Hack the hiring process to reap diversity’s bottom-line benefits

By Ratna Omidvar, Executive Director, Global Diversity Exchange

For a long time, Google didn’t release data on employee diversity. Last year, it did, with the admission the company is “miles from where we want to be.” Google is now pursuing an aggressive corporate diversity program. Why?

The answer is in the numbers. Companies with racially and ethnically diverse employees are 35-per-cent more likely to financially outperform non-diverse companies, according to a recent study by management consultants McKinsey & Co. Diverse teams lead to better group performance, reputation, customer connections, market share and innovation.

The Googles of the world increasingly understand diversity is an asset with bottom-line impact. The shift in thinking is happening at a faster pace in cities with a high share of immigrants, such as Toronto, where more than 45 per cent of the population is foreign-born.

But while the evidence is in front of us, where we still get stuck as employers is finding immigrants to hire. We get the why, but not necessarily the how.

A new study conducted by market-research firm R.A. Malatest & Associates for Toronto-based Maytree, a charitable foundation that focuses on reducing poverty, found that, while half of the employers surveyed had some degree of difficulty finding suitable candidates of any background to fill positions, the majority of employers – nearly 70 per cent – reported that they do not actively seek out immigrants as a potential talent pool.

There’s also a mismatch in where and how employers and newcomers try to connect. Newcomers frequent job fairs and immigrant-serving agencies. Employers use sector and professional associations and, of course, rely on word of mouth.

Confirming what we know from other research, 72 per cent of immigrants say it’s very or somewhat challenging to find employment opportunities in their field. This costs. A 2011 Royal Bank of Canada study put the cost of immigrant underemployment to the Canadian economy at $30.7-billion.

It’s clear that companies don’t build diverse teams by accident. Instead, they need to be
deliberate about hiring immigrants, or at least about stripping bias from the process.

But there are creative ways to hack the hiring process, and some don’t cost a thing.

Search Somewhere New

Some companies have trouble reaching diverse candidates. It’s not a problem of bias or barriers – there’s simply a lack of applicants from different backgrounds. For companies with a budget to advertise or send out recruiters, a solution lies in these tools. Think about where job posts are appearing, and who is likely to see them. If you’re unsure that diverse candidates will see a posting, that’s a sign that more can be done. Consider advertising in ethnic media, through professional immigrant networks and in diverse neighbourhoods.

The same goes for recruitment. Interviewing based on word-of-mouth referrals is easy and effective. Good contacts recommend good people. But we tend to trust people who look and think like we do, and that means the referred candidates might not be very diverse. Get recruiters back to places where they encounter strangers. Remember that immigrant job seekers rely on job fairs and immigrant-serving agencies more than employers do – to the benefit of employers who do target these venues.

Set an Interview Target

A commonly upheld practice to ensure women are in the applicant and interview pool is to set a target – a mental anchor. Why not extend this practice to immigrants and visible minorities? Targets are not quotas, but they do help us to stay accountable because what gets measured, gets done. The target that’s right for you will depend on demographics. What works in Montreal will not be realistic in Guelph. In Toronto, employers could set a target of 2/5. If five candidates are interviewed, two should be ethnically diverse.

Make CVs Anonymous

Research by Phil Oreopoulos at the University of Toronto showed that Canadian employers are 40-per-cent less likely to hire Samir than Matthew, even if their skills are identical. In addition to being equally qualified, Samir could have perfect English, be born in Canada, even have a surname like Davidson or Crosbie, and still be cut at that critical first screening. All because of his first name.

The small German town of Celle piloted anonymous CVs for civil-service positions, precisely to solve hiring bias, and it greatly increased the diversity of new hires. A few decades earlier, the New York Philharmonic saw similar results when it stuck auditioning candidates behind a curtain and suddenly found itself hiring a lot more women. Why not make applications anonymous? Strip out personal information like a person’s name or place of education, and let the first screening hinge on skills and talents.

Use New Language

What we hear anecdotally and in research is that “Canadian work experience” remains a significant barrier for immigrants. Human-rights legislation has moved the dial toward removing this criteria, but behaviour takes longer to change. Whether it’s official or unofficial criteria, Canadian experience is still more desirable than experience in India, Singapore or the Netherlands. In some industries, there is good reason for this. In others, international experience may well be equally or more competitive.

It might just take new language to change internal minds. I still hear immigrants described as having “foreign work experience” when we should be calling it “international work experience.” The latter sounds like an asset. This may seem like a small thing, but language can change workplace culture and signal to managers that international education and experience is an advantage.

This last example is especially good because it shows that solutions to immigrant hiring are not only embedded in structures, but in individual and personal change, too. This change can be incremental and still go a long way.

This article was originally published in The Globe and Mail, May 22, 2015

[UPDATE] Business Case: What We Know

  • Companies in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity management are 35% more likely to have financial returns above industry mean
  • Improved and more accurate group thinking: breaking up workplace homogeneity allows employees to become more aware of their own potential biases.
  • Focus on facts: workplace diversity changes how information is processed and leads to better decision making. People from diverse backgrounds alter the behavior of a group’s social majority in ways that lead to improved and more accurate group thinking
  • Innovation: to stay competitive, businesses need to innovate. By hiring culturally diverse employees, businesses boost their capacity to transform themselves and their products.

Source: Why Diverse Teams are Smarter

Magnet, Ryerson University in partnership with Hire Immigrants produced this article. The article is made possible with the funding from the Government of Ontario.

Find Your Way