Why corporate diversity-in-hiring efforts are like that

I ran into a pretty common attitude regarding workplace diversity the other day. It was on a Q/A site. Paraphrased, the issue is:

Q: How can we improve the diversity of the candidates we hire?

A: That actually hurts the diversity of your hiring pool, because many people see "diversity!" on a hiring page and immediately go somewhere else. Who wants to be hired to a place that'll give a job to an unqualified minority just to meet some numbers?

The mechanism this answerer was assuming, that diversity programs are quota systems, has been explicitly illegal in the US since the 1980s. The Supreme Court at the time ruled that quotas like that were what this answerer said: racism, even if it was intended to correct for systemic biases. If you find your prospective workplace is using quotas, or explicitly hiring following racialized patterns, you have strong grounds for a lawsuit.

Within the last year, news broke of a company that got into hot water by someone posting "I'm hiring for X, give me all of your non-binary, queer, women, and minority leads please!" to Twitter. The strong implication by this statement was that this company was using a racialized hiring process which is illegal.

These days hiring pipelines at large US companies are engineered to avoid getting sued, and therefore don't use quotas. To build a hiring pipeline that furthers a company's diversity goals, while also avoid getting sued, requires several things:

  • You must interview/treat everyone who applies equally.
  • You must assess each application the same way.
  • You must make your final hire/pass decision based on the merits of the application.
  • (US) You must give preference to military veterans, by law.

So far, this is an "equity" argument. But building a system to improve your workplace diversity needs a few more steps.

  • You can change the mix of your applicants by biasing where you advertise the job.
  • You can't hide the job posting and pass out application links to your preferred groups. You still need to post them on your jobs page.
  • Remove biasing language from your posting and job application process.
  • You still have to treat all applicants the same once they've applied.

Equity, in other words.

Furthermore, some companies are beginning to reframe their diversity programs towards a "meet the market" approach. In that they assess their diversity program success based on how well their employee mix matches the potential job market for their roles. If a given position is 82% male in the job market, that's the target they'll push for; not 50%.

Equity, because that's the most legally conservative option if you want to avoid lawsuits for discrimination in US courts.