It’s not difficult to see how the recent Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decision on Affirmative Action in college admissions could embolden opponents of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives in the workplace — not just for race, but for gender and other groups, as well. Although it’s too soon to tell what that impact will be, it would not be surprising to find companies treading more carefully in this area to avoid the possibility of litigation, putting negative pressure on diversity in the workplace. But there are other forces at work that are exerting pressure in the opposite direction. The current tight labor market is making it hard for companies to fill positions, creating fierce competition for talent. Although the labor market has eased a little, companies are still struggling to find talent, with millions fewer applicants than there are jobs to be filled. In this article we’ll explore trends and methods that affect the recruiting process by creating a larger pool of applicants to pull from and in doing so make DEI an irresistible force in the marketplace.

Before the SCOTUS decision, DEI initiatives were and remain a top priority in many organizations’ HR policies and plans, because by actively promoting DEI, companies can create a more equitable and inclusive workplace, foster innovation and gain a competitive edge. From our perspective as managers of job information, understanding the work that individuals do is critical. The building blocks of job information like skills, competencies and other key job elements can be manipulated and optimized for effective recruiting and meaningful impact on DEI. It’s through this lens that we’ll be examining this topic. We’ll explore the significance and business benefits of DEI in the hiring process as well as strategies to increase diversity and implement inclusive recruitment practices while also helping to fill your open positions.

Why DEI is important in Recruiting

Most would agree that bringing together individuals from different backgrounds results in diversity of thought and methodology which can lead to more creative problem-solving and innovative ideas. Diversity brings with it a wider range of skills, competencies and approaches to solving problems that make for broader, more well-reasoned solutions. Diversity can aid expansion into diverse markets and has been demonstrated to enhance financial performance. According to McKinsey, diversity correlates with better financial performance with a +15% for ethnic diversity and a +35% for gender diversity. Also, an inclusive workplace helps to foster an environment where all feel valued.  Inclusivity can positively impact your brand as well as result in improved employee engagement. All these factors create a positive impact on recruiting. According to Bonusly, 67% of job seekers consider workplace diversity an important factor.

Pay/Opportunity Equity

Pay and opportunity equity are at the core of how employees and applicants see your company. If your company is regarded as equitable, then it will enhance your brand and make attracting applicants a bit easier. Much of how your company is perceived relies on paying employees equitably. In many states this is not only important from a recruiting brand perspective, but it is the law. The legislation in most all states is written the same way, requiring equal pay for “substantially similar” work. The concept of substantially similar work requires a granular understanding of the work people do, including the essential functions of the job; the knowledge, skills and abilities required to do the job; and the effort needed to be successful. Accurate and up-to-date job descriptions are the record of truth from which to gather this information.

Often pay equity projects will use taxonomy or classification schemes to group jobs together for analysis. Taxonomy does not guarantee that there are no jobs in other categories that are “substantially similar” to the cohort of jobs you are analyzing. Taxonomy is simply not enough. Using job title is also risky. Many organizations use job titles like program manager or project manager which sound similar but can be quite different.  Automated tools that analyze similarity between jobs based on the language within them are your best bet here.

In addition to pay equity, opportunity equity should be considered.  Opportunity equity often depends on understanding the career paths open to employees in your organization and the progression of employees in different cohorts through them. Career pathing tools, if you have them, are useful in understanding progressions and promotion, and level reclassification history are the substrate for analysis.

Diversity and Inclusion

In the current labor market diversity and inclusion can provide significant advantages beyond just a positive brand perception in the market. Does your company, like many out there, have ongoing vacancies that you have trouble filling? An obvious solution is to expand the talent pool you recruit from. It is important to understand the process of self-elimination. This is where an applicant will read your job posting and decide that the job is not for them. Self-elimination is a major factor that can diminish the talent base you recruit from. We will describe methods that will help you keep applicants reading your postings and applying for your jobs while pulling in more diverse candidates as well.

Debiasing Job Descriptions

The broadest applicant pool is achieved by using unbiased language and writing postings that appeal to all qualified candidates regardless of gender, ethnicity, age or disability. Including language unfriendly or off-putting to any people in these categories will reduce your candidate pool and limit diversity. These can be overt like gendered job titles or pronouns, but also can be more subtle by using words that have connotative bias.


  • Aggressive/assertive (skews male).
  • Nurturing/empathetic (skews female).
  • Youthful energy/dynamic (skews young).
  • Seasoned (skews older).
  • Walk/lift/carry (skews non-disabled).
  • Understanding of local traditions (skews toward member of dominant culture)

We’ve also found that incomprehensible jargon or acronyms or excessive superlatives can also have the same limiting effect on your talent pool as biased terms. Debiasing is a skill you can get better at with practice, but automated tools are often your best bet. Look for this capability in your ATS or Job Description management software.

Skills-based Recruiting

The effect of bias language in job postings is real but often subtle. In skills-based recruiting we’re trying to court people who are self-eliminating due to the requirements in the job posting itself. This involves restructuring the job posting to cast a wider net to help fill those hard to fill jobs and attract a more diverse set of applicants.  Before we get into the details, here are some statistics you should keep in mind:

  • 10.1 million job openings now (High)
  • Current unemployment rate is 3.7 (low)
  • Number of unemployed persons per job opening 0.6 (low)
  • 67% of the US populations does not have a 4-year degree.

The labor market is still very hot with lots of vacancies, and slightly more than half the number of applicants needed to fill them. So, applicants self-eliminating can drastically limit your ability to fill those vacancies.

Skills based recruiting is aimed at reducing the number of applicants that disqualify themselves due to requirements in your job postings. The goal is to attract those that have the skills to do the job and diminish other requirements that impede them from applying. The result will be a larger talent pool and as you eliminate barriers the talent you attract will be more diverse as well. There are several steps you need to take to accomplish this:

  • Remove education requirements from your job posting if possible. Eliminating this requirement will promote those without a college degree to apply.
  • Remove experience requirements from you job postings. Applicants will lose interest in your posting if they feel they don’t measure up to the experience requirements. Often experience gaps on a resume reflect life events that might be easily explained in an interview.
  • Include and focus on the skills needed to perform the job.
  • Add competencies to attract those that possess the innate capabilities to learn the skills needed to do the job.

Applicants scan through dozens or hundreds of job postings. So, applicants may spend only a few seconds reviewing your posting. The object of skills-based recruiting is to have skills right near the top of the posting and eliminate the barriers of education and experience requirements to pull applicants into your job posting and apply. Competencies usually follow skills, so the applicants that may not have all of the skills needed to do the job may see themselves reflected in these competencies and thus also be pulled in. Applicants with the underlying competencies can be trained in the skills needed to do the job and should also be considered for hard to fill spots. All these changes result in a more inclusive job posting and a more diverse candidate pool from which to recruit.

Despite the Supreme Court’s decision on Affirmative Action, prioritizing DEI in the hiring process is crucial for organizations aiming to build a competitive advantage. By implementing strategies to reduce bias, and adopting inclusive recruitment practices as we’ve discussed, businesses can unlock numerous benefits, including enhanced creativity, perspective, decision-making and innovation. And by applying some of the techniques described in this article, you can also reap the benefit of filling those open positions, ultimately positioning your company for long-term success.

Don Berman

Don has spearheaded the adoption of HR and talent management applications and technology driven best practices at large and mid-sized companies throughout the U.S and abroad. He was also instrumental at evolving the focus of JDXpert’s Talent Management platform toward a job description-centric model that resulted in JDXpert becoming the market leader in job description management solutions.