February is Black History Month, when we take the time to celebrate the achievements of the African-American community and to grapple with the oppression it has faced throughout American history and in the present. Most importantly, this is a great opportunity to find concrete actions we can each take to create a more equal society.
As recruiters, if you have been struggling to raise the Black representation in your workplace, taking a concrete action might be making a plan to find more diverse and specifically Black talent. For some helpful insight into what may be missing from diversity recruitment, as well as areas that need more progress and challenges facing Black candidates, we interviewed DEI leader Tamika Curry Smith.
Ms. Curry Smith is the president of TCS Group, a firm which gives companies HR and DEI solutions. She is highly experienced in the DEI field, having served as a Diversity and Inclusion executive at a number of large companies such as Nike and Target. She also serves on the Talenya advisory board.
What brought you to Talenya?
I got involved with Talenya because I see the potential for its technology to truly be a game-changer. We continue to hear about the so-called “diversity pipeline problem,” but that is a fallacy. The reality is there has never been a more talented, diverse population of recruitable talent out there.
Talenya has a three-prong approach to diversity sourcing that is groundbreaking:
- Utilizes AI to add missing skills to candidate profiles based on predictive analytics.
- Leverages job descriptions instead of Boolean search and makes minor tweaks to preferred vs. required elements and geographical parameters to optimize the pool of candidates available to companies.
- Minimizes the chance for unconscious bias by eliminating the ability to identify candidates by race and gender in the initial stages of review, thus allowing decisions to be made based on qualifications and merit.
All of these elements work together to dramatically increase the source pool of diverse talent accessible to organizations.
You’ve worked with large, well-established companies in the past and now help advise startups and newer companies. What are some of the differing challenges to DEI efforts, and recruitment in general, between newer/smaller and older/larger companies?
Believe it or not, when it comes to DEI efforts, many companies are grabbling with the same issues, regardless of size: hiring, promotions, retention, culture, employee engagement, customer makeup, product / service assortment, supplier diversity, community partnerships, etc. That is what a holistic DEI strategy is about – leveraging DEI as an enabler of your people and business strategies.
So although the ‘what’ is similar, the ‘how’ you execute DEI strategies does depend on company size and where they are on the DEI maturity curve. In general, larger, more established companies have more brand recognition and have formulated a strong employee value proposition, which helps with a number of areas, including recruiting. Newer / smaller companies are usually earlier in the DEI journey. That means much of the work is centered on building the foundation to help embed DEI into how they operate so it organically comes to life as they grow and scale.
Are there any glaring gaps you’ve noticed in diversity hiring practices, or any improvements you’ve hoped for but haven’t seen?
There are three areas where I think improvements in hiring practices are needed. First, much of the work done in talent acquisition is manual in nature, which means it’s quite time intensive – both for the recruiter and the hiring manager. That also means the process isn’t optimized to surface the best candidates available.
Secondly, recruiters typically rely on their personal and professional networks to identify potential candidates. If their circles aren’t diverse, which is often the case given that the majority of recruiters are white, that disadvantages candidates from diverse backgrounds. While I see some organizations making attempts to build more inclusion into their processes, the area where I don’t see as much effort is in diversifying their recruiting teams. I always say, if you keep doing what you’ve been doing and keep looking where you’ve been looking, you’ll keep getting what you’ve been getting.
Lastly, measurement and accountability need to be built into the hiring process. Recruiters are often measured on metrics like number of positions filled and time to fill, which incentivize them to focus on volume and speed. You get what you measure and what gets measured gets done. So, all recruiters should also have accountability to present diverse candidate slates and to achieve a representative percentage of hires from diverse backgrounds. Otherwise, change won’t occur.
In light of Black History Month, do you have any insight into possibly less-obvious barriers to entry that Black Americans face at the professional level?
All historically underrepresented and marginalized groups face barriers, but for Black Americans, the history of slavery and Jim Crow in the United States continues to impact them to this day. On a systemic level, that history has resulted in widespread educational and economic inequities that make things much more difficult, like getting a solid college preparatory education, paying for and graduating from college, having professional role models, building robust professional networks, etc. Many Black professionals are from the first generation in their family to navigate academia and Corporate America, and they’re often figuring out how to do so on their own.
We also can’t underestimate the damaging effects of negative stereotypes of Black people that were created centuries ago and continue to propagate today. The stereotype of being “less than” contributes to the fallacy that there isn’t qualified Black talent out there, which is a common refrain in academic and professional settings. It also contributes to the microaggressions and gaslighting that Black people experience in academia and in the workplace.
Are there any specific practices for promoting African American equality in hiring that you wish you’d seen more of in your experience?
There are three areas where I’d like to see more progress:
- Source pools – Organizations need to rethink the way they view talent and where they look for talent. Talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not. Companies need to be more intentional about the colleges and universities where they recruit, the professional organizations they tap into, and the networks they leverage to get referrals. The entire talent acquisition ecosystem needs to be more inclusive in order drive results.
- Requirements based on experience – Organizations need to shift to more of a competency-based recruiting model instead of solely an experience-based one. Given the systemic inequities we know exist in society and within companies, relying on years of experience and/or a predetermined set of experiences will continue to automatically exclude African Americans and other underrepresented and marginalized groups. But if the recruitment process, including everything from job descriptions to interview questions, is focused on competencies and capabilities, companies will be able to open up their aperture to include more talent from different backgrounds.
- Automation – Organizations and recruiters need to embrace technology and leverage automation to optimize the talent acquisition process. The recruiting process is like a funnel – each role starts with a large number of applicants and results in one hire. Well, if there is little to no diversity at the top of the funnel, there’s an even lower chance it’ll make it through to the bottom of the funnel. Technology like Talenya leverages AI to comb the internet and find talent from a broad range of places. That provides a faster, more effective way to source qualified candidates and level the playing field for Black talent and others from underrepresented groups.