In an era when diversity is celebrated, when corporations recognize the power of that diversity, when programs, incentives, and opportunities are put into place to expand workplace diversity, why is the human resources department often looked upon by the minority community as a career roadblock and not a pathway?
At a recent gala event for black leaders, the keynote speaker addressed this issue directly. While pushing for more inclusion in the workplace, he pleaded with the audience to do their best to bypass their HR department in order to fill more meaningful roles in their organizations with minority applicants.
Today, many HR practitioners partner with top corporate leadership to embrace minority hiring, provide educational programs for employees that advance their careers, and embed into the fabric of their company a sustained commitment to diversity. But have HR professionals done enough when we see thought leaders in the minority community questioning HR hiring practices that they perceive as falling short of ensuring long-term diversity growth?
Start with middle management
A common practice in current HR hiring is to emphasize diversity and inclusion for entry-level job applicants. This may allow corporations to “check the box” in meeting hiring goals, but by doing so, companies are setting themselves up for failure. Diversity and inclusion can only work as an institutional change embedded throughout the company and not a simple metric applied only to entry-level applicants.
Creating that change takes time and a plan. That is why this HR professional suggests that my colleagues consider expanding their current focus on entry-level hiring and seek first to fill middle-management positions with diverse candidates. In sports it’s called “building a bench.”
Concentrating on creating a diverse mid-level executive team requires a two-tiered strategy. First, by hiring experienced mid-level management, the organization builds a talent pipeline from which diverse top leadership can be selected in the future. As these mid-level executives have “grown up” within the organization, they will already be deeply versed in the company’s culture and values and primed for senior positions. Second, company leaders can invest in the future by having diverse middle management identify and mentor younger employees.
By starting in the middle of the corporate hierarchy, companies can ensure that inclusion is taking root in a fertile place, reaching down toward entry level positions while growing up toward senior titles. This will enable institutional change that is comprehensive, enduring, and apparent to any new job applicant. All this must be accomplished while taking care to support the growth and career development of existing minorities in middle management.
Take a good look in the mirror
The sad reality is there still remains subtle racism in the 21st-century workplace. In Britain, the publication of Racism at Work: The Danger of Indifference, revealed that 60% of black and 42% of Asian people have experienced racism at work (compared to just 14% of white people), with one in five (20%) experiencing verbal or physical abuse. One suspects similar numbers can be found in the United States, where racism was pervasive, open, and accepted up until the late 1960s.
Every workday, HR professionals are challenged to put down the mirrored lens that can subconsciously affect our decisions regarding who to hire based on our own characteristics, whether that is education, race, religion, or gender. It is important to recognize the potential bias that mirrored lens creates and to safeguard against its destructive effects by establishing practices and protocols that guarantee we are never indifferent to the task of creating a genuinely diverse workplace.
Companies can target establishing diverse middle management in two ways. The first is looking closely at their recruitment sources. Instead of looking at the same communities or referral sources, HR and hiring managers should look to new talent pipelines, whether that is graduate programs or partner organizations. Leadership will need to practice skilled outreach to find and create these partnerships, to broaden a company’s reach and brand.
Secondarily, diversity in middle management can subsequently be achieved if human resources works with company leaders to highlight diversity and inclusion in their recruitment materials, including job descriptions. An attractive employee value proposition will include not only a good benefits package but will also spotlight opportunities to serve as diversity mentors. By including diversity in the corporate brand, especially in recruitment ads and job descriptions, businesses are showing the talent pool that diversity and inclusion are truly seamed into the company culture and that they want to be consistent with those values in hiring and promotion.
By starting “in the middle,” i.e., hiring or developing diverse middle management, a company has the opportunity to invest in the future of its corporate soul. But it isn’t without challenges. It requires a heightened level of self-awareness to ensure we never allow ourselves to become indifferent to the challenge or remain content with our recruitment achievements.
Angela Colon-Mahoney is Vice President, Human Resources at Otsuka Pharmaceutical Companies, a global leader at the intersection of technology and medicine where her responsibilities include strategic organizational design and attracting the best possible talent to this innovative company. Ms. Mahoney brings over 20 years of experience in attracting executive leadership to global brands such as The Estée Lauder Companies, Tyco and Unilever. Mahoney earned an MS in Organization Change Management from the New School University, and a BA of Psychology from St. John’s University.