Portrait of a confident young businessman standing against an urban background

The Secret to Attracting (and Keeping) Diverse Talent

Archived
Jun 10 2021 | Events

"If you're struggling to find diverse talent, you're fishing in the pond and not the ocean."

EQ Community's Founder Marcus Sawyerr and Ezra's Vice President Nate Norman discussed what companies need to do differently in order to attract and retain diverse talent.


Marcus Sawyerr is a Former 500 Executive turned startup founder who has spent the last 15 years working within online recruitment and digital transformation – most recently as Global Head of Digital Innovation and President of The Adecco Group’s digital innovation unit. After becoming increasingly frustrated over the lack of access to meaningful and life-changing jobs, especially for people of color, he started EQ Community to empower capable and diverse talent to thrive.

He has a message for any company that talks a lot about improving diversity but doesn’t actually do much to make it a reality:

“We don’t have time for that.”

Sawyerr is the president and CEO of EQ Community, a new organization that helps tech-enabled companies diversify their workforces by connecting them with top talent from its own broad, diverse network of professionals. Given the attention that D&I is getting from business leaders around the world, Sawyerr said it seemed like the perfect time to take up a spot on the frontline of this increasingly important human capital issue.

However, Sawyerr also noted the rush to get on the D&I bandwagon in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 has produced a lot of talk about progress, but not a lot of actual progress. That is disappointing, he added, because sincere efforts to increase diversity is not just about appearances; a more diverse and inclusive company is, ultimately, a more profitable company as well.

With EQ Community, Sawyerr said he has the luxury of working with those companies that are truly dedicated to D&I progress.

“If you want us to help you become more successful in your organization, but also make your organization more successful, then we’ll back you all the way,” Sawyerr in a recent Ezra webinar on achieving true D&I. “We’re not interested in wasting our time with that guy who’s only interested in saying, ‘okay, we’ve hired (a head of diversity), we’ve ticked the box and then put that person in the corner.’ ”

Sawyerr is no rookie when it comes to the D&I challenge; he has spent a lifetime trying to help companies get their minds around the “two big Ds” of transformation: digital and diversity. Prior to founding EQ Community, he enjoyed a varied career in talent and recruitment that included five years as a C-level executive with The Adecco Group, a Zurich based Fortune 500 company that is among the world’s leading providers of talent solutions.

Sawyerr said that even as he was trying to help the organizations he worked for improve their D&I profiles, he realized something was missing from current strategies. Even though there was lots of activity, there didn’t seem to be a lot of positive results.

“I always thought, ‘why am I not seeing more people of colour in senior level positions? I think there are a number of reasons for that and after spending time viewing HR tech companies, I thought ‘there’s probably something we can do about this with a small group of people to really show how beneficial it is to have a diverse group of talent within your organization.’  There must be a better way to get people moving from a box-ticking exercise to something that will give companies a cutting-edge advantage.”

That better way starts, Sawyerr said, by realizing that D&I is not about “looking in a very specific place (for talent), and more about creating a structure that allows you to connect with a community that you might not otherwise connect with.”

In general, Sawyerr said many well-meaning companies are caught in a recruitment and hiring dilemma: they don’t have a lot of diverse employees and as a result, don’t know how to connect with or recruit diverse talent. Given that many new hires come as a result of referrals from existing employees, it’s easy to see how people of colour can, and often are, excluded. The solution, Sawyerr said, is finding an outside partner that can help source diverse talent and expand an organization’s reach into diverse communities.

However, expanding that network for recruitment is only one part of the equation, Sawyerr said. At the same time, companies must take a long, hard look at internal processes that may be unconsciously screening out diverse candidates. In particular, it will be important to study the approaches taken by frontline hiring manages in sourcing talent, he added.

As an experiment to see if there was a lot of unconscious bias at work at the hiring-manager level, EQ conducted an experiment with a client organization, Sawyerr noted. A number of highly qualified candidates of colour were inserted into a competition for a job opening, and then the assessments of hiring managers were scrutinized. The results were a little alarming, he said.

Candidates were scored on a number of different qualification and attributes. Sawyerr said his people discovered that some of the candidates of colour were given very low marks for educational qualifications. “But in that scenario, (those candidates had) Wharton and Princeton MBAs. We looked at the data and presented it back to the organization and tried to understand what the blockage was. Was it because that person was a person of colour? I don’t know for sure, but it seemed a little bit strange to me.”

That experience re-enforced the idea that most organizations interested in improving their D&I profile need to take the time to fully examine current recruitment and hiring processes and then put in the hard work to define exactly what it is they want to achieve, Sawyerr said. This means looking at the whole organization and not just the front end of the talent pipeline.

Sawyerr said recruiting is always going to be an important part of the D&I challenge. But, once you’ve hired a diverse candidate, organizations have to make sure the processes are in place to retain them, he added. Far too many people of colour join organizations that are still trying to meet D&I goals only to find out that the organization isn’t really ready to give diverse employees a fair shot at career development.

Many organizations believe that they can use technology to take unconscious bias out of talent management processes. However, Sawyerr said those companies need to realize that technology is not a silver bullet for this particular challenge.

“Leveraging technology to connect with more diverse people who might not be in your network is important. But if you want to change your processes, you have to figure out first what they are and what problem you’re trying to solve.”

Sawyer is the president and CEO of EQ Community, a new organization that helps tech-enabled companies diversify their workforces by connecting them with top talent from its own broad, diverse network of professionals. Given the attention that D&I is getting from business leaders around the world, Sawyer said it seemed like the perfect time to take up a spot on the frontline of this increasingly important human capital issue.

However, Sawyer also noted the rush to get on the D&I bandwagon in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 has produced a lot of talk about progress, but not a lot of actual progress. That is disappointing, he added, because sincere efforts to increase diversity is not just about appearances; a more diverse and inclusive company is, ultimately, a more profitable company as well.

With EQ Community, Sawyer said he has the luxury of working with those companies that are truly dedicated to D&I progress.

“If you want us to help you become more successful in your organization, but also make your organization more successful, then we’ll back you all the way,” Sawyer in a recent Ezra webinar on achieving true D&I. “We’re not interested in wasting our time with that guy who’s only interested in saying, ‘okay, we’ve hired (a head of diversity), we’ve ticked the box and then put that person in the corner.’ ”

Sawyer is no rookie when it comes to the D&I challenge; he has spent a lifetime trying to help companies get their minds around the “two big Ds” of transformation: digital and diversity. Prior to founding EQ Community, he enjoyed a varied career in talent and recruitment that included five years as a C-level executive with The Adecco Group, a Zurich based Fortune 500 company that is among the world’s leading providers of talent solutions.

Sawyer said that even as he was trying to help the organizations he worked for improve their D&I profiles, he realized something was missing from current strategies. Even though there was lots of activity, there didn’t seem to be a lot of positive results. 

“I always thought, ‘why am I not seeing more people of colour in senior level positions? I think there are a number of reasons for that and after spending time viewing HR tech companies, I thought ‘there’s probably something we can do about this with a small group of people to really show how beneficial it is to have a diverse group of talent within your organization.’  There must be a better way to get people moving from a box-ticking exercise to something that will give companies a cutting-edge advantage.”

That better way starts, Sawyer said, by realizing that D&I is not about “looking in a very specific place (for talent), and more about creating a structure that allows you to connect with a community that you might not otherwise connect with.”

In general, Sawyer said many well-meaning companies are caught in a recruitment and hiring dilemma: they don’t have a lot of diverse employees and as a result, don’t know how to connect with or recruit diverse talent. Given that many new hires come as a result of referrals from existing employees, it’s easy to see how people of colour can, and often are, excluded. The solution, Sawyer said, is finding an outside partner that can help source diverse talent and expand an organization’s reach into diverse communities.

However, expanding that network for recruitment is only one part of the equation, Sawyer said. At the same time, companies must take a long, hard look at internal processes that may be unconsciously screening out diverse candidates. In particular, it will be important to study the approaches taken by frontline hiring manages in sourcing talent, he added.

As an experiment to see if there was a lot of unconscious bias at work at the hiring-manager level, EQ conducted an experiment with a client organization, Sawyer noted. A number of highly qualified candidates of colour were inserted into a competition for a job opening, and then the assessments of hiring managers were scrutinized. The results were a little alarming, he said.

Candidates were scored on a number of different qualification and attributes. Sawyer said his people discovered that some of the candidates of colour were given very low marks for educational qualifications. “But in that scenario, (those candidates had) Wharton and Princeton MBAs. We looked at the data and presented it back to the organization and tried to understand what the blockage was. Was it because that person was a person of colour? I don’t know for sure, but it seemed a little bit strange to me.”

That experience re-enforced the idea that most organizations interested in improving their D&I profile need to take the time to fully examine current recruitment and hiring processes and then put in the hard work to define exactly what it is they want to achieve, Sawyer said. This means looking at the whole organization and not just the front end of the talent pipeline.

Sawyer said recruiting is always going to be an important part of the D&I challenge. But, once you’ve hired a diverse candidate, organizations have to make sure the processes are in place to retain them, he added. Far too many people of colour join organizations that are still trying to meet D&I goals only to find out that the organization isn’t really ready to give diverse employees a fair shot at career development.

Many organizations believe that they can use technology to take unconscious bias out of talent management processes. However, Sawyer said those companies need to realize that technology is not a silver bullet for this particular challenge.

“Leveraging technology to connect with more diverse people who might not be in your network is important. But if you want to change your processes, you have to figure out first what they are and what problem you’re trying to solve.”

Ezra has redesigned leadership coaching for the digital age to transform your company’s workforce through affordable, scalable and high-impact solutions that promote equitable access through our world-class coaching app. Find out today how everyone can benefit from digital coaching.

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