Lip Service: Do Recruiters Really Care About Diversity and Inclusion?

Diversity is a big deal. And it’s just not our industry, either. Google has around 365 million results for the term, and it’s one of the more prevalent trending topics in both business news and best practices today.

But if you check out the sheer density of diversity related posts on recruiting and HR focused sites, or wherever it is you get your industry information, you’ll see where most of those 365 million results are coming from.

While it’s a big deal for everyone, here in the insular silo and effective echo chamber that is the recruitment industry, we’re downright obsessed with diversity and inclusion.

After all, we’re in the people business. That puts creating diversity policies, executing diversity sourcing strategies and developing strategies for attracting diverse talent directly within the scope of our core responsibilities.

The reason we spend such an inordinate amount of time and effort on diversity, of course, is the universally accepted truth that a diverse workforce is a more productive and more engaged workforce. The more diverse we are, the better our businesses will become.

This concept has become so entrenched in HR, it’s become sacrosanct.

Apparently, this is all reinforced with reams of research, supporting evidence and peer reviewed studies. These, along with blog posts and industry publications, have only served to further canonize the concept that diversity is the means to the ends any organization is looking for, the silver bullet for workforce success.

Deep, Dark, Truthful Mirror: Diversity and Inclusion Is Not Black and White.

 

The thing is, while the headlines of these studies portray diversity as a net positive, a deeper dive into the research upon which we’re basing many of our core beliefs about this critical concept reveal much more nuance than most of us likely realize.

While most posts or presentations on diversity are full of quantitative data and research citations supporting the business case for these policies, and many practitioners can spout off similar statistics with complete conviction, almost none of us have actually gone beyond the abstracts or executive summaries of these studies.

While we’re quick to cite statistics, similarly, few of us know the actual context or methodology factoring into these figures.

Now I will admit, I am certainly no expert on the topic of diversity. It seems to be that while recruiters have some diversity related responsibilities, it is much more of an HR issue. Recruiters only really get involved in our responsibility to source and slate a supply of “diverse candidates” – a term that, honestly, I’m not particularly fond of in the first place.

I have had some conversations with my colleagues and connections recently, trying to understand why, exactly, diversity has become such a big deal in recruiting. It’s always been a consideration, sure, but it seems these days diversity and inclusion increasingly dominate our content, conversations and conference presentations.

I’m told there’s a reason for the increased obsession on diversity and inclusion, and most converts to this supposedly gospel truth steadfastly believe that the real focus of HR teams should be making sure everyone feels welcome at work. This doesn’t just apply to “diverse” employees, of course – the point of inclusion is that the welcome mat should get rolled out for everyone, every day. This I’m told, is HR’s most important job.

Just what “welcome” means at each respective employer, of course, is entirely subjective. This leads me to believe that while we’re all talking about diversity, every talent organization defines and approaches this topic differently.

Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood: Why Diversity Is A Matter of Perspective.

These variances are driven by corporate culture, company values and mission, and myriad other filters that give each of us a slightly different picture of what a diverse workforce looks like or how our organizations can achieve absolute inclusion

. That we’re trying to eliminate bias through an inherently biased approach is somewhat ironic, to say the least.

The thing is, while diversity and inclusion are great in theory and important ideas, these are concepts that seem increasingly impossible to actually operationalize on.

We can pontificate on best practices, but actually putting what we preach into practice is something that most of us are absolutely horrible at doing.

Talk is cheap, of course, but that’s about all we get for the billions employers shell out on diversity and inclusion issues every year. I don’t mean to judge the initiatives your organization may be working on, or the work you yourself have put in to promoting diversity programs and hiring outreach.

I’m sure there are a lot of companies out there who are getting diversity done the right way, with the results that we’re all looking for – and promising – when we build our business cases for inclusion.

The problem is, as an industry, we sort of suck at diversity and inclusion; no matter how much lip service we pay it, most of us have trouble proving any sort of payoff whatsoever. This is a big miss not only for our industry, but the employees and candidates we’re responsible for, too.

As much as we’d like to think otherwise, there is no quick fix, but then again, nothing that’s worth doing is ever easy; doing it right can be nearly impossible. In this case, it’s imperative.

You Tripped At Every Step: Behind The Great Recruiting Rift.

When I first moved to London, it was a completely new world for me, and I took any chance I could get to meet recruiters face to face. At that point, at home in Poland, it wasn’t exactly popular for recruiters to talk shop, and let’s just say that my affinity for discussing the intricacies of the industry weren’t entirely appreciated (or understood).

Sure, there were the tweetups, the events, the networking cocktails – but it all seemed so perfunctory and forced, it felt like I was just going through the motions. I never enjoyed these in Poland, probably because no one there enjoyed discussing work related topics outside the context of work. Nowhere was that more true than in recruiting. It was a job. If you did it right, it was a living. That was enough for most people.

Not me. And not in London. For the first time in my career, it felt, I belonged. I was no longer some remote sourcer working in the shadows in some forgotten outpost and treated largely like the help desk in Bangalore, not like a qualified, experienced and strategic recruiting partner.

I didn’t change much when I moved, but getting my butt to London sure seemed to change the way everybody else seemed to see me. I was now a part of the amazing world of people who not only took me seriously, but cared what I had to say. Where I was changed how I was treated, and I was suddenly close to the center of it all. I loved it.

I even joined a group explicitly for in-house recruiters, thinking that I would find some great connections and conversations with a group of colleagues who were just like me in that they all came from internal talent teams and worked exclusively for a dedicated employer. We shared the same sorts of challenges, struggles and frustrations; I thought we could support each other, share solutions and open up to all the other crazy people in this crazy business.

OK, perhaps that was never a realistic expectation. But I figured, at least we could talk shop and maybe enjoy a drink with some interesting people doing interesting things in in-house recruitment.

How To Be Dumb: In-House, Out of Touch.

Turns out, “in house” isn’t always such a great thing, as I learned pretty quickly that there are some downsides to restricting any professional group to such a narrow purview.

The idea behind this (and similar) in-house only type groups, as I understand, to preempt agency recruiters from using the group for business development.

This is fair enough, I thought. I already got enough pitches for agencies looking for me to throw reqs their way to be OK with this rule, but I really didn’t understand why the only way to preempt agency recruiters from biz dev was by banning them entirely. Without their influence, it felt like a big part of the profession was missing from this “professional” group.

It seems that those who create or champion these “exclusive” in-house only sort of initiatives either don’t know how to control sales activity, don’t trust agency recruiters to simply follow the rules if asked, or don’t want to drive off all the respectable members by allowing in agencies. But there might have been a more self-serving reason for their absolute exclusion, too.

It’s because while most of the conversations our group had weren’t constructive at all, the vast majority of them, no matter what it was we were talking about, quickly devolved into agency bashing and bitching about the incompetence of external recruiters. Again, fair enough if you have some frustrations, but seriously?

My experiences with agencies just didn’t seem to even be close to those of the other group members, nor did I share their vitriol and victimizing anyone who wasn’t “in-house” as some sort of outsider who should be avoided.

It was funny, because I realized that for a group that’s so committed to diversity and inclusion, they sure were quick to embrace an “us versus them” mentality that led them to placing barriers for entry on anyone who didn’t meet their definition of what a “recruiter” needed to be to be involved.

This, I thought, was fascinating. And a bit sad, too.

Peace, Love & Understanding: We Are All Recruiters.

I know that perhaps in-house recruiters face slightly different challenges than their agency counterparts. They have to deal directly with hiring managers, juggle dozens of reqs and often hundreds of candidates, and, significantly, manage agency and vendor relations. When it comes to these subtle but significant differences,

I agree that it makes complete sense to try to limit your professional networking to people who sit in a similar seat, doing similar work and experiencing similar challenges. This means if you’re having a problem, chances are someone in the group has, too.

Chances are, they might even have figured out a solution.

It is unlikely, of course, corporate recruiters will share their secrets and lessons learned with their agency counterparts. These trade secrets are a competitive advantage. While most in-house recruiters have no issues sharing tips and tricks with each other, they’re not giving their playbook to the other team. It’s precisely this us versus them mentality, though, that’s the problem with our profession.

Recruiters need to realize that to most candidates, there’s no distinction between agency and in-house if the opportunity’s right. They just want the job. It’s our job to facilitate that result, which is why I find it asinine that we’re loathe to help each other accomplish that end.

Corporate recruiters can learn just as much from their agency counterparts as the other way round; by excluding agencies, we may feel like we’re protecting ourselves from the competition. The reality is that ongoing collaboration and open conversation are how we can all become better at recruitment.

Diversity is predicated on different experiences and perspectives. By excluding recruiters from recruiting groups, events or networking opportunities, we’re implicitly saying that we don’t practice what we preach when we pontificate about inclusion. Which, of course, in-house recruiters tend to do quite a lot of.

Pump It Up: How Recruiters Can Actually Impact Diversity.

We need to find a common language if we’re going to engage in meaningful dialogue, but that’s never going to happen if the only time we ever interact is during some sort of sales pitch.

It felt amazing to finally be included in the in-house recruiter group I joined after making the move over from agency recruitment, and I kind of felt like I was finally getting let into an exclusive club.

I was one of the cool kids. But then I realized that since many of my best friends and closest connections are, in fact, agency recruiters, they couldn’t come along with me.

They might be allowed to come to a handful of events, but even with a ticket in the door, their access to the content and conversation was still restricted. Not that they probably cared to sit there and listen to people incessantly badmouth agency recruiters.

I can’t blame them, because increasingly, the bitch sessions are starting to bother me. Things got so bad at one particular event that I found myself having to defend agency recruiters. We’ve all needed to throw that Hail Mary before, and if not for agency recruiters, some of our most difficult reqs would likely never get filled.

No matter if they’re slight nuisances, they’re also necessities – and not necessarily necessary evils, either. Some of the best recruiters I know work for agencies, and consider in-house recruitment as laughably easy, the destination for those failed agency recruiters who just couldn’t cut it in the cutthroat world of third party recruiting.

My defense of agency recruiters instantly reverted me back to my former status as an outsider; if I was for third party recruiters, they were against me. Even my perfunctory defense or balanced opinion about agency recruiters made the group start treating me differently. Their conversations became more guarded when I was around. Any time agency recruiters were bashed, someone inevitably would look at me with some sort of sneer.

You may think this is just me being paranoid or overly self-conscious. You would probably be right. But if the goal of inclusion is to make everyone feel welcome, that I feel so ostracized by my own colleagues and professional peer group means that when it comes to diversity, our industry has failed.

We have no one to blame but ourselves. If we can’t get it right, what hope do we have of achieving any sort of meaningful diversity and inclusion initiative for our employers?

Most of us think we’re part of the solution, but the truth is, we’re a big part of the problem.

About the Author: Kasia Borowicz is currently a Social Recruiting Trainer at Lightness, where she helps companies develop employer branding and recruitment marketing capabilities through training and consulting.

Kasia started her career at Alexander Mann Solutions in a variety of sourcing related roles, most recently as a Lead Sourcing Specialist, Talent Management/Internal Resourcing, where she was responsible for client delivery while developing and training the company’s internal sourcing team.

She has also served in a number of in-house sourcing and recruiting roles for companies such as Bank of America/Merrill Lynch, Mansion House Consulting and The Sandpit, where she served as Head of Talent.

Kasia also is actively involved with the Poland Sourcing Community and blogs about a wide variety of recruiting topics on her own blog, A Sourcer’s Perspective.

Follow Kasia on Twitter @kmborowicz or connect with her on LinkedIn.




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