New Talent Board Research: Positive Candidate Experience Ratings Are Higher for Women and People of Color

In the early days of the pandemic, McKinsey & Company issued this warning to the business world: “There is a very real risk that inclusion and diversity may now recede as a strategic priority for organizations. This may be quite unintentional: companies will focus on their most pressing basic needs,” such as adopting new ways of working and protecting the physical and mental health of employees.

An article by the Boston Consulting Group a few months later echoed this sentiment, saying the pandemic posed “an even larger challenge” to diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) than the global financial crisis of 2008, which set back DE&I in significant ways. (In the U.S., for instance, among industries hit hardest by the 2008 recession, the portion of ethnic minorities and women in management tumbled a combined 15%.)

Sadly, a growing number of reports show these concerns were all too prophetic:

  • In a pulse survey of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) leaders, more than a quarter of them reported their organizations had put all or most DE&I initiatives on hold because of the pandemic.
  • Another McKinsey report said that nine out of 10 executives admitted to facing challenges in executing their DE&I strategies during the pandemic.
  • McKinsey also reported that “COVID-19 dealt a major setback to women in the workplace … One in four women are considering leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers.” In particular, working mothers, women in senior management positions, and Black women are experiencing some of the largest challenges.

These statistics not only show we’re headed in the wrong direction socially, they also show that businesses are headed in the wrong direction. In fact, historically, companies with inclusive workplaces end up being far less affected by crises like financial crashes and pandemics. As Boston Consulting Group writes: “From 2007 to 2009, the S&P 500 index declined by more than 35%, but the stocks of inclusive companies actually increased by 14%.”

Clearly, DE&I are good for business, and companies need to work harder to become more diverse and inclusive. (I’ve written about this recently here and here.) Happily, there’s a ray of hope showing some progress in at least one area—the candidate experience. And this isn’t about compromising the candidate experience for the sake of one group over others—it’s about improving inclusivity for all groups that historically haven’t had the same equality.

Encouraging Signs from Diverse Groups

Talent Board’s 2021 North American benchmark research revealed that women and people of color rated their 2021 candidate experiences more positively than older candidates, male candidates, or White/Caucasian candidates did. This may be due, in part, to the more inclusive language and examples of diversity that employers are bringing to their careers sites, candidate communications, job ads, and other marketing collateral for their employment brands.

In fact, the top recruitment marketing content for women and people of color in our benchmark research this year included:

  • Diversity & inclusion
  • Company culture
  • Why people want to work there

This aligns with the recruitment marketing content employers told us this year they made available before candidates applied:

  • Company values (99%)
  • Diversity & inclusion (83%)
  • Why people want to work there (80%)

This is the first year that Talent Board asked candidates who participated in our benchmark research to identity their race and ethnicity. Here are a few other DE&I-related points of interest from our 2021 data:

  • Willingness To Refer Others—Black male candidates have the highest positive ratings when it comes to willingness to refer others, based on their candidate experiences—72% higher than White males, in fact. They’re followed by Hispanic females, Asian females, and Black females.
  • Perception of Fairness in Assessments—Candidates who identified as Black, Hispanic, Asian, and Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander rated the fairness of their behavioral/personality assessment process up to 12% higher than Native American/Alaska Native and Multiracial/Biracial candidates. There was little to no difference between women, men, and non-binary individuals.
  • Perception of Fairness in Interviews—Candidates who identified as Hispanic, Native American/Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander rated the fairness of their video interview process up to 8% higher than White and Black candidates. There was little to no difference between the rating of women and men.
  • Ageism—This continues to be a minor but consistent theme in the candidates’ comments from our research, so it’s no surprise that younger individuals rated their candidate experiences higher than older individuals did.

The Importance of Perceived Fairness

Notice that the previous three bullets above are all related to the perceived fairness of the candidate experience. This is a major factor in an employment brand’s reputation and the ratings it receives from candidates.

When candidates feel like their overall experience is a fair one (i.e., they’re truly “in the running” for jobs they’re qualified for), they tend to rate their experiences more positively regardless of their gender, ethnicity, race, and age. Their perception tells them their experience is fairer and more positive whether that’s objectively true or not! And their perception and ratings go even higher when they receive steady communication and engagement activities from an employer at appropriate times during their experience.

It almost goes without saying that candidates who actually get the jobs they apply to rate their experiences higher than those who don’t. So looking closely at ratings from candidates who didn’t get hired can tell you a lot about the perceived fairness of an employment brand. For example, when we look at only the candidates who didn’t get hired in our benchmark research (which accounts for 87% of the candidates, and more than 127,000 individuals in North America alone), Black males who were more likely to refer others had a 120% higher NPS rating than White males. Black females who were more likely to refer others had a 54% higher NPS rating than White females. The results are similar for Hispanic and Asian females and males. Remember, these are all individuals who didn’t get the jobs they applied to and yet were likely to refer others based on their positive experience.

It’s a similar story when we look at gender and generation. Female Gen Z candidates who were more likely to refer others had a 51% higher NPS rating than female Millennials and a 77% higher NPS rating than female Gen Xers. Male Gen Z candidates who were more likely to refer others had a 60% higher NPS rating than male Millennials and a 106% higher NPS rating than male Gen Xers.

Other Rays of Hope & Areas of Opportunity

Outside of the candidate experience there are other small signs of encouragement regarding DE&I in the business world.

A McKinsey survey, for example, asked executives to what degree their CEOs prioritized DE&I during the pandemic. “Nine out of ten responded that even with the pressures of the crisis, DE&I remains a moderate, very important, or top priority,” McKinsey reported. “Furthermore, two out of five companies globally are expanding their investments in DE&I programs even as they make budget cuts elsewhere.” And in a poll of law firms, nearly 50% of participants stated their organizations’ commitment to DE&I stayed the same in 2020, and 42% reported expanding DE&I efforts.

Of course, these small advancements aren’t nearly enough. There are several critical opportunities to support greater DE&I that employers are still not leveraging adequately. And this isn’t about compromising the candidate experience for the sake of one group over others—it’s about improving inclusivity for all groups that historically haven’t had the same equality. For example, the Talent Board/iCIMS survey of TA and HR professionals revealed that a mere 34% say their companies set diversity-related service level agreements or specific targets for both recruiters and hiring managers. Nearly half (45%) set absolutely no SLAs or targets for either group. And more than half of their companies have not used diversity-related data or analytics beyond the minimum required for EEOC compliance.

Again, these are just a few of the opportunities employers are still missing out on to nurture DE&I in their workplaces, and that has a major impact on their recruiting brand and their ability to attract and hire diverse talent.

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered our lives dramatically and forever. We’re all coping with greater uncertainty, the feeling that we lack control, and the spread of misinformation. The potential impact of all of this on our workplaces—in the forms of bias, racism, and xenophobia—is equally dramatic. That’s exactly why our companies must re-commit to DE&I … and then follow through with concrete and measurable results. Will the improved candidate experience for women and people of color be sustained in 2022? What about for any and all groups? We’ll have to wait and see.

In the meantime, you can now download our 2021 CandE Benchmark Research Reports here.

Be safe and well,

Kevin W. Grossman, Talent Board President

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