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Diversity Recruiting Trends — Insights and Recommendations

Mike Joyner

Leading recruiting teams to achieve ambitious goals is a challenge in normal times. Doing that during a global pandemic is even more daunting. Add in a massive shift in social consciousness and activism around injustice and equality, and it’s difficult to prioritize where to begin.

For those of us who are leaders in the talent and people space, we don’t have to search far and wide to find opportunities to make a positive impact on racial justice. On a daily basis, we either directly decide or influence decisions about who gets hired, which equates to economic opportunity. With our day-to-day work, we can have a significant and positive impact. This gives us an important responsibility; our role as talent leaders has never been more important than right now.

Our team at Growth by Design Talent wanted to find ways to give talent leaders the confidence, strategy, tools, community, and data to boldly step forward towards positive change and lead through uncertain times. To that end, we’re launching a series of interconnected courses starting with Diversity Recruiting. To help bring data and best practices to the surface, we recently ran a survey with 80 tech companies that crossed industries and geographies, comprising growth stages from seed to more mature late stage and public companies. Survey questions focused on gathering benchmarks and insights related to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practices and their effectiveness in improving DEI outcomes.

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We wanted to share high-level themes of what we’ve learned. For context, demographics of the participating companies:

  • About 70% have 500 or fewer employees
  • Over 60% are Seed to Series D private stage
  • 70% are based in the San Francisco Bay Area

Diversity Recruiting Trends — Insights and Recommendations

1. Setting diversity hiring goals is essential to making measurable progress, and companies have an opportunity to start earlier.

  • 40% of companies at expansion and later stages have diversity hiring goals, but only 30% of early stage companies have goals. There’s an opportunity to start earlier.
  • There’s a benefit to setting diversity hiring goals early. Looking at the companies that have diversity hiring goals, 41% of them find their diversity programs and processes effective in increasing diversity and inclusion outcomes. Of the companies that do not have diversity hiring goals, only 29% see their efforts as effective and 20% as not effective at all. This makes sense as setting goals provides a shared purpose and common understanding of the desired outcomes, which gives teams flexibility in finding creative ways to execute towards those goals.
  • Almost half of companies surveyed are focused on diversity sourcing, and these activities are accompanied with goals around percentage of the team’s capacity committed to diversity sourcing and percentage of all outreach focused on underrepresented talent.
  • A majority of the companies, whether or not they have diversity recruiting goals, are experiencing mixed results. Solely setting recruiting goals is not enough to be effective with improving DEI outcomes.

Recommendation: It’s never too early to set diversity recruiting goals and to prioritize building a more diverse team. An easy starting point can be looking at the demographics of your current organization, and understanding where there are gaps in diversity — racial, gender, sexual orientation, disability, veterans, or age. Be sure to look carefully at your technical and leadership teams. This context is an essential input when looking at the company’s future growth plans and setting recruiting goals.

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2. Companies need both diversity hiring and inclusion initiatives to achieve their desired outcomes.

  • Focusing solely on hiring, without a similar emphasis on inclusion and equity for existing employees, does not lead to positive outcomes over the long-term.
  • As companies scale, there is less of a balanced approach towards both hiring and inclusion. Companies often lean too far into one or the other when actually both need support in order to build and sustain a diverse and healthy company.
  • We’ve seen this in our strategic work countless times: Companies that focus all of their energy and resources towards diversity recruiting efforts eventually run into engagement and retention challenges because they haven’t also nurtured the right culture and environment to support underrepresented employees.

Recommendation: Be mindful of the resources and energy put towards diversity recruiting, especially during periods of fast growth and expansion, and ensure equal focus is put on inclusion initiatives so underrepresented employees that have already joined your company feel seen and supported. Mathison offers an Equal Hiring Index that companies can use to assess how they’re doing in all aspects of diversity hiring and retention. There are many things you can do to foster greater inclusion — support the formation of ERGs or affinity groups and recognize leaders of those groups for their important work, audit your compensation for pay inequality or disparities, do a listening tour of under-represented employees and find out what in the culture needs to change for them to feel valued and included over the long-term life of the company, and raise awareness and recognition of holidays and significant observed days for underrepresented groups.

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3. Companies are primarily focused on diversity and inclusion for women, Black, and Latinx employees.

  • We’ve found that it can take companies longer to take action because teams get hung up on the language used to define the work itself and reluctance to prioritize efforts across underrepresented communities.
  • Don’t let language get in the way of taking action. Whether you call your efforts D&I, DIB, or DEI, what’s most important is that you’re clear in your beliefs and intentions for the outcomes you’re trying to achieve. Educate yourself and your team on what these terms mean within your company’s set of strategies and communications. We believe that diversity is a fact, equity is a choice, inclusion is on-going intentional action, and belonging is an outcome.
  • As with other areas of your business, creating focus in your diversity recruiting efforts will drive the most meaningful progress. Intersectionality affects diversity and inclusion at work, and changes that benefit one marginalized group can often benefit other groups. For example, focusing on Black or Latinx women in technical or leadership roles will have cascading positive impacts for other functions and underrepresented groups.
  • A majority of surveyed companies have a specific DEI strategy for Women, Black, and/or Latinx communities. Be mindful of intersectionality and how diversity in tech has often led to hiring white women from similar racial and socioeconomic backgrounds.
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Recommendation: First, look at the demographics of your current team, and identify the areas with the biggest gaps. Then, compare that against the areas of the company that will be doing the most hiring, and focus diversity hiring on the most underrepresented groups where you have the greatest opportunity to make progress. We recommend starting with fewer groups and adding over time. Many companies are starting with women, Black, and Latinx. Don’t forget to be mindful of how intersectionality can impact longer term outcomes.

4. Structured interviewing is a foundational practice that many companies are investing heavily in right now.

  • Companies are investing in a variety of tactics to create more consistency and structure in how they interview and screen candidates. These range from specific diverse slate goals like the Rooney Rule to competency-based interviewing and structured debriefs.
  • We were happy to see these results, because we believe that structured interviewing solves for a lot of things: validity by creating stronger signals around who will be successful in the job and efficiency by having a repeatable process that makes better use of interviewing time. It also creates a better candidate experience and reduces bias by driving a more effective, consistent, and fair process.

Recommendation: Increase the structure of your interview and debrief process. When interviewing candidates create consistent interviewer focus areas, interview questions, clarify definitions of the feedback rating scale being used, and build rubrics to avoid bias in the assessment process. When debriefing with your hiring team to make a decision, move away from open-ended conversations by creating more consistency and structure — organize the feedback around defined hiring criteria, interviewers share feedback on their focus area, hiring manager or most senior person goes last, and review feedback against stack ranking of hiring criteria.

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We hope that these findings will help equip you with additional insights to build the confidence to boldly step forward towards positive change. Unwinding hundreds of years of inequity can be daunting to think about, but it’s important for talent leaders to move from intention to action. If we can be helpful to you in taking those steps forward, you can reach us at

Special thanks to Nira Headen and Janet Frishberg for their help in running the benchmarking survey and pulling this post together.

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