It has been a long standing school of thought that if you hire heavily through referrals, diversity within an organization suffers. Since referrals only account for less than 10% of the average applicant pool, they can not be solely responsible for killing an organization’s diversity. However, the general perception was founded on the basic principle that people tend to gravitate towards, and maintain circles of association, with people who they feel are “like them.” This is a very basic unconscious bias that begins in childhood (think about your old high school lunchroom) and continues into adulthood.
Twenty years ago, the sphere of influence current employees had was very limited to say the least. In fact, the talent pool to draw upon for employee referrals was not thought of and highly untapped. Today however, in the advent of LinkedIn and the seemingly endless other social networking sites, circles are beginning to overlap and expand in diversity.
There are a many ways an organization can help this along and harness it to diversify their own applicant pools.
One of the most obvious answers to improve overall diversity is to stop asking for referrals from the same old group of employees. Sure, they may make a few new connections here and there, but on average people aren’t spending their lives at networking functions. This broadening can happen in two ways: 1. Expand the referral program to include employees who may have been previously excluded due to position (think cross functional and senior leaders.) 2. Break the mold and jump outside of the organization completely. New technologies are currently emerging on the market to make capturing and rewarding referrals from a third party source possible.
Ask and You Shall Receive
A simple suggestion can go a long way; however, it’s not out of line to ask if anyone knows a potential applicant who would align with the organizations' goals of increased diversity. Granted, it greatly helps if a culture of diversity is already in place. Make it clear to your employees that you are willing to consider applicants from different industries and sectors. By doing so, you guarantee a long term contribution coming from a diversity of backgrounds.
Across the board, internal referrals and non-referrals need to be given the same treatment and go through all the same screening processes. Now this can be a difficult request to make as referrals are often perceived as a quick fix to a sticky situation. However, when you have to analyze your applicants, apples-to-apples, you will be creating a situation that no longer favors the easy fix, and leaves your organization more open to a diverse hire.
In the hiring equation we are quick to blame our tools or technology as our point of failure. Surely, if only our career portal was better optimized and communicated more strongly to diverse groups all our recruiting woes would be fixed! In reality though, the human element can be most responsible for recruiting efforts to fall flat, especially those related to referral hiring. These fails normally come along as unconscious biases. What does this mean to you? This means there are the biases that often disguise themselves as pesky “gut feelings.” These don’t necessarily reflect poorly on the person reviewing the applicant, but speaks more to the years of experiences and cultural conditioning they may have received to create it. A way to eliminate this is by stripping down a candidate's resume to purely the facts. Take away names, pictures (if applicable), and even names of schools. Leave purely relevant information to the needs of the position. Anything more is just extra noise that could distract you into making a poor decision for cultural diversity.
The main takeaway here is that referrals can only kill an organization’s diversity if you let it. By following a few easy tips and fostering a strong culture of diversity to start, referral hiring can continue to be the best tool available to source diverse long term hires, while also improving your organization's business growth.