(Photo by Fizkes, iStockphoto by Getty)

Recruitment is the first step for creating racial, gender and economic diversity within a workplace, but it cannot stand alone in fostering inclusion. Rather, recruitment should be seen as the launching-off point to a wealth of strategies that bring in, retain and empower a diverse employee base.

A panel of experts on recruitment convened at From Day One’s July virtual conference, The New Push for Workplace Equity, to discuss how recruiting can come out of its silo and serve as a powerful first step to more equitable workplace cultures. “We’ve been looking at the full employee journey,” said PaShon Mann, VP of talent acquisition for Comcast. “Many folks in talent acquisition focus on that front end, on hiring, but really you want to look at the sourcing stage and all the way through to onboarding, development and promotion.”

Comcast applies a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) lens throughout an employee’s lifespan with the company, according to Mann, and does so with support from top leadership. Al Cave, national practice leader at Apprenti, stressed the need for buy-in across a company: “If you have the leader of the organization at the table, everybody else will come along,” he said. “You absolutely need the head of the organization fully bought in and supportive on an ongoing basis.”

Once leadership is onboard, the company can invest in tools that support holistic recruitment. Mann suggested creating processes to track feedback from the employee after they’ve been hired. Comcast also partnered its talent-acquisition and talent-management teams to ensure the processes are linked with similar DEI values.

Crystal Andrews Banks, diversity and inclusion director at Ulta Beauty, explained the company started a “Champion’s Network” to make sure people feel they belong within the company and help them identify opportunities for growth. She added that company culture is a draw for prospective hires, with open communication between the chief executive and employees, diversity-focused events, and learning from brand partners.

From Day One's panel of recruitment experts, led in discussion by Emily Nordquist, upper left, senior program manager of the Baumhart Center at Loyola University Chicago

Marquis Miller, chief diversity officer for the City of Chicago, offered a public-sector perspective of improving workplace culture to retain diverse employment. He noted that Chicago began looking at “new ideas of wellness and how that wellness is actually connected to professional development.” The city is exploring establishing “City Resource Groups” that help city residents identify career paths in municipal employment.

At Apprenti, an organization that helps democratize tech-job opportunities, the key to holistic recruitment was changing the attitudes around who’s best qualified for tech positions. “Our belief is that far too many companies … rely on far too narrow a pipeline,” said Cave. He pointed out that last year, there were 4 million tech jobs open, but colleges produced only 320,000 degrees in computer science or engineering.

“We try to recruit from the broadest, most comprehensive body of entities and sources as possible,” Cave said, noting the company works with community organizations, educational institutions, government and business entities, while also sponsoring and speaking at various events.

Panelists delved into more specific strategies of accessing equity in the recruitment and hiring process. Cynthia Hedricks, chief analytics officer for SkillSurvey, a data-driven recruitment consultancy, spoke to the importance of creating, documenting and following a consistent hiring process. Structured interviews are also important. “It will help your hiring managers to make sure questions are job-related and consistently asked of all applicants,” she said. If a company uses personality assessments, she added, that company should speak with its vendor to make sure it monitors for biases.

Emily Nordquist, the panel’s moderator and senior program manager with Baumhart Center of Loyola University Chicago, pointed out that job candidates pick up on the signals about a company’s commitment to diversity from the get-go: “Who’s on that interview panel? Who are they seeing in the office? Who are they connecting with?” she asked. “That can have a huge impact on people’s psychology as they walk into the room.”

Apprenti developed a multi-point assessment model that measures aptitude, rather than specific educational skills. Structured interviews measure behavioral and interpersonal attributes, as opposed to education background or professional history. “At each point of the process we’re looking to expand the pool as much as we can and assess aptitude, and nothing else,” Cave explained.

Mann, of Comcast, pointed out that anti-bias training should be used for employees who conduct interviews: “We could have the most beautiful process, but if we have folks with unconscious and conscious biases it’s not going to matter how we design things.” Mann also believes such training should be revisited by companies on an ongoing basis to reflect new research and information on how biases play out.

Many panelists noted that COVID-19 turned recruitment and employment upside down, given the impact on both the economy and the physical workplace, but could still serve as an opportunity to revisit strategies for holistic recruitment. “Historically there’s been a bias against unemployed applicants, but right now there’s a segment of the workforce who’s lost their jobs during the pandemic,” Hedricks said. “We can revisit our biases, turn everything on its side and re-look at it.”

Nordquist ended the panel with a “power round” question on where companies can start when it comes to holistic recruiting. Cave emphasized that companies need to begin diversity work within the internal culture, before turning to talent acquisition. Hedricks suggested that as the workforce starts to return to the office after stay-at-home measures, companies should consider task forces, surveys or forums in which employees can speak honestly about their workplace culture.

Andrews Banks of Ulta Beauty stressed the importance of the company’s leaders getting on the same page. “Ground yourself in the why,” she said. “Ground yourself in representation data and figure out what success looks like to you as an organization, then how you can connect the dots to your future aspirational goals.”

Emily Nonko is a Brooklyn, NY-based reporter who writes about real estate, architecture, urbanism and design. Her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York magazine, Curbed and other publications.