Recruiting Diverse Talent

Why Recruit and Hire Diverse Talent

Besides why wouldn't you, and it's the right thing to do, there are also financial and organizational-goals-related reasons to recruit and hire diverse talent. Hiring diversely allows for diversity in thought. This means people will be bringing original thinking to the table. Thus, diversity drives innovation, and helps in achieving organizational goals (and/or making money). It's important to not just get diversity in terms of race, although that's important as well. Getting people from diverse backgrounds means considering people from all different walks of life, including on the basis of race, culture, geographic location, SES background, education level, education type, skill, and even intellectual ability. This ensures you're going to have distinct and innovative ideas brought to the table. 

In a phenomenal TED talk (on the importance of being "color brave" rather than "color blind") financial executive Mellody Hobson talks about this very idea -- that a great byproduct of hiring diversely is genuine innovation that might not otherwise exist. In one particularly illustrative example, she discusses how a solution to the smallpox epidemic was inspired, not by a team of highly educated scientists, but by a dairy farmer whose particular expertise allowed him to see the problem from a unique angle... thus demonstrating the importance of hiring people from varied backgrounds.

Hiring for diversity is also particularly important in education -- again, because it is so vital to innovation, but also for another key reason: serving diverse stakeholders requires diverse educators. There is frequently discussion of the mismatch between the demographics of an increasingly diverse student body and a typically homogenous staff of educators, and plenty of evidence to indicate that this is problematic for the students.

On what feels like a related note, there was a 2013 study found that one of the reasons that highly qualified students from low-SES backgrounds sometimes refrain from applying to top colleges may be that they're not exposed to teachers who have attended top colleges, and consequently, lack role models that demonstrate it's possible (Hoxby & Avery, 2013)... I can't help but see a parallel between this and what happens in schools where the kids come from all walks of lives, but the teachers don't.

Isn't it possible that having demographically homogenous educators is bad for these kids? If there's tangible evidence that not being exposed to high-achieving role models can prevent you from achieving highly, surely lacking real-life examples of people who "look like you" holding positions of authority in education (teacher, principal, superintendent) might reduce the feasibility of considering such a future for yourself.

As Mellody Hobson points out in that TED Talk, there really is value in seeing role models that look like you -- and for many students, that's just not a thing. If we don't seek to emphasize diversity (in its many versions) in recruiting and hiring educators, we do our students (the most important of our stakeholders in education) a disservice by having the majority of the authority figures in their education experience look different from them. 

Recruiting CLD Educators for Multicultural Environments

In order to create and sustain a supportive multicultural environment in a school, based on James Banks' (2015) model of the "total school environment," we have to consider hiring practices. Teachers often do not represent the makeup of their student body. One of the important components of the total school environment includes the school staff, and their attitudes, perceptions, beliefs, and actions (Banks, 2015), who may often be predominantly White, and therefore not reflective of the student body they serve (Pedersen, 2000).

Thus, part of the problem, as Pedersen (2000) points out, is the tendency of individuals to have a preference for their own cultural values, and see them as the best of all possibilities. Further, teaching practices of White teachers may often serve to sustain racist ideologies when teaching Black students or other students of color (Hyland, 2005).

While "few teachers would continue to act in ways that they believed would endanger the educational opportunities of their students," racism, inequality, and unfairness regarding opportunity or educational experience are often a part of the schooling experience, even when doing what is "seemingly wonderful for students" (Hyland, 2005). This naturally creates hierarchies and divisions in multicultural environments.

The problems created by the lack of diversity in teaching staff calls for implementation of diverse recruiting and hiring practices, reflected not just in the hiring of teachers, but of administrators, all school faculty (teachers, counselors, building service workers), students, and the extended community. Having demographically homogenous educators can be bad for students:

If there’s tangible evidence that not being exposed to high-achieving role models can prevent you from achieving highly, surely lacking real-life examples of people who “look like you” holding positions of authority in education (teacher, principal, superintendent) might reduce the feasibility of considering such a future for yourself.

Recruiting diverse talent would help directly address the issues that arise from not doing so. That said, it should go without saying that race and ethnicity alone do not serve to guarantee the characteristics needed in a multicultural environment (although if we aim for a multicultural environment, hiring diverse staff is necessary in terms of putting our money where our mouth is, so to speak). Being a person of color or from a non-White or otherwise "different" background does not guarantee freedom from bias or internalized stereotypes. On the contrary, all individuals may carry bias (Pedersen, 2000). When engaging in diverse hiring practices, we should not forget what we look for in candidates of any color or creed, and we should also aim to support all talent by building their multicultural awareness and proficiency.

Because change in all factors of Banks’ (2015) model require change in order to create and sustain meaningful change in a multicultural educational environment, it is important that any new initiative aim to address multiple elements of the model. Improving hiring practices might serve this purpose, as it would naturally impact two more elements of Bank’s model: (1) teaching styles and strategies, and (2) the school culture and hidden curriculum.

So, whether for the sake of innovation, money, ethics, or inspiring students, or for the sake of supporting culturally and linguistically diverse students, let's say we're all on board with recruiting diversely... how do we do it?

Recruiting diverse talent requires three things: (1) looking in unexpected places, (2) considering unlikely candidates, and (3) choosing the best applicants from your diverse pool of candidates.

Recruit from Unexpected Sources

To recruit diverse talent, you have to look for the top candidates from varied racial, cultural, geographic, and SES backgrounds, but remember that everyone is looking for those candidates, and is also probably looking in the same places. So the first thing to do is to knock on less frequently visited doors.

That same 2013 study I mentioned earlier found that most colleges’ have a hard time tapping into the so-called "hidden supply" of high-achieving, low-income students (Hoxby & Avery, 2013). They found one of the reasons for this was that colleges' traditional recruiting programs tend not to work with those students, partly because they tend to recruit from particular geographic areas that are known for their high concentration of high-achieving students -- and the high-achieving/low-income kids might not be in those areas. It's entirely possible that high quality organizations and companies are also missing out on highly qualified and capable applicants who are "hidden."

So how do we get around this? Hoxby and Avery’s (2013) proposed solutions included reaching out to this hidden supply of potential applicants by expanding the geographic scope of recruitment efforts to include areas that don't have the highest geographic concentration of high achievers. So maybe instead of recruiting from the cream of the crop at Yale, you try to look for the cream of the crop at Imaginary Farmers’ Midwestern University (to make up a stereotypically unlikely source of recruiting). Basically, thinking outside the geographic and traditional recruitment source box would help in recruiting diverse candidates.

Consider Unlikely Applicants

It's probably also wise to consider potential candidates who might not be seen on paper as being the most highly qualified; as Mellody Hobson advises, intellectual diversity may have value as well. Such candidates might be particularly valuable to innovation within an organization -- as was the case with the dairy farmer story.

Choose the Best from the Diverse Applicants

Assuming you've successfully solicited job applications from widely varied sources, and have a genuinely diverse pool of applicants to work from, you now just get to choose the best of these applicants. Before this can happen, of course, it would be key to make sure you and your organization are super-clear on the goals for what tangible and intangible skills are desired in the talent. This way, as you screen applicants, you know exactly what key skills or traits constitute the "best."

As a side note, no matter how not-racist you are, implicit biases regarding name, gender, and race on job applications definitely exist. In particular, non-Nordic names are often given less consideration for job opportunities than Nordic names (Eriksson & Lagerström, 2011). If it's necessary, and if you're working from a genuinely diverse pool of applicants with significant racial, ethnic, cultural, gender, and age diversity, then at this point it might be 'safe' to go name-blind. I hesitate to even say this, since a colorblind approach can be inherently problematic (Liberman, 2013), and hiding names might equate to the same thing... but, assuming up until now you've successfully developed a truly diverse pool of applicants to choose from, there may be value in blocking names (or ages, genders, etc. while we're at it) from the equation, and examining applicants based on desired skills (still keeping an eye out for diversity within those skills).

Reducing Workplace Bias

If recruiting efforts to maximize diversity in order to drive original thinking, innovation, and organizational goals is successful, then by definition, employees would be fundamentally different from one another in significant, tangible ways. Thus, it might be particularly challenging to reduce workplace bias, and foster a workplace culture that really embraces the diversity present. Combating workplace bias would require establishing a culture where "courageous conversations" and "color bravery" exist -- this involves implementation of professional development training explicitly helps tease out bias, and creating a workplace culture that honors the differences within it.

Establishing a Culture of Courageous Conversations

To facilitate a genuinely accepting and harmonious work environment, it might be valuable to offer "self-regulation training" to help even "nonprejudiced” employees “overcome automatically activated stereotypes and achieve truly nonracist interactions" (Deitch, Barsky, Butz, Chan, Brief, & Bradley, 2003, p. 1318). Given the importance of explicitly advocating messages of diversity and its importance to all members of all demographic groups (Liberman, 2013), such training would be inclusive of employees of all backgrounds. To be clear, these courageous conversations shouldn't just be occurring for those employees who fall into a minority group. To foster and maintain a harmonious work environment, taking the time to establish institutional practices which honor the differences in background (both formally and informally) would be crucial.

Stray thoughts:

  • If there is a lack of diversity among teaching candidates, is this reflective of opportunity, choice, or both? Why do teaching applicants and candidates of a particular demographic profile express a greater interest in teaching than others?
  • Subcommunities that necessarily form among school staff based on area of specialization, but due to hiring trends associated with certain positions, can become a form of self-segregation, are a missed opportunity for making connections and building understanding.
  • For instance, while most schools are primarily staffed by White teachers, in spite of a dramatically increasing population of multicultural students (Hyland, 2005), the racial makeup of building service staff is often very different. What message does this send students? 


Banks, J. A. (2015). Educating citizens for diversity in global times. In Cultural diversity and education: Foundations, curriculum, and teaching (6th ed., pp. 23-41). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Banks, J. A. (2015). Multicultural education: History, development, goals, and approaches. In Cultural diversity and education: Foundations, curriculum, and teaching (6th ed., pp. 42-67). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Deitch, E., Barsky, A., Butz, R., Chan, S., Brief, A., & Bradley, J. (2003). Subtle yet significant: The existence and impact of everyday racial discrimination in the workplace. Human Relations, 56, 1299-1324. doi:10.1177/00187267035611002

Eriksson, S., & Lagerström, J. (2011). Detecting discrimination in the hiring process: Evidence from an Internet-based search channel. Empirical Economics, 43, 537-563. doi:10.1007/s00181-011-0496-6

Hobson, M. (2014, March). Mellody Hobson: Color blind or color brave? [Video file]. Retrieved from

Hoxby, C., & Avery, C. (2013). The missing "one-offs": The hidden supply of high-achieving, low-income students. Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, 1-50. Retrieved from

Hyland, N. E. (2005). Being a good teacher of black students? White teachers and unintentional racism. Curriculum Inquiry, 35(4), 429-459. Retrieved from

Liberman, B. E. (2013). Eliminating discrimination in organizations: The role of organizational strategy for diversity management. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 6, 466-471. doi:10.1111/iops.12086

Pedersen, Paul. (2000). The rules of multiculturalism. In A handbook for developing multicultural awareness (3rd ed., pp. 23-42). Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.