Achieving Workplace Diversity: The Offer and Beyond

In two previous articles, we considered how to ensure diversity in your candidate pool and how to maintain it throughout the interview process. In this third and final installment, we offer some strategies you can use at the offer stage and beyond to increase your chances of successfully hiring your target demographic and keeping them on board. Let’s start by examining the offer.

Onboarding by Jeff Lowe, Flickr

Flexible Offers

Your default offer probably favors the demographic you have traditionally attracted. In other words, it was designed to support the staffing imbalance you are now trying to correct. To address this, think about the candidate personas you’ve created and what you defined as being important to those target candidates, and then design your offer around those priorities. This is especially important when your target demographic is:

  • female, since women are less inclined to ask for what they want in a salary negotiation;
  • a visible minority, since they know “the [job] market provides less insurance [for them] than it does for equally skilled whites,”[1] making them less likely to push for desired changes to an offer; or
  • a candidate with  a disability, since both employment rates and incomes are substantially lower in this demographic[2], which makes them more economically vulnerable and less inclined to negotiate.

In modifying your offer to suit the priorities of your target demographic, be as flexible as possible. Here are a few ways you might modify an offer to appeal to various target demographics:

  • If you typically offer a certain number of holidays around a default religion (e.g. Christmas and Easter), allow candidates to select the same number of alternate religious holidays.
  • If you typically include a specified number of sick days and a specified number of personal days, offer instead a pool of “days off” that the candidate can use as they see fit. This allows parents, caregivers and people with broader medical needs to meet those needs without having to repeatedly explain themselves.
  • Conversely, a younger demographic might happily swap paid sick leave for more vacation time or increased professional development options.
  • Since women are more likely to take advantage of parental leave than men, rather than offering additional vacation to a female candidate, you might include more maternity leave or provide a parental leave top-up.
  • A candidate with a disability may respond favorably to flexible hours, the ability to work from home or preferred parking.

Although flexibility and variation come with their own administrative overhead, being responsive to the needs of candidates from different demographics is a necessary investment to achieve the workplace diversity you want.

Thoughtful Onboarding

So, you’ve created a diverse candidate pool and successfully maintained that diversity throughout the interview and selection process. A number of candidates in your target demographic have accepted the flexible offers you’ve designed with their priorities in mind and they are eager to start. After all this work and focus, make sure you are just as thoughtful about your onboarding process.

According to the 2012 Allied Workforce Mobility Survey, companies lose 25% of new employees in the first year. If your new hire is coming into an environment where they are in a significant minority, that rate is even higher. For example, women in technology companies have double the turnover rate of men in technology companies. Effective onboarding is one of the best ways to combat that turnover.

There are two components to a good onboarding process: the formal sharing of company information, processes and documentation; and the informal introduction to “the way things work.” When it comes to successfully introducing diversity into the workplace, the biggest onboarding challenge usually comes from informal instruction, which is often steeped in the bias of the status quo.

Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” When it comes to retaining new employees who don’t reflect your current staffing mix, the unexamined onboarding process is not worth perpetuating. Here are a few things to think about as you examine your current onboarding process:

How will you provide ongoing training to new hires?

  • Are you working with a demographic that prefers self-learning or one that prefers a more collaborative approach? For example, research shows that women (in general) learn better when information is applied in context and draws on the input of others; while men are more interested in their own understanding of new information and the specific (especially technical) details.[3]
  • Are there other factors that may affect the way new hires learn? For example, might cultural norms prevent a new hire from speaking out when something is not clear and does your approach to onboarding have to be modified as a result?
  • Does industry jargon and terminology create an obstacle to understanding?
  • Are there other language or communication considerations? For example, might the communication differences between a low-context culture like America, which places heavy emphasis on message content, and a high-context culture (e.g. Arab), which favors indirect and contextual messages over content[4], require a different onboarding approach to avoid misunderstanding?

Is your typical approach to welcoming new hires biased toward your existing staff complement?

  • Will it make new hires from a different demographic uncomfortable?
  • Are any practices potentially offensive or intimidating to your new hires?
  • How might you change your practices to be more inclusive and sensitive to differences?

Does the person responsible for the informal onboarding process reflect the target demographic or the existing imbalance? If the latter:

  • Do you have someone on staff who reflects the incoming demographic and can take lead?
  • Alternatively, how might you help existing staff provide onboarding that speaks to the needs of the new hires rather than their own preferences?

If you are committed to achieving diversity and gender balance in your workforce, this series of articles shines a light on what to think about and change to make it happen. Start by creating a candidate pool that reflects the demographic mix you seek to hire. Once you have a sufficiently diverse candidate pool, remove bias from your interview process and interview materials so you can focus on the merits of each individual candidate. Complete the hire by tailoring your offers to the needs of selected candidates, rather than defaulting to what worked with your current employees. Finally, keep those new hires by providing excellent, inclusive and thoughtful onboarding.


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[1]Freakonomics, Azure Gilman, Explaining the Black-White Wage Gap

[2] Metcalfe, H. (2009). Pay gaps across the equality strands: a review. National Institute of Economic and Social Research.

[4] Zaharna, R.S. (1995). Understanding Cultural Preferences if Arab Communication Patterns. Public Relations Review.

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