Building a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable workforce is a top priority for many companies right now, and that starts with building a more inclusive and equitable hiring process. But figuring out the concrete steps necessary to reach this goal isn’t always easy.
To provide employers in New York State with a path forward — and to help them build better pathways for underrepresented talent to enter their organizations — the Reimagine New York Commission and the state’s Office of Workforce Development launched a new workforce development initiative in January. Called the “Pathways Pledge,” the program encourages both public- and private-sector employers to commit to at least two actions aimed at providing more equitable access to opportunity, including:
- Exploring skills-based hiring models and removing high school and postsecondary degree requirement for new hires (as appropriate)
- Subsidizing current worker retraining or skills development
- Building and scaling relationships with workforce development partners serving underserved communities by, say, expanding staff volunteer time to facilitate recruiting, interviews, and mentorship opportunities for prospective employees
- Creating new apprenticeship programs to start career pathways for underrepresented populations
- Providing additional workforce support, such as childcare and transportation subsidies, for low-income workers or trainees
To date, 16 New York employers, including IBM, Chobani, JPMorgan Chase, and Loretto, have taken the pledge. But wherever you’re based, you can still look to the initiative for inspiration as you develop your company’s own diversity, equity, and inclusion road map. Here are a few key lessons to take away from the Pathways Pledge:
1. Focus on skills over schools
Skills-based hiring can be a powerful strategy for finding talent with the abilities and potential to excel, even if they don’t look perfect on paper. And as one of the actions recommended by the Pathways Pledge makes clear, this hiring approach has to start with the job description. If a high school diploma or college degree isn’t essential for performing a job, then including it in the job description can shut the door on a large number of skilled and capable candidates.
Removing unnecessary or inflated requirements from your job descriptions is step one. The next step is ensuring that your evaluation and interview processes are built around the skills you want to hire for, rather than around what the candidate has done in the past. This might involve incorporating skills assessments, job simulations, or other tests into your process to allow candidates to demonstrate their abilities, so you can more easily pinpoint the right person for the role.
2. Diversify your sourcing strategies
No matter what actions you take to build a more inclusive and equitable hiring process, if you’re not bringing a diverse pool of talent into the process in the first place, you will likely struggle to make meaningful progress toward your goals.
You may need to reexamine and rethink your go-to sourcing and talent attraction strategies and explore ways to meet underrepresented talent where they are. For example, you might work with your employee resource groups to source a more diverse slate of referrals. Or you could partner with organizations like Chicago’s re:work training, which works with companies to help people from underrepresented groups prepare for a job in tech.
3. Offer training that supports lateral career moves
Creating more pathways to opportunity for underrepresented talent often requires companies to get proactive about training and professional development, especially in industries that aren’t particularly diverse today. If candidates have never had the chance to do a certain type of work before, then the gap between where they are now and where they want to go may feel too large, even if they have many of the skills they’ll need. For them to feel encouraged to make the leap, someone needs to extend a hand.
As Adwoa Bagalini, people engagement, diversity, and inclusion lead at the World Economic Forum, notes, development opportunities can’t exist at the entry level only. “The real challenge comes later,” she explains. “Will employees from underrepresented backgrounds be given meaningful opportunities to develop and advance to more senior levels?" Pairing training efforts that are designed to get people in the door with a robust internal mobility program shows employees and prospective candidates that you’re committed to helping them build and grow their careers at your company — no matter where they’ve come from or what type of role they might decide to pursue.
4. Recognize and break down barriers to entry
Even if you’re offering incredible opportunities to help candidates get a foot in the door, it’s important to recognize that some candidates’ circumstances may prevent them from participating. Looking for ways to break down any lingering barriers can be what separates an impactful program from a truly transformational one.
At Chobani, for example, one-third of the workforce is made up of refugees living in Utica, about 40 minutes away from the company’s location in upstate New York. Chobani provides transportation and interpreters to ensure these employees can not only get to work but also thrive. And Loretto, another company that made the pledge, developed an apprentice program that ensures talented healthcare workers in the long-term care industry have both the job security and flexible scheduling they need to pursue this training opportunity.
5. Establish visibility to create accountability
Making commitments is easy. Making good on them is what separates companies that really care about driving diversity, equity, and inclusion from the pack — and candidates and employees alike will take notice.
One of the requirements of the Pathways Pledge is for participants to report on their progress on a quarterly basis. Adopting a similar approach can help your company stay accountable to its commitments and goals. Whether you’re producing a formal workforce diversity report that you release annually or just regular updates about steps you’re taking, the impact you’ve seen so far, and the lessons you’ve learned, creating visibility into your progress lets people know that you’re truly walking the walk.
Final thoughts: Build a pathway — and a competitive advantage
Adopting more inclusive and equitable hiring practices is good for both candidates and your company.
While it will take a little time and effort to adapt and refine your tactics, the result is a hiring process that’s well positioned to sniff out untapped talent, in-demand skills, and enormous potential. You’ll no longer be competing with every other company in your industry for the same limited pool of talent. Instead, you’ll be building a workforce that appreciates your efforts and stays with you longer.