How to Make Diversity in Hiring a Reality

Jun 23, 2021

In their quest to achieve better hiring and retention results, organizations see improving the speed and quality of hiring as a corporate imperative and are often ready to make significant changes to win the talent they need. This desire for improved results is not new, though: organizations have wanted to hire faster and better for a long time (often targeting skills that are in scarce supply). But they have struggled to do so well and consistently.

What’s new and different today is the fact that organizations are now genuinely interested in increasing the number of people of color—specifically Black talent—in leadership positions. The impetus for this shift was of course the murder of George Floyd, along with the subsequent high-profile Black Lives Matter awareness campaigns and marches world wide against systemic racism. Companies can no longer ignore the data:

  • Corporate America has a shockingly low number of Black leaders. (For example, Black CEOs lead fewer than 1 percent of Fortune 500 companies. 1)
  • Workplace diversity leads to improvements in enterprise value, innovation, and global economic outcomes. 2
  • Most workplace diversity initiatives fail to achieve their goals. 3

The confluence of these factors has inspired some organizations’ senior leaders to work harder than ever to make measurable and sustained improvements to the diversity of their workforces. Other organizations, however, don’t understand—or are unwilling to acknowledge—the work required to win and retain top Black talent, and instead are satisfied with simply moving a few Black people into high-visibility jobs.

Unfortunately, poor employment practices negatively affect Black employees more than their White counterparts. For example, when people are hired or promoted into leadership positions prematurely or inappropriately, they face far less criticism and pushback when they are White than when they are Black. Unlike White leaders in that situation, Black leaders have to deal with racism-based complaints (“See what happens when we put a Black person in a position like this?”) and sabotage (“They got hired over all these other people, so let them figure out how things work around here”), all of which harms not only them but also the overall workforce and the business.

Proper recruitment, selection, onboarding, and performance management routines are critical for the success of any new executive. This holds particularly true when companies seek to make their leadership ranks more diverse. The old routines that may have worked reasonably well with primarily White leaders must be examined and adapted to successfully and consistently win top, diverse talent. It’s time for companies to implement new strategies.

Conduct a diversity audit of the company’s recent and current workforces.

Analyze at least two years of hiring, internal movement, and attrition data by level, job type, geography, business unit, compensation, ethnicity, gender, age, and other relevant factors

  • What is the status of attrition, retention, and retirement of the current workforce?
  • What positions and skills are hard to find and retain—and why?
  • What are the organization’s trends related to diversity hiring, mobility, and retention?
  • What are the priority and specificity of diversity needs by business unit, location, level, etc.?

Determine workforce needs for the near future.

Key questions to answer include:

  • What is the optimal workforce profile (in terms of size, shape, mix, diversity, and capabilities) for the organization today compared to what it will need during the next two to three years?
  • What will the workforce require to meet the organization’s business objectives now and during the next two to three years?
  • What emerging technology and skills are critical to ensure business success and competitive advantage today and during the next two to three years?

Identify priority areas for workforce diversity.

Before using the future needs analysis to determine the priority areas for diversity hiring, first define what diversity means with regard to job type, location, etc. Does this mean women? Black people? Any person of color? Clarity on this issue is key to moving diversity hiring and retention outcomes forward.

Assess the organization’s current ability to win passive talent.

Because the competition for top talent remains fierce, any company that wants to hire more high-performing diverse employees needs to examine how it measures up in the following areas:

  • Prioritized, specific, measurable sourcing plans based on business demands
  • Broad research on industry competition for talent
  • A consistent and well-documented methodology for identifying, connecting with, and tracking high-performing passive talent
  • Developing talent pipelines and engagement levels over time for key roles
  • Working with hiring managers to successfully attract passive talent to consider the organization
  • Success in winning top passive talent that stays and performs well over time

Assess the organization’s current ability to effectively onboard and retain talent.

Because companies need to not only hire diverse talent but also ensure that it stays and performs well over time, they must assess their onboarding and retention practices. The data obtained by the initial diversity analysis will indicate where (in terms of geography, roles, levels, etc.) in the organization diversity hiring is succeeding and where it is failing. With this information, the company can answer the following questions:

  • Is there a structured and documented approach to onboarding that clearly defines roles, responsibilities, and measures of success?
  • Is there survey data from new hires that indicate the effectiveness of the onboarding experience?
  • Is the company successful at integrating new hires and helping them to become acclimated and productive quickly?
  • Do managers get personally involved in the orientation, assimilation, and development of their team members? (And are they held accountable for doing so?) Are these activities a stated investment priority for the organization?

The need for new approaches to achieve workplace diversity is clear. By taking bold steps to retool their hiring practices, organizations can make the shift from merely wanting to hire diverse talent to actually doing it.

1 Jeanne Sahadi. 2020. “After Years of Talking about Diversity, the Number of Black Leaders at US Companies Is Still Dismal.” CNN website, June 2,

2 Vijay Eswaran. 2019. “The Business Case for Diversity in the WWorkplace Is Now Overwhelming.” World Economic Forum website, April 29,

2 Lisa Leslie. 2020. “What Makes a Workplace Diversity Program Successful?” The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley website, January 21,

Written by: Linda Brenner

Subscribe to HR Connection

HR Connection Subscribe