Wanted: African American Professional for Hire

When a consumer product company launches a new brand, a team of very smart professionals methodically conducts market research until they know where everyone in their target market lives, how much money they have, what cars they drive, and what they eat for breakfast. If that team came back and said, “We just can’t find any information about our target market,” there would be serious consequences. Their superiors would question their every move, trying to determine what went wrong and whose fault it was.

These same questions should be asked of recruiters, HR professionals, or executives who say they “can’t find any” diverse professionals. Are we really to believe that these same companies that can dig up information on anyone, anywhere, can’t tell you where to find African American accountants or Latino lawyers or Asian American marketing professionals?

I don’t care what your excuses are; in my fifteen years working in the corporate world and my five years as a recruiter, I’ve heard them all, and they are almost always lame.

While there are as many excuses for diversity failures as there are companies to make them, the following are the excuses I’ve heard most often:

“We can’t find any.” Well, you won’t find any if you don’t look. They are out there. Forget anything you’ve heard about the numbers of diverse job candidates shrinking. As with any statistical analysis, you must examine the numbers you read with care — and the reality is that every year there are more qualified diverse candidates, not fewer. For example, while it is true that the percentage of accountants who are diverse has been shrinking in the past few years, the overall pool of accountants is growing — so the aggregate number of diverse accountants is actually larger today than it was several years ago.

But these numbers shouldn’t matter to you anyway. The issue is not whether there are enough diverse candidates to go around to every organization. The issue is whether you can attract and recruit enough for your organization. This is called competing for resources — something your organization likely does every day. If the challenge was to find new clients, your organization would scour markets and databases, conduct focus groups, and generally do whatever is necessary to find them. … Now let’s think about what would happen if you applied the same targeted efforts that have worked on other initiatives. Imagine, for example, what would happen if you Googled “accountant” and “Howard University” (one of the leading historically black universities in our country). The names and networking contacts that come up will be largely African American. Or even better, search for the “top 50 African American accountants” on LexisNexis. If you still “can’t find any” after you’ve called everyone in the results list, and everyone they recommend, and everyone they recommend, I might actually believe that you can’t find any. But it won’t happen. You’ll end up with so many candidates you won’t know where to begin.

These methods probably sound elementary to you — even insultingly basic —