Build Community for More Workforce Diversity

Demography is destiny, and for years now, organizations have come to recognize the continued march of diversity within American society.

Recent U.S. Census projections indicate the country will have a majority-minority population by 2043, meaning the combined numbers of Asian, Hispanic and African-Americans will outnumber the white population.

At younger ages, the transition will come much sooner than many think. For children under age 18, the magic year is 2018. That puts pressure on organizations to make workplace diversity and inclusion, particularly in recruitment, a top priority.

The call for more diversity and complaint about the lack of diverse candidates have been a “steady drumbeat” among HR leaders during the last 12-14 months, said Bill Sebra, North America president at Futurestep, a talent management consultancy and division of Korn/Ferry International. He expects the tempo to increase in 2013 as organizations realize the demographic reality but also the performance benefits of workforce diversity.

“The more diverse the organization is, the stronger the organization performs financially,” he said, citing a study that showed a 33 percent performance advantage diverse organizations enjoy over their competitors.

As the demographics of an increasingly diverse population become clear, the labor market forces constraining organizations are coming into focus as well. The picture isn’t pretty. There simply aren’t enough diverse candidates available in fields such as engineering and consulting or in critical management positions.

“In mid-tier managers, there is a critical shortage in virtually every organization, particularly for female professionals,” Sebra said.

Organizations that are setting what they see as achievable diversity goals are consistently failing to achieve them. Sebra cites one client that for several years running has aimed for 29 percent representation of women in its software and consulting business.

“On the surface you would think that was a very achievable goal, but they’ve not achieved it ever,” he said.

The problem in this case is a mismatch between the demands of the job — frequent travel and long hours — and conflicting personal and family commitments of many qualified female candidates.

To Build Diversity, Think Community
For talent managers, building greater workforce diversity requires a long-term approach that puts an emphasis on finding and attracting a diverse slate of candidates to join the company. It starts with a clear strategy and outreach to targeted communities, such as groups like Women In Technology. Talent managers should also look to their internal talent to act as representatives of the organization.

“Leverage the female executives or the diverse executives you have in the firm already,” Sebra said. “Get those folks out in the market. Let it be known that this is a great place to work and why.”

Candidates want to hear the real story about working at the company and see there are people like them who have achieved success. Leveraging internal talent to deliver that message ensures the organization is fishing in the right pond, Sebra said.

“You have to understand where the applicants live, what gets them excited about joining an organization or enterprise,” he said. “You’ve got to work that particular target audience with a little different strategy than you would your general population and you’ve got to capitalize on that.”

Quotas are being used more often, particularly at the board level, where the European Union is working to enact a requirement that 40 percent of corporate board positions be filled with women. But more important is that a goal or quota is backed up by an inclusive management approach, one that is welcoming of diverse perspectives and backgrounds.

“The key is getting focused on networking and pushing into those markets to make sure you’re being very inclusive, to make sure that we are sourcing in those places and carrying that message home. A lot of this comes back to the enterprise,” Sebra said.

Attracting and retaining diverse candidates comes down to creating an environment that they want to be a part of and then using those success stories to build a rich talent community. Sebra said recruiters need to take a different approach, moving away from a requisition-centric model based on immediate job role needs to a more purposeful talent-centric model where talent managers “look at the best talent in the market and then figure out where they fit in my enterprise.”

Professional sports teams do this well, he said, scouting for talent and potential first rather than filling an immediate hole in the player roster. Short-term spots will always need to be filled but the overarching goal is to view the long-term needs of the business needs.

“They are very intentional about being three, four or five years ahead of schedule about looking at the right talent so they can drive their enterprise forward, so they can take them to the playoffs,” he said.

Sebra recommended organizations identify critical job families, growth regions and needed skill sets two to three years into the future and then build a community of potential talent to fill those needs.

“We can do that with diverse populations, starting to get out and using a talent community model to get our message out to very specific groups of people, job families and locations.”

Like demographic trends, a vibrant talent community is slow developing and can take years to come to fruition. But once it gets moving, progress is inexorable and self-sustaining. That’s a destiny to be desired.

Mike Prokopeak is the editorial director of Talent Management magazine. He can be reached at