DE&I: It’s Not Just About How We Treat Employees

As employers work to improve diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I), I’m pleased to say that Talent Board is taking steps to support them. Our 2021 survey, for instance, will be the first that asks candidates questions about their gender, race and ethnicity. (Participants will be free to skip these questions if they prefer.) It’s a small but important first step, and we plan to delve deeper into DE&I in future surveys.

The point of these questions will be to give employers a better understanding of how candidates from different backgrounds and cultures perceive their experiences and whether there are discernable gaps among different candidate groups. As I’ve said many times, candidates’ perceptions are crucial because they’re the basis for many of the ratings employers receive across social media and online review sites, whether or not candidates will apply again to an employer’s other jobs, and even whether candidates will buy a company’s products and services going forward.

Much (although not all) of the bias candidates perceive in their experiences is unconscious bias on the part of recruiters and hiring managers. We hope to deliver insights about these particular kinds of experiences in future surveys.

Microaggressions Have Macro Consequences

Like many of you, I’ve been working to improve my own understanding of unconscious bias and DE&I, which are justifiably among today’s most urgent business priorities. I recently took part in Cornell University’s Diversity and Inclusion Certificate Program, which goes beyond all the basic compliance issues to help participants build truly aware and inclusive workplace cultures. It was a terrific experience, especially in terms of learning specific diversity and inclusion strategies.

One particularly helpful aspect of the program was the material on microaggressions—ways of acting and communicating (both consciously and unconsciously) that signal a person’s or group’s dominance over others. Some obvious examples of microaggressions in the workplace are:

  • Interrupting people when they’re speaking in meetings
  • A white employee requesting a white supervisor because a black supervisor isn’t “a good fit”
  • Not giving a female employee credit for an idea but instead crediting a male or higher-ranking individual who echoes her idea

The negative effects of microaggressions aren’t micro at all. They’re a huge drain on employee morale, performance, satisfaction and loyalty—which, in turn, makes them a huge drain on a company’s overall performance and bottom line, not to mention its ability to recruit and retain top talent. That’s an enormous price to pay for “micro” behaviors.

And like Rocki Howard, chief diversity officer at SmartRecruiters, said at our recent virtual conference, “You have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable” in order to affect positive change.

The Impact of Microaggressions on the Candidate Experience

A recent Forbes article highlighted three types of microaggressions that should be rooted out in the workplace:

  1. Microassaults include purposefully behaving or speaking in a racist way (e.g., making a racist joke, knowing the joke is racist, yet claiming the joke is harmless), never acknowledging a black employee during a meeting, and ignoring a minority coworker’s attempts to share ideas.
  2. Microinsults are verbal and nonverbal behaviors that are rude and insensitive and that demean a person’s race or gender (e.g., a white male asking black or female coworkers how they were able to get their job, implying they didn’t win the role on merit).
  3. Microinvalidations are ways of communicating that negate, exclude, or ignore a person because of race or gender (e.g., a white employee asking minority coworkers where they’re from—a question he doesn’t ask white coworkers and one that implies they don’t belong).

While the Cornell program and Forbes article focus primarily on how bias and microaggressions affect the employee experience, I could immediately see parallels to the candidate experience—specifically, how bias and microaggressions can creep into our candidate communications. Here are a few examples:

  • Job ads/descriptions—When crafting job descriptions, recruiters and hiring managers may use gender-specific words that affect who applies to these jobs. Words such as “salesman” and “foreman” are obvious examples, but as a SHRM article points out even subtle word choices can have an impact on your applicant pool. “Research shows that masculine language, including adjectives like ‘competitive’ and ‘determined,’ results in women perceiving that they would not belong in the work environment,” the article notes. Racial and cultural microaggressions may be conveyed when a Career site and job postings refer to specific holidays, ethnic events or characters, references to “native speakers” of a language as opposed to “fluent speakers,” etc. There are software tools and organizations that can help you review and revise your company’s Career site and job postings to remove bias and microaggressions, which will help to open up your candidate pool.
  • Interviews—Clearly, interviews are a major touchpoint where microassaults, microinsults and microinvalidations can occur, as they’re the most unscripted and immediate forms of communication between candidates and your recruiters and hiring managers. There’s simply no denying that even today interviewers sometimes make racist jokes, use insensitive phrases and language, and make misogynistic and ageist comments. Sometimes these transgressions are intentional, but often they’re not. This is one reason I’ve been a longtime champion of structured interviews (asking every candidate for a job the same set of pre-defined questions). By structuring interviews, you help to reduce the chances that interviewers will veer off-road into microaggressions, at least in their questions. As the SHRM article above states, structured interviews also “minimize bias by allowing employers to focus on the factors that have a direct impact on performance.” I’m also a big believer in diversity and sensitivity training for your entire TA staff, but especially recruiters and hiring managers who are on the front lines of representing your company and its culture to potential employees. Interviews also offer your team an opportunity to implement microaffirmations—small, simple acts that affirm others’ competence and value (e.g., giving candidates their undivided attention, not interrupting but nodding in response instead, backing up what a candidate says with something from their own experiences, etc.).

There’s no way to entirely eliminate the risk of microaggressions in candidate interviews. After all, we’re talking about human interactions here. But training and structured interviews can go a long way toward creating a fairer and more inclusive candidate journey.

  • Rejection letters/emails/conversations—One of the hardest things TA professionals have to do is to reject candidates, especially those who make it into the later and final stages of the recruiting process. We need to be honest, and it helps candidates when we give them specific reasons they didn’t make the final cut. But we need to make certain that our recruiters and hiring managers don’t venture into those three areas of microaggressions in their explanations. Again, training can help ensure that their rejection communications stick to the issues of job fit (education, skills, background, years of experience, etc.).

Again, these are just a few of the candidate communications touchpoints you can examine for potential microaggressions.

If you’re interested in learning how candidates from diverse backgrounds feel about their experiences with you, be sure to participate in Talent Board’s 2021 research program. Sign up here before time runs out!


Be safe and well.

Kevin Grossman, Talent Board President

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