Blog Post

Understanding Diversity and Inclusion Practices in Talent Acquisition

By Megan Pierouchakos
October 25, 2021

A Conversation with Seramount’s Senior Director, Megan Pierouchakos 

For many organizations, the importance of diversity and inclusion in hiring practices and retention has increased exponentially in the last two years. However, well-meaning companies, who seek out their goals with the best of intentions often end up falling short. Seramount’s Senior Director, Megan Pierouchakos, understands this well. She has worked for nearly two decades in HR within the talent lifecycle with a focus on diversity and inclusion. Megan shares some concrete ways that organizations can both set up and achieve meaningful goals that will empower them to further build inclusive workplaces. 

What are some of the best ways a company wanting to make a commitment to diversity and inclusion can achieve its goal?

Megan Pierouchakos: What I tell companies is that if you want to achieve meaningful change in hiring and recruiting practices, you need to shift to making data-driven decisions when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion. A company must address workplace vulnerabilities first to understand what areas need work. You have to be able to measure current data and track future people analytics in order to track success and improvements. 

For instance, data from employee engagement surveys or exit interviews to help understand your inclusion gaps. If this data does not exist or does not tell the organization anything compelling or actionable, the organization should consider engaging in a culture audit to identify opportunities for inclusion.

It’s important to be proactive and not reactive if your organization is starting to set diversity, equity, and inclusion commitments. It is much better to go in with a long game mindset and not a check-the-box mindset in order to create real and meaningful change.

Organizations don’t always realize how they might appeal to underrepresented groups. For instance, how does your organization’s employee value proposition speak to an underrepresented group? Is it speaking to multiple audiences individually or with a broad stroke? Then turn the lens outward and ask, does what the organization think about itself accurately reflect what’s on its website or how they show up with its social media presence?

Next, an organization needs to take a deep dive into the recruitment data and processes, and I suggest setting up a really good applicant tracking system that can give you the different levels of data that you need within the funnel – from application, to interview, to hire. And then the recruiters need to be armed with this information.

There’s a reluctance to engage with the data out of concern that decisions are being made based on gender and ethnicity, but it is important to specify that it’s not hiring practices, it’s recruiting decisions. How many are women, how many are men, how many are coming from other groups? Further, breaking it down by division and department allows for a more intentional recruitment process, allowing some organizations to promote in-house and others to be recruited elsewhere (buy vs build talent strategy). 

When recruiters have access to and an understanding of workforce demographic data as well as external labor market information, they are positioned as true talent advisors and can work in a more effective and accountable way with their hiring managers and other internal partners in the organization.

What are the common misconceptions and missed opportunities that you see in this field, and how would a company go about improving them? 

Megan: There is a common belief that diversity and inclusion in recruiting happen organically.  I would argue that an organization has to be very intentional about its strategy. First, organizations try to boil the ocean by pulling too many levers and get discouraged if they don’t see progress. Instead, I suggest identifying 2-3 areas of opportunity to focus on and ensure you have the means to track those areas by benchmarking the starting point and then tracking progress. These metrics should be included on existing recruitment or human capital dashboards. Remember, what gets measured gets done.  If an organization engages in an external partnership to expand its candidate pool, that is a leading indicator.  The number of applicants, interviews, and subsequent hires are the lagging indicators from engaging in that partnership and will take time to show up on the recruitment dashboard.  And this will take time – it’s important to stay the course.

Also, a best practice that many organizations have implemented is defining and requiring a diverse slate. There is research that supports having diverse slates.  For example, Harvard Business Review found that when the final candidate pool has only one underrepresented candidate, they have virtually no chances of being hired. If there are at least two candidates who identify as female in the final candidate pool, the odds of hiring a female-identifying candidate are 79 times greater. If there are at least two underrepresented candidates in the final candidate pool, the odds of hiring an underrepresented candidate are 194 times greater.

This methodology is referred to as the “two in the pool effect.” The challenge is that there is no “one size fits all” on this. Definitions of diversity vary from organization to organization and person to person, but most often diverse interview slates refer to a pool of candidates that contains a certain number or percentage of women and/or from historically underrepresented groups (which is why understanding your data is so important). This practice is not exclusive to recruitment – many organizations extend the diverse slate requirement to internal promotions as well.  Organizations that work with external recruitment firms can also work with the firm to ensure slates are reflected in the searches that are performed on behalf of the company as well.

When you talk with a company about how to analyze and improve their diversity and inclusion practices, what areas are most ripe for improvement? 

Megan: Company brand, the language used, and the way the organization comes across in their digital spaces and on social media are very important. We try to find ways to be authentic in the external space, making sure that the talk of diversity and inclusion comes with meaningful measures on how an organization is welcoming to all backgrounds, not just window dressing.  Along the lines of language, organizations can audit their job descriptions for inclusive language, especially gender-inclusive language.  Organizations can also audit their websites for accessibility especially if they want to attract employees with different abilities.

Also, more can be done to educate and train recruiters and hiring managers on basic diversity and inclusion concepts, including the unintentional biases that creep up in the hiring process. We all carry some unintentional biases.  We need to take steps to actively make sure those biases can be mitigated on an individual level. 

You mentioned that we all have unintentional biases. How do people go about identifying those and beginning to shift?

Megan: Harvard has an implicit bias test online that anyone can take and it’s free. It’s a good baseline for people to better understand what biases they bring to the table, even without realizing it.  There are also many articles and resources online to ensure that any training selected is rooted in how to both recognize AND mitigate biases.

What is something that people and organizations do not fully understand about diversity and inclusion practices?  

Megan: One thing that gets lost in the conversation about diversity and inclusion is how much should be focused on retention. There is a lot of focus on bringing in the talent, but fewer conversations dedicated to workplace culture and talent retention. Organizations need to be open to all people bringing their authentic selves to work. Sometimes you can have a great organizational culture but a more problematic department or team, so that needs to be understood as well. 

For any organization that carries risk, having talent leave too quickly can be a significant financial burden, so attention should be paid to both sides of the balance sheet. 

You’ve worked for nearly two decades in this field, which has gained a lot of prominent attention recently. In your opinion, how has this field changed?

Megan: More organizations, especially within the last 18 months to 2 years, are realizing that diversity, equity, and inclusion are not sidelined conversations anymore.  The conversation deserves a prominent place at the table.  Organizations are seeing diversity, equity, and inclusion as part of the entire employee lifecycle, not just in recruitment but talent management, communications, training, benefits, etc. – every part of the workplace that touches the employee has to have the lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion applied to it. We’ve seen how, when done properly, it can have a lasting impact on the culture of the company, its employees, and the products/services it provides.

Organizations and talent acquisition departments have a unique opportunity during this time of the “The Great Resignation.”  Job seekers are much savvier and do their research before joining a company. 

  • Research shows that Gen Z looks for an organization’s stance on social justice and DEI issues. 
  • We’ve also learned Gen Z will search 24 organizations on average before deciding on employment. 
  • General population data says that 50% of candidates won’t consider an organization with a bad employer brand. 
  • Sixty-seven percent of job seekers look at the diversity of the workforce as well. 

Given this, recruiters, hiring managers, and organizations will continue to see the intersection of diversity, equity, and inclusion with their day jobs as they seek to attract, develop and retain the best talent.  How will you be intentional about diversity, equity, and inclusion in the new normal? 

About the Authors

Megan Pierouchakos
Senior Director, Diversity Best Practices