Grow From Within

Recovery from the global recession has prompted high-performance companies to re-engage in the war for global talent with vigor. They want the smartest, most dedicated, innovative talent at every job level, and diversity and inclusion initiatives are increasingly shown to attract not only more diverse hires, but top talent with these attributes.

Employers looking to dominate today’s talent war are fully prepared to embrace and accommodate diversity in every form to secure the workers they need — including experienced older workers. Seasoned workers are as in-demand as the fresh perspectives and skills of those new to the job market.

If there is delineation regarding what makes one diversity hire more desirable than another, it’s that golden triangle of a global mindset, cultural competency and emerging market experience. Global expansion — as much as demographic shifts — is consistently a driver for diversity efforts, so if there’s talent in an emerging market, there’s plenty of demand to meet the supply.

High-performance companies — based on measures of revenue growth, profitability, market share and customer satisfaction — are snapping up the best talent from all groups, according to the Institute for Corporate Productivity’s (i4cp) March 2011 research report “Inclusion Measurement: Policies and Practices of High-Performance Organizations” (Editor’s note: The authors work for i4cp). Further, an earlier i4cp study on the “12 Diversity Practices of High-Performance Organizations” found that these companies have broader definitions of diversity, meaning their search for diverse talent goes well beyond traditionally underrepresented groups and embraces the concept of diverse thinking, lifestyles, backgrounds and experiences (Figure 1).

This finding does not, however, signal that building up traditionally underrepresented and protected workforce segments is less important. It signifies that diversity — particularly the recruiting aspect — is maturing to encompass not only employees’ obvious outward traits, but the abilities these individuals bring to the table as critical business resources.
A broadened definition acts like a stone for diversity recruiters to hone their search criteria on — more so than traditional demographic characteristics and a desire for parity with an organization’s customer base or community demographics. Diversity adds little if it only serves to bring together people of varied ethnic/racial groups, gender and physical ability who share an approach to achieving identical goals. While there is a business impact for diversity in the narrower confines of boosting representation among underrepresented groups, the more forward-thinking and strategic driver is in expanding the talent base to solve problems and achieve organizational goals.

If there’s a prime driver for sourcing diverse talent from all corners — as well as one for embracing a diversity definition that includes thinking, lifestyles, backgrounds and experiences — it’s the business imperative for innovation and the knowledge that diverse perspectives are the foundation of an innovative culture. This has become an increasingly intentional driver in recent years. I4cp’s July 2011 “Innovate or Perish — Building a Culture of Innovation” report states that innovative thinkers throughout history are well known for the breadth and depth of their interests. The diversity of ideas and concepts swirling around them is often the genesis for ideas that have taken the world by storm.

Building the Right Environment
Creative thinking isn’t exclusively the purview of renaissance geniuses and jack-of-all-trades journeymen. To re-create their mix of interest, energy and know-how, high-performance companies bring together groups representing diverse experiences, perspectives and backgrounds to support generation of innovative ideas. They understand that it’s not just diverse ideas that are important, but also an inclusive environment and culture that leverages input from unlikely sources, values diverse ideas, allows mistakes to be made and learned from, and breaks down silos to promote collaborative breakthroughs.

Another thing innovative and diverse talent have in common is that like attracts like. The “Innovate or Perish” report highlights that referrals and monitoring graduate program achievements are useful ways to locate candidates who have the greatest correlation with innovation success. Referrals and college recruitment are also the best ways to locate diverse talent and diverse thinking, making them a major emphasis for diversity recruitment in organizations looking for top talent. As a search method for innovative talent, i4cp found that 16 percent of high-performance organizations use referrals to a high or very high extent, compared with only 3 percent of lower performers. Eleven percent of high-performance organizations search for and track innovative people in graduate school and other organizations; this strategy’s use drops to 2 percent among lower performers.

Effective diversity and inclusion programs are completely talent-centric; compliance-based diversity hiring and diversity for its own sake is pass?. While there may be a flavor of the week for those experts who regularly write about the issue of workplace diversity — such as the current trend set off by the drawdown of U.S. military personnel and an 18 percent increase in veterans employee resource groups in the last year — high-performance organizations focus on talent rather than labels. I4cp data showed that nearly twice as many high-performance companies say attracting top talent is part of the primary business case for their diversity initiatives than lower performers.

Employers know that diversity and an inclusive culture help to build an employment brand to attract even more talent, but they aren’t forcing it. According to data from i4cp’s 2010 “Inclusion Measurement Policies and Practices Report,” inclusion programs are driven by the need to acquire and retain talent — the top driver among high performers at 75 percent — not the other way around (Figure 2).

For organizations that successfully find and recruit the talent they need, it’s an inside job. The right overall workplace culture must exist to support the conduits through which companies find the right talent — from employee resource groups to mentoring and developmental programs. To support this, organizations looking to dominate in the war for diverse talent are empowering their employee resource groups, challenging them to engage with outreach and referral programs, as well as asking them to help with marketing, on-boarding and mentoring.
Inclusion is a major component of these organizations’ efforts, with an emphasis on cultural competency development and top-down support for not only diversity, but for any initiative that allows employees to bring their full selves to the workplace. This can include flexible work arrangements, flexible benefits and many other activities that integrate with engagement and retention efforts.

Building this type of culture also requires that organizations first develop best strategies to identify and address barriers that may exist. This is critical to promote and sustain a culture of trust and credibility, one that acknowledges differences and embraces them. These organizations have leaders who model inclusivity every day; they demonstrate the value of differences and respect for individualism, and their workforces are diverse at every level, all the way up to the board.

Companies are partnering with organizations such as INROADS, a nonprofit focused on identifying, developing and placing diverse talent, for help creating a diversity recruiting-friendly environment. INROADS helps organizations such as Procter & Gamble, Deloitte and MetLife access diverse talent through early identification and continuous leadership development. Organizations such as INROADS work with corporate partners to identify future business needs as well as high-potential employees who might contribute to meeting those needs.

Candidates Care About Diversity Too
Companies continue to source diverse talent via traditional routes such as employee resource groups, professional networking groups and college campuses even as they explore new diversity recruiting methods. When putting together a talent strategy it’s important to remember that today’s candidates care about whom they work for more than ever. They want to feel good about their employers, and organizations with solid foundations in diversity and corporate social responsibility are going to have a leg up when it comes to attracting key talent.

This is more than setting up a table at a career fair. Organizations should get out into the community and make visible, consistent, meaningful contributions via volunteer work, scholarships, coaching and mentoring, philanthropic giving and other activities that demonstrate commitment to and investment in the community in which they do business and where their employees live locally and globally.

The benefits of developing relationships and partnering with nonprofit community organizations and schools can be great because the good that results from these efforts reverberates and continues to grow over time. Further, these efforts can be showcased on a corporate website and be part of a detailed and focused candidate career portal. The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found in a 2011 study that organizations with formal diversity recruitment efforts are more successful at hiring, and more than 90 percent of the respondents to the NACE’s survey reported that they use career fairs and their corporate website to brand their organizations to students.

Organizations are also finding success in attracting military veterans by emphasizing their efforts to promote diversity and inclusion, specifically demonstrating that they are sensitive to veterans’ needs.

Most organizations know where and how to find the talent they need, but talent pools are limited. The shortage likely will increase given the number of college graduates produced in the U.S. That means organizations will have to prove they are a place where a candidate can feel good working and play a valued role.

Eric Davis is i4cp’s senior editor and primary research expert and writer on diversity-related topics. Lorrie Lykins is i4cp’s managing editor and director of research services and a contributing author to The ASTD Leadership Handbook. They can be reached at