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The DEI ‘Diversity Pipeline’ Issue is a Myth

November 3, 2021
5 min read

The DEI ‘Diversity Pipeline’ Issue is a Myth

It’s time that we stopped letting companies use it as a sad excuse for their diversity recruiting failures.

When asked about why they aren’t getting as many applications, many employers will blame a ‘pipeline problem,’ claiming that there just aren’t enough qualified diverse candidates.

The idea of a pipeline problem is simply not true. In fact, a USA Study from 2014 highlights that colleges and universities are graduating Black and Latinx computer science students at twice the rate that companies are hiring them. The study is five years old, and it’s safe to assume that the number of minority students graduating with STEM degrees has only gone up, while the number of minorities being hired by tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple has not seen much improvement.

Poor diversity recruiting numbers can almost certainly be attributed to at least one of two causes: laziness in recruiting efforts, or bias in the hiring process.

Lazy DEI diversity pipeline recruiting efforts

If you recruit from the same sources every year, you’re likely to get the same type of candidates. When top firms want to recruit talent, they go to prestigious colleges and universities — many companies don’t even have recruiting programs at universities that don’t routinely crack the top 30 in the annual college rankings.

It makes sense that a great company would go to a great school to find talent. The problem is, for a variety of reasons, the student populations at these schools are overwhelmingly white and male. What’s worse, the minority students at these schools are often ill-prepared for the recruiting process compared to their non-minority student counterparts.

When I worked with my company’s diversity campus recruiting team at my alma mater, UNC-Chapel Hill, my first thought was to go back to the business school because that’s where I had most of my connections. When I got there, I remembered something: there are very few Black students at the business school. I then turned to the Black organizations on campus like the fraternities, sororities, and student clubs. When I spoke to the students, it was clear that they were capable of succeeding in corporate roles, but they were very unprepared. The students, many juniors and seniors, didn’t have their resumes ready, let alone an idea of what industries they were interested in. I suspect that this theme isn’t exclusive to UNC.

If companies are going to get serious about their minority recruiting efforts, they have to broaden the talent pools that they recruit from.

“But we just can’t find them!”

Well… did… did you look?

There are literally organizations whose sole mission is to place historically underrepresented groups in corporate positions. At the very least, companies can work with these organizations and invite their members to apply to open positions. If firms want to go a step further, they can work to set up the infrastructure needed to get even more minorities prepared for positions in the fields that they’ve been excluded from. One of my personal favorite organizations working to increase the number of diverse students in STEM is America on Tech.

Non DEI Diversity Compliant, Biased hiring processes

After broadening your recruiting pools, the next step is to analyze your hiring process. A typical hiring process is as follows:

1. Application received

2. Resume screened

3. Behavioral/technical interview

4. Culture fit interview

5. Final decision

This process, as simple as it may seem, can be rife with inequality that hurts the chances of diverse candidates. Take a look:

Pipeline myth graphic

1. Application received — it’s been proven that women and racial minorities are less likely to apply for a job if they don’t meet all of the listed criteria. This means that many diverse candidates won’t even apply to a role because, whether it’s true or not, don’t believe they have what it takes to succeed.

2. Resume screened — resume screenings are typically done by an HR manager, which, unfortunately, creates opportunity for biases to creep in. Simply put: “Latisha and Jamal do not get the same number of callbacks as Emily and Greg.

3. Behavioral/technical interview — people are taught to have casual conversations with their interviewers to show that they’re personable. For minorities, who often don’t have many shared experiences with their interviewers, these casual conversations can be difficult. This ultimately can make a minority a less favorable candidate than a non-minority who has more in common with the interviewer.

4. Culture fit interview — these interviews are designed to gauge how well a candidate will fit in with the existing company culture. But if companies are trying to diversify their workforces, shouldn’t they look for candidates that can add to their existing cultures, instead of just fitting in?

5. Final decision — if the final decision is down to just a few candidates, assuming all qualifications are equal, hiring managers might make the final decision based on who they have the “best feeling” about, or in other words, who they connected with. People are most likely to connect with people that similar to them, meaning minorities might once again get the short end of the stick.

With all of these opportunities for biased decision-making, it’s easier to understand how diverse candidates have struggled to make their way into these some fields.

The key theme for these problems is human interaction. Human beings are naturally biased, and it’s important to acknowledge and accept that fact. The best way that companies can deal with this bias, and ultimately improve their minority recruiting numbers, is to remove the human interaction whenever possible. Consider using a blind resume screener that looks strictly at a candidate’s credentials. For interviewing, companies can introduce take-home assignments that give a candidate an opportunity to showcase their abilities but removes the pressure to connect with the interviewer. For those steps in the process where human interaction is unavoidable, the best thing to do is make sure that there are multiple people with different perspectives reviewing an application; don’t leave the interviews or hiring decisions up to a sole manager.

Imagine a company that hadn’t hit its sales targets for the last ten quarters and tried to blame it on not having enough viable clients to sell to. The board would be up in arms; there would be calls for the CEO to step down; stock prices and brand reputation would take major hits. It would be code red for everyone involved with that company.

If companies are as serious about inclusion and diversity efforts as they claim to be on Instagram, then they shouldn’t blame a lack of diverse talent on something as ridiculous as a ‘pipeline problem.’ They would do some self-reflection (and probably some personnel changes) to find out why so few minorities want to work there.

Let’s keep it 100: companies that blame poor diversity recruiting numbers on the pipeline don’t value diversity. Period. There are ample resources available to help firms increase their range and bring in a more diverse talent pool, but companies are choosing to ignore them so they can keep using the same tired excuses. Someday, we’re going to start holding these companies accountable for their poor diversity numbers the same way we would if they missed sales targets; I just hope that day comes sooner rather than later.

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