting is extremely “metrics-driven,” according to Arie Ball, vice president of sourcing and talent acquisition for Sodexo.

“We have a very methodical approach to recruitment,” Ball said. “We measure everything: we’re measurement geeks.”

This methodical approach consists of closely analyzing every step of the recruitment process, focusing especially on the talent pool. The sources from which Sodexo culls its candidates are individually chosen for their diverse and high-quality offerings. For instance, its college recruiting efforts pay special attention to historically black universities and chapters of the National Society of Minorities in Hospitality, a student-run multicultural organization.

“Before we look into any new source or strategy, we always look at its diversity impact,” Ball said. “And then once we’ve implemented a strategy, we go back and measure the results.”

Clearly, there is no “right” way to successfully recruit a diverse workforce. Whether a firm approaches diversity as an art (on a more personal level) or a science (measuring and analyzing every detail), however, there are a few guidelines it should keep in mind when developing a recruitment strategy.

“No matter what you do, you’ve got to have clear leadership from the top, and very visible senior commitments,” said Katherine Giscombe, vice president and women of color practitioner of global member services at Catalyst, an organization that conducts research and advises companies about workplace inclusivity.

Giscombe also emphasized the importance of creating company-wide engagement in the diversity strategy. If the company leaders are the only ones engaged, the strategy will fall apart at the middle level

And the ultimate key to effective diversity recruiting? Total cohesion.

“The most important thing you can do,” Giscombe said, “is make sure your diversity strategy is fully integrated with your business strategy.”

This story originally appeared in Workforce's sister publication, Talent Management.

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