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Mid and Long Term Strategies for Diversity Hiring

by Karen Alphonse, Executive Consultant,

Even before implementing key short-term hiring goals, organizations do well to reach internal consensus as to the long-term commitment to diversity hiring. The best strategies for sustained and successful hiring require consistent financial investment and reinforcement. Building diversity though rewarding, can prove challenging. Organizations which have avoided making thoughtful plans, including allocating resources to meet diversity goals, will probably not see consistent and measurable improvements in their hiring profiles. Collaborative planning, targeted channeling of monetary and other resources, combined with an unshakeable belief in the value of a diverse workforce, these factors will have positive effects on hiring and retention rates. In the end, those organizations willing to invest time, money and thoughtful planning will emerge the winners.

Enhanced diversity hiring frequently implicates making fundamental organization changes of the kind that will require consensus-building. For example, if the goal is to promote more diverse women over a five-year span, then the organization will have to figure out ways to enroll, retain and promote talented female leaders such that, over a five-year period, there will a measurable increase in female leadership within the organization. It may also have to use lateral hiring to fill immediate gaps and to send a clear message to the community that the organization is committed to increasing the number of talented women it recruits. Similarly, if it decides to enhance the economic diversity of the leadership ranks, the organization will have to intentionally recruit in spheres which attract professionals with economically diverse backgrounds. The strategy may require reaching out to a whole new range of professional institutions, graduate schools, colleges, universities and business organizations. Outreach which is inclusive is most likely to attract the broadest range of professional talent. This may require revamping the whole public relations/marketing strategy. New alliances will need to be built. The organization will gradually take on a new face, and will have to shift perceptibly to embrace the change. These changes are neither simple, nor are they cost-free. They come with substantive financial and ideological considerations. Effective mid and long term strategies tend to require deliberate, far-reaching planning and significant financial commitments.

Here are some of the strategies leading companies have used as mid-term strategies for diversifying their organizations.

internal audit

Even though it is sometimes difficult to identify the many ways in which a workforce can reflect diversity, most leaders quickly recognize then diversity is absent. Candid discussion and review of an organization's entry level, middle management and executive teams will reveal interesting nuances. It is still surprising to note how, even after years of successfully recruiting diverse professionals at the entry level, the top-tiers of many organizations reflect marked homogeneity. These patterns may not be the result of any conscious selection processes. They do, however, beg critical analysis of career paths, mentoring/professional development practices and referral at the highest levels. If, for example, an organization relies on word-of-mouth, personal referral to fill its top management roles, it is fair to expect that the new hires will reflect the attributes and profiles of their sponsors. Not surprisingly, leaders tend to hire others who have attended their schools, share their perspective or networks and generally "fit in." This means that if they act without reflection and without a conscious mandate to change, they will replicate themselves.

A part of the key to opening up the management ranks is to broaden the potential pool. This requires more aggressive, more comprehensive outreach and bridge-building to ensure that the broadest possible pool of talent gets wind of new management opportunities. Another line of inquiry might be to track what happens to entry level professionals who have exhibited great potential. Within the group, who gets promoted and how frequently? Are there noticeable demographic trends in the promotion data? If so, how do you explain the data? Do many entry-level hires eventually drop out or do they move onto other organizations? Where to the dropouts go? How do the others fare at their new organizations? What is the perception (and the reality) of promotion policies for diverse professionals? Do they move up within the organization regularly or do they leave after relatively short tenure? What about mentoring opportunities? Does the organization provide mentorship support for new professionals? Are they evaluated regularly according to pre-established benchmarks? Who does well at the organization? Who does not fare as well? Are there any trends in the promotional practices of the organization? If there are any marked discrepancies, what steps can the organization take to create accessible career paths for more kinds of people who may aspire to leadership in the organization?

diversity awareness training

Many organizations have benefited from having diversity training, prior to implementing the more demanding diversity hiring strategies. There is still much confusion about what diversity means. (No, it is not just simply a racial, gender or sexual orientation matter). Many otherwise talented managers are afraid of being perceived as "politically incorrect." Others operate oblivious to the many kinds of biases (which may be non-racial or non-gender based) which inform their decisions and thinking. This is complex stuff. It often takes an experienced professional who has made diversity training his/her specialty to work through sensitive issues creatively. The goal is to have a willing organization emerge with greater understanding and dexterity with regard to diversity issues.

As you might expect, quality training costs good money. Organizations who seriously want to enhance their workforce and improve their diversity hiring, have to be prepared to make a financial investment in the process.

board recruitment and development

Many outstanding non-profit organizations have boards which exercise influence on policy and fundraising matters, among other things. Once the organization has agreed, in principle, to embrace diversity hiring, a key exercise in the internal audit process is to assess the board's role both as the "Face" of the organization and as an outreach resource.

It is difficult to sell the fact that you want to recruit diverse talent if your board remains homogenous in visible ways. A homogenous board sends a signal to the community that the organization is not committed to diversity at its most executive levels. This is a dangerous message indeed. Also, to the extent that the board conducts strategic planning, outreach and may frequently be involved in the hiring process, it will be more credible if it, too, is diverse. It is smart to engage diversity hiring with a board which reflects diversity and values hiring multifaceted talent for all levels of leadership within the organization.

This does not necessarily mean having well-meaning, active board members retire from service prematurely. You want to extend the longevity of organization stalwarts for as long as their commitment remains active. It may, however, mean expanding the board to include additional diverse members. It may also mean establishing an advisory board to work alongside a pre-existing board and to share new thinking with pre-existing board leadership. These are all fundamental changes in the way an organization does business and they all require forethought and careful implementation. Such planning and restructuring may take several months to achieve. In some cases it may take years. This is often what a concerted diversity hiring effort requires.

mentorship and professional development programs

Even forward-thinking organizations sometimes overlook the importance of providing thoughtful mentoring and professional development opportunities for new hires. Based on the internal culture of your organization, you may choose to institute a formal mentoring program or rely on informal mentoring mechanisms. Whichever mode you choose, make sure that new hires have access to more experienced members of your organization on a consistent and meaningful basis. It is clear that employees who are mentored tend, over time, to be more successful within their chosen organization. If you want to promote the retention and promotion of diverse talent within your team, you will need to make sure that there are meaningful ways for them to acquire tools to advance.

Professional development is another related concept. If your organization is committed to having diverse leaders take the reins, it must also start training those leaders at the time they are first hired and continue the professional

growth process throughout their tenure. In many industries, professional development is an informal matter. In others, there are key conferences, workshops and activities which ambitious professionals attend to enhance their skills and training. As part of your critical organization analysis, you will need to identify those skills which will support an emerging leader's talents and make budget allowances to sponsor that training. Even if you want employees to initiate their own training, make sure that the process for sponsorship is transparent and consistent. You may also want to ensure that certain basic workshops are administered company-wide so everyone has the benefit of key kinds of computer, presentation and team building exercises.

review and evaluation process

Organizations which seek to promote different kinds of professionals must define the parameters for success and publicize them consistently. This demands a disciplined review and evaluation cycle. New hires need to know what the organization expects and how their great efforts will be rewarded. More senior managers need also to understand the criteria for advancement and how they can meet those criteria. The evaluation and review process should provide employers and their supervisors with meaningful opportunities to chart career growth, reward outstanding performance and designate future leadership possibilities for high-performing employees. If evaluations and reviews operate on a random basis, it is difficult to establish clear benchmarks or a credible process. If performance criteria are unclear, ambiguous or changeable, they will operate to undermine the most sincere hiring efforts. This kind of insecurity plays havoc on the orderly progression of professional talent through the ranks. Idiosyncratic hiring and promotion practices have been linked to low employee morale and low productivity. This, in turn, discourages potential new talent from joining an organization. It also dampens existing employees' enthusiasm for meeting key challenges. The most effective way to manage multiple expectations and competing goals is to regularly evaluate and reward outstanding employees. Consistent affirmation of core organizational values will ensure that those emerging leaders who embrace corporate goals will be rewarded accordingly.


As organizations work through some of the long-term planning needed to really establish a stellar diversity hiring program, many have opted to fill in key roles through skillful lateral hiring. An immediate way to boost diversity within your ranks is to identify talented diverse leaders, middle managers and new professionals who you know and to recruit the most outstanding ones to join your firm. The advantage of this is that you send a clear, affirmative message to your industry, underscoring your commitment to a diverse workforce. The drawback to this strategy is that it can sometimes be very costly. You may need to get support from skilled recruiters to assist you in attracting the kinds of leaders you want and to craft the kind of compensation packages they will find irresistible. Essentially, you will need to outbid everybody else in the marketplace. The other drawback is that you are importing leaders from other cultures. This is not insignificant. Even bright professionals who characterize themselves as "Quick Studies" sometimes falter in a new environment. If you are importing large numbers of new employees from other companies, you will need to be sure that they receive appropriate tutoring/mentoring. Even within the same industry, process varies from company to company. Reporting relationships vary. Routine ways of dealing with clients, associates and competitors also vary. You want to be sure that, as you incorporate others, you continue to promote your internal values. You also want to be sure that you surround them with supportive professional networks. It is not easy to be yanked out of a familiar work environment, collocated in another competitive organization and be asked to produce results quickly -- without the benefits of knowing the organization's networks, internal structures and operating norms. Keep this in mind as you make offers to talented lateral hires.


by Karen Alphonse, Executive Consultant, connects energetic leaders with mission-driven organizations. We offer complete search services as well as specific services targeted to client needs.