Are Pro-Diversity Hiring Messages Helping or Hurting Your Business?

Are Pro-Diversity Hiring Messages Helping or Hurting Your Business?

HR professionals that put diversity initiatives into place for their organizations do so with good intentions. However, “good intentions” do not necessarily bring about desired results. In fact, as I have seen many times during my 25 years of employee recruitment advertising experience, the results are sometimes the exact opposite of what HR thought was going to happen.

The Harvard Business Review recently published an excellent article on the subject, The Unintended Consequences of Diversity Statements. Authors of the article focus on a practice known as “resume whitening.” They share the results of three different studies that were conducted to learn more about “whitening,” how it is influenced by organizational diversity statements, and how organizations respond to whitening.

One of the early paragraphs jumped out at me:

“In trying to address discrimination, many organizations now explicitly advertise their dedication to diversity, identifying themselves as “equal opportunity” or “diversity-friendly” employers. The thinking, presumably, is that such statements will increase the diversity of their applicant pool and ultimately of their workforce. We know a lot about how effective these diversity statements are, and, unfortunately, the answer is “not very.” They can even backfire…”

The paragraph caught my attention because of a recent experience our firm, Mitton Media, had with one of our recruitment advertising clients, a global energy company. Part of the project’s omni-channel advertising strategy was a regional radio recruitment program covering several states.

After reviewing Mitton Media’s proposed radio script, HR insisted “Equal Opportunity Employer” be replaced with a lengthy tag about the company’s total commitment to creating a diversified workplace. We suggested a different approach for how to go about communicating the message but HR insisted and the recruitment commercial was produced using their “workplace diversity” tag.

HR decided they wanted feedback from current employees. So, after the radio recruitment commercial had been produced, they scheduled preview sessions with different internal “focus groups.” Each group representing different ethnic clusters working for the company.

What happened next stunned HR.

Despite meeting separately at different times and locations, the shared reaction of the groups to HR’s extended “workplace diversity” tag was swift, strong, and extremely negative. One participant’s comments seemed to best sum the collective reaction of employees:

“I hate that diversity message for two reasons. First, it insults me and my colleagues. It tells us we were hired not for our abilities but because of the color of our skin. Second, if people don’t know by now that this company is committed to workplace diversity, then they are too stupid to work here!”

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, organizations that advertise themselves as “equal opportunity employers” or “diversity-friendly workplaces” do so with good intentions. At some point, however, employers need to begin to realize the double-edged impact pro-diversity statements are having on individual workplaces. Not only the level of influence being felt by potential candidates but the negative effects, too, and the toll they are taking on the current workforce already in place.

If you would like to hear more about the effective “pro-diversity” messaging strategies used by Mitton Media, please send a note and we will set up a time convenient with your schedule.

John Mitton President/Mitton Media

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