Diversity Recruitment and
Retention Strategies

See also: Selecting and Recruiting Skills

The value of having a diverse workforce is well-known. More diverse teams and organisations consistently outperform less diverse ones in almost every way, including financially. However, taking steps to increase diversity is not always straightforward. First you have to recruit a more diverse group of people—and then you have to retain them. There is also the important question of ‘critical mass’.

This page provides some practical tips and strategies for recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce. It includes good practice for job advertisements and interviewing. It also covers retention strategies such as employee development and mentoring programmes.

Understanding Diversity—and its Importance

Diversity means difference.

Diverse teams and groups therefore include a range of different types of people.

In 1981, Dr Meredith Belbin suggested that teams functioned better if they had people who were prepared to take on different roles. For example, teams needed someone who had ideas, someone who managed the group process, someone who led the group, and someone who was responsible for completing tasks (there is more about this in our page on Group Roles). The value of diversity in terms of group functioning has therefore been understood for at least 40 years.

However, it is also clear that teams that are diverse in other ways also perform better.

Our page on Diversity in Teams and Groups notes that research shows that more diverse organisations have better financial returns. For example, a report by McKinsey found that businesses that were in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in their management structure were 35% more likely to have above average financial returns for their industry. Those in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to have above average financial returns.

It is likely that working with people who are different from us challenges us to think in different ways. It seems to expose bias more readily, and alert us to the importance of examining evidence more carefully.

It is therefore important for organisations to take steps to increase their diversity through better recruitment and retention strategies.

Tips for Better (More Diverse) Recruitment and Retention

1. Know your current status

The first step towards improving anything is to know your current situation.

Make sure that you have good, reliable data about your current levels of diversity by age, gender, background, and any other measure that seems important to you. It is also worth looking at different levels of the organisation and different types of roles. Very often organisations find that they have a good gender or racial balance overall, but when they look more closely, most of the women and other minority groups are concentrated in the lower half of the organisational hierarchy, or in particular job types.

It is also worth taking a look at the pool of applicants for recent job advertisements. Who has been responding?

This will tell you something about where your recruitment process might need to change. For example, if you are attracting a diverse field of candidates, but then keep appointing the same types of people, you should probably look at your interviewing process. However, if you are not attracting a very diverse field, then you may need to look at where and how you advertise.

Finally, it is valuable to consider turnover.

Do you perhaps recruit a diverse range of people, but only certain people stay? This will tell you that the organisation needs to change to create a more inclusive culture. It is no good establishing a strong diversity recruiting strategy if you cannot then retain those people.

TOP TIP! Leavers’ interviews can give you a lot of ‘soft’ information

Leavers’ interviews are a very good source of information about why people are leaving your organisation. People have very little to lose when they are leaving, so they are more likely to be truthful about why they are going, and what might have encouraged them to stay.

2. Know what you want to achieve

The second step is to know your goals.

“A more diverse workforce” is a reasonable and broad general goal. However, you also need to know whether you are targeting particular roles or levels, and which metrics are important to you. This makes it easier to ensure that your recruiting strategy will have the required effect.

3. Review your company values and policies

It is important that your company values, mission, goals and policies reflect the value that you place on diversity.

People look at company statements as a way to gauge the type of employer, and what it will be like to work there. It is worth reviewing your company statements and values, together with policies, to ensure that they reflect the value that you place on diversity.

Not reviewing your policies is a statement in itself—and not a very positive one

It is worth saying here that deciding not to review or change your policies actually says a great deal about how much the organisation values diversity.

Refusal to act is an action in itself—and suggests that you are only paying lip service to the idea of a more diverse workforce.

Changes that are worth considering are those that permit more flexible working, especially around religious holidays, or to accommodate family commitments. You might also set up new ways to obtain employee feedback or suggestions, to ensure that you hear quickly if there are any problems.

On a more mundane level, have a look at your company website, especially any photos. Does it showcase a diverse workforce? If not, it would be a good idea to make some changes.

4. Build more diverse selection and recruitment panels

One important way to reduce bias of any kind in recruitment is to build more diverse panels to select and recruit for jobs.

This can be challenging if you are recruiting at a level where there are few people of different types. However, you can always ask someone from another organisation—a partner, perhaps, or a customer—to join the panel.

You could also set up a diversity advisory panel to look at job advertisements, interview questions and other materials for recruitment.

Involve people from a wide range of backgrounds, and at different levels in the company, and ask them to review your materials and comment on any issues that occur to them. For example, are you looking for characteristics that are more likely to be shown by people from certain groups? This will help to surface any unconscious bias in your recruitment processes.

TOP TIP! If you don’t have enough people, involve your partners and customers

There is no rule that says that recruitment must only involve people from inside your organisation. If you don’t have a diverse enough group of people to provide advice, ask your partners and customers to get involved too.

5. Review your recruitment materials

If you are not attracting a very diverse field of candidates in response to job advertisements, it is worth looking at where and how you are advertising jobs.

You may be wording them in such a way that they only attract certain candidates. For example, men are more likely to respond positively to words such as ‘driven’ and ‘competitive’ in the person specification. Women are more likely to relate to words like ‘cooperation’ and teamwork’. This is not an absolute—but there are clear gender differences in what people look for in a job.

You may also be advertising in places where your posts are more likely to be seen by certain groups. You may even be selecting for characteristics that are more likely in certain groups (for example, experience in certain sectors or fields). A diversity advisory group could help you to pick up on these issues, and make your advertisements more attractive to a broader field of candidates.

6. Develop targeted internship programmes

One way to ensure that you have a diverse pool of potential candidates is to develop targeted internship or work shadowing programmes for particular groups.

This is obviously easier for larger organisations, but still has potential in smaller ones. It allows people from disadvantaged groups the opportunity to develop the skills that you want and get to know the organisation as a good place to work. It also gives you a chance to get to know them.

7. ‘Blind’ your recruitment processes

It is good practice to ensure that your selection processes are ‘blind’ to characteristics such as age, race or gender.

To do this, you need to remove names, gender, ages and other similar information from all the applications or CVs before any kind of sift takes place. Those selecting candidates for interview should not see that information at all until after the selection has taken place. You might even consider removing information about education and previous jobs or employers, so that the selection takes place solely on the basis of skills or competences.

If you want your candidates to carry out a test of some kind, the results of that should also be provided ‘blind’ as part of the selection process.

Obviously interviews themselves cannot be blinded, but you can at least ensure that the interviewees are selected solely on the basis of their competences.

8. Use interview panels, rather than one-to-one interviews

In interviewing, several heads are better than one—not least because that reduces inadvertent bias in the process.

It is worth using two to three interviewers to carry out each interview as a way to reduce bias. Not all the interviewers need to ask questions; some can be there solely as observers, to manage the process of the interview, or to take notes while the candidate is answering questions. It can be disconcerting for a candidate to be faced with an interview panel if they were not expecting that. The invitation to interview should therefore make clear whether the interview is a panel or one-to-one.

There is more about panel interviews, including the roles required, in our page on Interviewing Skills.

9. Develop your own diverse talent pool through targeted employee development programmes

This comes back to the question of your goals in broadening diversity of recruitment and retention.

If you have a problem with diversity at higher levels of your organisation, but have reasonable diversity overall, then targeted employee development programmes may be the answer.

This will allow you to select and develop a diverse group of employees with potential to move up the organisation. Employee development programmes provide mentoring, support and skills development to those on the programme. They therefore help them to develop the skills they need to move upwards. They also ensure that those in the group are seen as potential candidates by both those higher up the organisation, and themselves. Self-doubt can often be a serious barrier to seeking promotion.

10. Provide everyone with opportunities for development

Targeted development programmes are a good way to increase diversity at higher levels in your company. However, the best organisations also provide everyone with opportunities for development.

Options like job crafting and job enrichment mean that people can tailor their jobs to better fit their skills and interests, and also help them to develop. This improves employee engagement, and in turn supports productivity and retention. There are other ideas about the types of opportunities that interest people in our page on Career Management: Creating and Exploring Possibilities.

Mentoring programmes are another way to support individual development that have little cost to the organisation. They are particularly valuable because they are driven by the individuals involved, so are more likely to meet their needs.

The key is to work with employees to find win–win solutions: ways to develop their skills that still meet the organisation’s needs for work to be done. It is not always easy, but it works, because it treats everyone as an individual, and recognises that their needs are not all the same.