Dear HR: why your job posting diversity statement appears like an afterthought & how to fix it
Updated: Nov 1, 2021
Browsing job postings nowadays, it cannot be missed: the “diversity statement”! Usually bolded, it goes something like this:
“[The Organization] is strongly committed to diversity within its community and especially welcomes applications from [insert underrepresented group 1], [insert underrepresented group 2] and [insert underrepresented group 3].”
The underrepresented groups may be women, racialized minorities, persons of different abilities, persons of any gender identity and sexual orientation, and others.
What do you make of this statement? 🤔
To me, it doesn’t say much. Most of the times, these are just empty words not connected to actions. At the very least, I expect the diversity statement in the job posting to highlight some key actions that reflect that commitment. Additionally, there should be a link to a more detailed description of the commitments and a clear action plan with dates for upcoming milestones on the organization’s website. Better yet, this page will include a record of past activities reflecting the organization’s commitment to diversity.
Even though diversity shouldn’t be a goal in and of itself, it is important to ensure that a diversity of candidates can participate in the hiring process. So then the question becomes one of equity: does every candidate have access to what they need in order to participate in the hiring process? What barriers does the job posting create?
These questions can lead us down many paths: how are the job requirements excluding candidates? How will different experiences be valued? How accessible is the application process for people with disabilities? etc, etc.
But before we go down these thoughtful and critical paths, here are some shortcomings in the job posting alone that could be resolved by simply sharing what the hiring manager already knows:
1. The job posting does not include an application deadline
-- nor does it specify whether you are accepting applications on a rolling basis.
Consequence: potential candidates start investing time and energy on their application materials, only for the job posting to disappear from one day to the next..!
Do this instead:
Provide a deadline. Have the job posting open for at least a month. (The one week deadline is not equitable in any way!)
State whether you are accepting applications on a rolling basis and, if you are, explain when they will be reviewed: e.g. applications will be evaluated as they come through; or applications will be reviewed the last week of each month; or applications will be reviewed on [insert key dates into the future].
Why: a false sense of urgency is not serving your candidates. They deserve to decide by themselves when they can invest time and energy for their application.
2. The job posting does not indicate a timeline for the processing of applications
Consequence: the burden to find out if a candidate is under consideration or not lies with the candidate. (Some candidates consider this an opportunity to stand out by sending follow-up emails. From an equity perspective, it’s not okay to set things up this way.)
Do this instead:
Clearly lay out a plan for processing applications. Include an approximate duration for the application review process, approximate dates for the first round of interviews, approximate dates for the second round of interviews and other significant dates, as relevant.
Bonus: have this information in a downloadable pdf (or link to a google doc)
Why: candidates need time to make arrangements to be available for interviews.
(Personal anecdote: once I was invited for an in-person(!) interview with less than 24 hours notice! 😳 How disrespectful to expect someone to drop their other commitments in such a short notice! Most importantly though, many people simply cannot do that. For example, those who are doing shift-work will need more than a week’s notice to request that time off in order to interview.)
3. “We thank all candidates for their interest, however, only those selected to continue to the next stage will be contacted.”
Consequence: who knows what other major life decisions are coupled to having this information..! I won’t even attempt to tackle this here. It’s too big!
Don’t get me wrong: I understand where that sentence is coming from and I empathize with the need to create this boundary. It’s not okay though. The solution is easier than even sending a generic rejection email. See below and let’s retire that sentence for everyone’s sake.
Do this instead:
Circle back to point 2 above and create and share a timeline in the job posting. Clearly state: “if you are not notified by [this date], then assume that you do not proceed to the next round.”
If the timeline changes halfway through the hiring process, it’s okay to send everyone an email with the new dates. It’s not a big deal! Alternatively, share the timeline in a google doc and tell candidates to consult it, say, on a bi-weekly basis in order to know the latest dates in the hiring process.
Why: this way candidates can keep themselves informed and move on with their lives if they are not selected -- and your inbox won’t be flooded with emails.
4. The job posting does not explain the hiring stages and what is required at each stage
Consequence: some people end up subjecting themselves to 5 rounds of interviews, to unpaid labour, or other "surprises". What may sound for one as an exciting opportunity for a second interview, for another it can mean another day away from the job (loss of income), or for another a high level of stress.
Do this instead:
Circle back to point 2 and create or update the timeline. Ensure it includes all the hiring stages (with approximate dates), it lists the names of the interviewers for each stage, and if there is a take-home assignment explain at which stage this will happen.
Thoughtfully consider the role and type of the assignment. Yes, you need to verify people can do the job you will hire them to do, but it is not okay to ask for deliverables that you can use in your organization and steal the candidates’ intellectual property.
Why: as with everything, people can make an informed decision if they have the mental and emotional energy for the whole process, if they are willing to do unpaid work with no guarantee of being hired, and they can get a heads up in making appropriate arrangements (e.g. time off from other commitments in order to complete assignments).
5. “Salary: unspecified”
-- or other vague statements like “salary commensurate with experience”.
Consequence: the burden lies once again with the applicant to make decisions about investing their time and energy in this process without having adequate information on something as crucial as one's salary, and later they have to advocate for their worth. Does it sound equitable?
Do this instead:
Include a salary range. With numbers.
Phrases like “entry-level” or “senior-level” don’t mean anything to people who are not in your circle already. If you are aiming to recruit from a diverse pool of candidates, these candidates likely won’t have the network to tell them what an “entry-level” salary means (-- as if that was standardized!).
If you can offer additional benefits, such as parental leave, sick leave, pension contributions, etc, link to a page that clearly states the boundaries around those benefits.
Bonus: be transparent on what current employees are making given certain skills/qualifications/experience. Share criteria for revising people’s salaries in the future.
Why: it’s the right thing to do. Clearly, you have a budget. Share that information. Don’t keep people uninformed on purpose.
I understand that you may hesitate to implement some of these changes. You may think that you cannot really know the timelines, or that the budget for the salary is not yet approved. It’s okay to give estimates; you know what will be wildly off. People understand. This is one of the rare cases where having some information is better than having no information at all.
Research tells us that the healthiest work environments are those where the organization values communication and transparency. Take this as a guiding principle when you create your job postings. You can start today by setting aside 15 minutes to edit your job posting and share with the candidates the information you already have.
The hard truth is that likely it will take years (if not decades!) to figure out truly inclusive hiring practices. It’s a complex problem and it will take a very difficult examination of our biases and cultures in order to get there. We know that starting small is actually effective. Start small, implement the changes you can today, and don't get ahead of yourself with empty statements. Actions shift the needle, not words.