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The Pipeline Problem

On Thursday, August 24th, the Triangle Business Diversity Council held their quarterly meeting at Personify. Business leaders from the public and private sectors of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill gathered to discuss best practices for promoting diversity in hiring and overcoming the challenges of “the pipeline problem.” Everyone shared both their organizational knowledge and their individual experience with diversity and inclusion, making the discussion particularly rich and passionate.

Christopher Gergen with HQ Raleigh facilitated the discussion, which featured panelist Raymahl Sutton, Founder of BlindedHR who channeled his personal experience with name discrimination in hiring into a product that helps people mitigate unconscious bias. Also featured was Dana Kuhn, Director of People and Strategic Services at Personify, whose professional and academic experience in employment discrimination law, organizational development, and social justice continue to influence how she approaches recruiting and people programs. The group discussion focused on how to put the muscle into backing the mission of diversity initiatives.

Meeting Them Where They Are

Businesses are moving from viewing diversity as a matter of legal or ethical compliance to understanding and valuing it as a strategic asset, incorporating the principle into organizational mission statements and objectives. However, creating a diverse workforce involves more than simply preaching organizational dedication to the initiative and advertising it in marketing materials. As highlighted by council member Katie Gailes of Wake Technical Community College, championing diversity “beyond the brochure” requires transforming the organization’s entire approach to the diversity “problem.”  Instead of viewing the problem as one that can solve itself, companies need to adapt their recruitment strategies to consciously, and intentionally, pursue diversity objectives in order to bridge the opportunity gap and ensure that the teams we build actually reflect the world we live in. This means reviewing hiring initiatives to ensure that a maximum effort is being made to attract and recruit a workforce comprised of individuals from various sources.  Use different tactics to approach diverse audiences and increase resources to reach minority populations to meet people where they are, whether by hosting or attending targeted job fairs, supporting scholarship programs that promote education in specific fields for specific groups, or reaching out to identify-specific networking or community organizations.

Although utilizing targeted strategies to reach minority populations helps alleviate the pipeline problem, solving only the challenge of accessibility does not address the entirety of the issue. Dickens Sanchez of Clean stressed the need to promote both accessibility and awareness. This involves identifying gaps in employment in specific job fields that may correspond to gaps in access to information and career development services. You cannot apply to a job until you know that it is a potential career path for you and what it would take to get it. One strategy for bridging that gap is having organizations participate in “career discovery” initiatives with HBCUs and social identity groups. For example, Clean’s approach began with adjusting the question. Rather than asking “why aren’t you applying to your jobs?” (the “pipeline problem”), they asked, “what do you know about marketing as a career?” By altering their perspective, they were able to “meet them where they are,” tailor their approach, and give valuable career discovery advice to a new potential pool of applicants.

Infrastructure for Empathy

When viewed holistically, the challenges associated with creating a diverse workforce are not just solving the pipeline problem of where to find a variety of candidates, but also creating a company culture that infuses the spirit of diversity and inclusion into all practices. For Diversity and Inclusion initiatives to succeed, the entire company, from CEO to line manager to teammate, must value diversity as an objective and hold each other accountable to its success. Because of availability heuristics and confirmation bias, we tend to be most empathetic to what is familiar to us. By broadening what constitutes “us,” we foster an inclusive organizational culture and build empathy into the very infrastructure of the company; therefore, employees do not question diversity initiatives, but rather see them as opportunities to gain richer perspectives and improve decision making in all aspects of the business, including hiring.

Dana Kuhn described an “infrastructure for empathy” as a systematic approach to re-evaluating sourcing methodology, job descriptions, and interview techniques. Departments should recognize that relying on referral networks limits the diversity of the candidate pool. Hiring managers should be coached to create a job description that is inclusive and reflects only the necessary qualifications for the position, rather than padding it with unnecessary degree or inflated skills requirements to avoid the “confidence gap” problem that can discourage women and other minority groups from applying. Interviewers should be trained in structured interviewing to ensure that all candidates are reviewed using the same questions and criteria, reducing the presence of bias, unconscious or otherwise.

When creating a diverse workforce, the key is to remember that sustained diversity is the byproduct of effective inclusion, and this requires not simply externally championing these principles in marketing campaigns, but rather systematically creating an internal company culture that supports and values them. Moving forward, the members of the TBDC are working to develop systems and practice that will help make the Triangle the most diverse and inclusive business environment in the country.


If you have feedback or ideas around diversity in hiring initiatives, please reach out to Elizabeth Black at meb@personifysearch.com or join the discussion on social media using #TriangleDiversity. To learn more about the Triangle Business Diversity Council, please contact Jess Porta at jessica@hqraleigh.com. 



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