What can we do to hire a more diverse workforce?

“What can we do to hire more diversity?”

“We’ve tried. We just can’t find diverse candidates who ‘fit’ our culture.”

“We post the jobs but diverse candidates don’t apply. So what are we supposed to do?”

“There aren’t enough qualified diverse candidates.”

I often hear these questions and statements made in relation to hiring diverse candidates in the Greater Madison region of Columbia, Dane, Dodge, Green, Iowa, Jefferson, Rock, and Sauk counties.

The region’s workforce is 15.1% people of color, with 6.4% and 6.3% being Latino and African-American respectively, as well as a gender split of 46.7% female and 53.3% male. Based on this, it would seem that there might be some truth to the notion that it is difficult to find diversity.

So, how can employers increase diversity?

  1. Create a strategic diversity recruiting plan — The days of “if you post it, they will come” or the “post-and-pray” method are over (if they were ever in effect to begin with).
  2. Budget and plan for strategic recruiting — Don’t get caught saying, “We’d like to recruit beyond the Madison area, but we don’t have enough in our budget.” If you are serious, include dollars for strategic recruiting in your organizational budget.
  3. Get creative — Offer incentives — relocation assistance, signing bonuses, graduate school or college tuition reimbursement, cover their mortgage or rent for six months, retention bonus, hire the spouse/partner, provide immediate health insurance, or offer immediate access to vacation or an additional week of vacation. Recruit promising high school students, and pay their college tuition if they agree to work for your organization for four years after graduation (put it in a contract). Offer up those creative solutions you normally reserve for your high-potential hires.
  4. Extend recruiting timeframes — Knowing the market for diverse candidates is competitive, be prepared to extend your timelines to find candidates. It is a bit unrealistic to post a job you need filled immediately, or within a month or two, and expect to have a large pool of people of color to choose from — at least not without a lot of networking, which leads to my next point.
  5. Network — We all know that 85% of people find their jobs through networking, so if you are seeking to hire diverse candidates, start networking. Get yourself and your teams into diverse spaces. Volunteer, attend social events, and get to know the diverse people who are already in your sphere of influence and ask them for referrals. Do this because it’s good for hiring, and also good for your personal growth and development as a person aspiring to establish a good community and cultural competence, as well as developing D&IQ (diversity and inclusion intelligence).


  1. Hire the right person, even when the job isn’t available — Part of your strategic recruiting may mean hiring diverse candidates whenever you find them, in anticipation of the immediate need. That allows you the flexibility of onboarding well and moving employees into developmental opportunities as they arise, and avoiding the panic of trying to find the perfect diverse candidate.
  2. Hire for personality and train for skills — Too often it is said that the diverse candidate “just doesn’t fit our culture.” I am not sure if that is code for we just don’t want to hire anyone different from us, or if it means we really are looking for a solid cultural/personality fit but can’t find anyone. If it is the latter, then be on the lookout for folks who have personalities that gel with your organizational culture and share your company values, and be willing to train them if they lack the perfect skill set. Most college-educated people (heck, most people) are smart enough to learn the skills required to be successful in their jobs, especially when they are in an inclusive environment that values who they are and the experiences they bring to the work environment.
  3. Recognize that there are potential valid and significant barriers to hiring diversity in the Madison region, such as:
    • Establishing community — access to appropriate goods and services, as well as living in proximity to others within one’s race and culture;
    • Dating and marrying within one’s own culture/race;
    • Proximity to family;
    • Establishing a support network of friends who look like you and/or have the same or similar faith, educational background, cultural experiences, values, etc.;
    • Living in cold Wisconsin;
    • Raising a family in a minimally diverse city;
    • Proximity to other diverse cities;
    • Cost of living;
    • Diversity within the work organization;
    • Organizational culture; and
    • Tokenism versus real opportunities to grow and advance.

The most recent census data reveals that racial and ethnic minorities currently make up half of the people under age five in the U.S., meaning that the next generation’s workforce and economy will be increasingly influenced by racial and ethnic composition. For the Madison region, our growth rate among people of color has yet to match urban areas. However, astute employers know they need to invest in strategies today to capture a larger share of the diversity many employers say they want right now and into the future. To capture a greater share of the consumer market, and to further creativity, innovation, and a competitive community in our globalized world, employers need to increase their ability to hire diverse candidates. One day soon their economic growth may depend on it.

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