Prominent Diversity Strategist Torin Ellis explains what it takes to build a genuinely effective D&I program
If there’s one hiring professional who knows how to revamp a diversity recruiting program, it’s Torin Ellis.
As a Diversity Strategist, Torin consults corporations on how to modernize their diversity and inclusion programs. He’s also the author of RIP the Resume and a contributor to SiriusXM with Karen Hunter.
I caught up with Torin to discuss how recruitment departments can fail, succeed, and evolve when it comes to building a diversity and inclusion program. Spoiler alert: diversity recruiting is not as simple as publishing a bold diversity statement on your website.
How much energy do you think companies are currently putting into building a diversity hiring program? And how much effort should they be putting in?
The measurement for how much energy depends on the company. Quite a few companies are merely paying lip service. Others are really seriously placing effort into their Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) program. For example, Intel allocated $300m over 10 years, but it’s not always about the money. As of the middle of last year – Intel diversity numbers were about the same as they were in 1998. Intel recognized they could allocate more resources, perhaps by putting more people on the ground in underserved communities. A signal that every organization can do more.
In terms of a diversity recruiting program, what do you think every company should be doing differently?
The one thing I’d change is less emphasis on technology and more emphasis on the engagement of people. Technology alone can’t solve your business problems. Far too many organizations are spending millions on tech thinking that is what causes the needle to move. Companies should edit the mindset of ‘technology will solve the problem.’ I believe people do the best job of hiring people. When we tell stories about our purpose, our customers and what our companies do, that’s when we attract candidates. When we focus on the people element of our companies, we move the needle. Nothing can beat an army of evangelists saying ‘this is the company to work with.’
What are the most progressive companies in terms of diversity recruiting? What traits unite these companies?
It’s the companies that are empowering their people to go out into the communities and make a difference. Organizations that are leveraging their employee resource groups (ERGs) to meaningfully engage with the underserved communities and underrepresented audiences, and companies that are enlarging their footprints with academic institutions.
Unfortunately many organizations only go and recruit from 10-15 universities. You can’t talk about lack of talent or war for talent if you’re only willing to go to 10 of the 105 historically black colleges. More organizations can get on campus, and even go so far as to collaborate on the building of the syllabus so that the students are more prepared for the workforce. That’s the depth of partnership between corporation and university that is possible.
What’s the most common error companies make in diversity recruiting?
Language. Many companies aren’t using inclusive language. A candidate should not have to fit into the company culture; the reason for prioritizing diversity is to benefit from what the candidate brings to the culture. Some of the language used by corporations prevents them from moving forward or attracting good quality candidates. A close second error would be the level of bias found in the talent journey.
How can the recruiting and HR department justify spending more on diversity recruiting to their bosses?
I think you look at a variety of levers with the intent of forming a value equation. Take the supply chain. There is value in doing business with organizations you haven’t worked with before based on their geography, internal efficiencies, quality of goods, etc. So you diversify your supply chain. There’s value in hiring from schools that are underserved or underresourced. Many dynamite additions to your team reside outside the incumbent regions you and your predecessors recruited from. You may find that the market is ripe with overlooked talent that can add creative spark and rewarding production at a lower cost per hire.. It all comes down to value. I’m not asking organizations to sacrifice value or bottom-line numbers. For the recruiting or HR leader, it comes down to crafting a story about the value of a D&I program. All this is precedented by leaders who are willing to take a chance. Leaders invest in new divisions, the development of new products, the testing of new marketing channels, etc. So this is nothing new, leaders are used to investing after shaping value. Put a metrics and a timeline in place and pursue a serious effort towards bettering your company’s diversity and inclusion.
How do corporations train their recruiters and hiring managers to minimize their biases?
The market is ripe with training programs for conscious and unconscious bias. I believe diversity training (at large) is a billion dollar industry. Where companies might invest more is around cultural sensitivity training, racial sensitivity training, and emotional intelligence (EQ) training. If more organizations spend time and money on these trainings, their employees will have a better understanding of how people operate and tick. These type of sessions leave teammates with increased or reinforced EQ, which can allow them to be more open and perceptive, vulnerable, and understanding.
Sometimes, companies like to brag about their diversity recruiting program more than executing their diversity recruiting program. Like Facebook. And others. How can you tell which companies are the real deal? And how can you tell if a company is just marketing diversity?
The ones that say they are making progress but aren’t actually doing much tend to be the ones with bold diversity statements on their D&I website pages and little mention or acknowledgement of diversity and inclusion across the rest of their website. They don’t consistently offer real data about the actual state of diversity in their organization. Is the company actually out and about in their community? Is leadership attending events with diverse audiences? Are employees volunteering? The difference to me is that some individuals and companies hide behind press and a digital presence while others are out in front, actively getting involved.
What definitive metrics gauge the success or failure of a company’s diversity recruiting program?
What I trust is transparency. The way one competitor does D&I may not work for your market, industry, or location, so you cannot necessarily compare your D&I program directly to your competitor’s. Overall, I don’t look at any one number, I look at a totality of effort.
It’s will over skill. Does your organization have the willpower to push diversity and inclusion forward? D&I is not just a recruiting and human resources initiative, it’s a company-wide initiative.
When you start working with a company to better their diversity and inclusion program, what’s the first thing you do?
It’s one of my trademarks – the first thing I do when I start work with an organization is to look at the meetings and travel schedule of the leadership team. If you are a leader and all you do is spend time at conferences and events that are familiar, or with people of limited diversity, I can tell where your company’s priorities are. If the leadership team is unwilling to diversify their own meetings and travel schedule, it’s going to be challenging to move real resources and time across every department within the company.
What kind of actions would qualify as a truly as an innovative diversity recruiting program?
I love to see organizations that are wholly involved. Doing different things. Many organizations may not be large enough to have a formal employee resource group (ERG) program, but that should not prevent a serious push towards D&I. There are many ways to be involved. Are employees spending a day a quarter in an underserved community? Is your company sending employees out to speak at high schools? Colleges? Is diversity and inclusion a priority across your entire website messaging and imagery, or is it tucked away in the corner on the right hand tab? If you’re doing it right, the fingerprint of diversity is across everything. Don’t separate your diversity candidates, they don’t want to be separated. They want to go through the recruiting portal like everybody else. They want to go through the interview process like everybody else. Be inclusive about how you implement your D&I program.
Looking ahead, how do you hope diversity recruiting functions differently in 10 years?
What I really hope is we are still having the conversation. Diversity and inclusion has no finish line. This is an ongoing thing, just like building high-performing teams or building businesses as a whole. In 10 years, I hope we are talking about diversity and inclusion – but in a much more promising and positive way.