4 Pillars to Build Your HBCU Recruitment Strategy - Senior Executive

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Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in Hiring and Recruiting 9 min

4 Pillars to Build Your HBCU Recruitment Strategy

Chief diversity officers share key takeaways they've learned from building their HBCU recruiting strategies.

by Taylor Odisho on February 6, 2023


  • After your organization establishes its goals and objectives, work toward building meaningful relationships with HBCUs and its students.

  • Invite members of ERGs and HBCU alumni to join you in your recruiting efforts by asking them to offer campus insights, host workshops, and become mentors.

  • Stay intentional with your efforts to recruit the most diverse, talented students, and measure your success against yourself as well as other organizations’ benchmarks.

If you’re committed to uplifting and supporting Black communities, and you want to diversify your talent pool, recruiting from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) needs to be a leading initiative for you and your team. 

HBCU recruiting diversifies your talent pool with qualified candidates, encourages collaboration, and drives innovation at your organization as fresh perspectives lead to new ideas. The numbers say it all: diverse companies outperform less diverse companies by 36% in profitability, according to a study from McKinsey & Company

As a chief diversity officer, you know what an HBCU is and you know you should be recruiting from them, but how do you tap into their networks? Here are the key elements to building a robust HBCU recruitment strategy.

1. Establish a Commitment to HBCU Students

For more than 100 years, HBCUs have created communities for minority students across the nation. Consequently, recruiting HBCU students means committing to building relationships with the schools.

“Be intentional about investing time into building trust with the schools and students. HBCUs can detect right away if you’re just showing up to say, ‘Hey, we want to recruit people of color, we want your Black talent,’ and leave. That’s not going to make it,” says Tony Jeffreys, a diversity and inclusion leader and vice president at Fidelity Investments.

To demonstrate its loyalty, Fidelity announced a $250 million initiative, Invest in My Education (ME), to provide support for up to 50,000 students by increasing opportunities for economic mobility and building a path toward generational wealth. A portion of the funds will be administered in collaboration with the United Negro College Fund, which provides scholarships to students attending minority- and majority-serving institutions.

“Investing in education, providing ongoing support for Black, Latino, and historically underserved students, and combining that effort with student scholarships and wraparound services of support, like mentoring and community grants, that is what this initiative is really about,” Jeffreys says. 

Deb Grimes, the chief diversity officer at Ochsner Health, says direct partnerships with several HBCUs in Louisiana, including Southern University, Dillard University, and Xavier University of Louisiana, which Ochsner has partnered with to build a medical school in the next five years, helped it meet diversity goals within its employee base. Ochsner realized, however, that it was lacking in diversity at the executive level. 

In 2020, the healthcare system set a goal for all assistant director positions and above to be 25% Black, Indigenous, and people of color. It started at 11%, rose to 14% the next year, and most recently landed at 16%. Although Ochsner is on track to meet its goal in 2025, it tapped alumni to host its inaugural HBCU Summit in 2022 in hopes of building a stronger network that leads to more personal recommendations for executive-level positions at the healthcare system.

“It was born out of understanding our commitment to having more diverse leaders – then we need to increase the pipeline to get more diverse individuals interested in healthcare and the array of opportunities in different positions. That was the whole idea behind our first HBCU Summit,” Grimes says. The summit was a three-hour event held at Ochsner and open to HBCU students and recent graduates. Employees led informational sessions, including how to navigate the application process and create a LinkedIn profile, conducted mock interviews, and had a panel discussion with HBCU alumni.

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2. Recruit HBCU Students Online

You should be building brand awareness online with a robust social media strategy. Your social media presence can then be leveraged to recruit HBCU students. Rocki Rockingham, the chief human resources officer at GE Appliances, suggests creating and joining LinkedIn groups and forums with HBCU students to share internship openings and job opportunities. 

Meanwhile, Amber Arnold, the vice president of DEI at MikeWorldWide, a global public relations firm, leans on Instagram and TikTok to promote recruiting opportunities because that’s where students are searching. “TikTok emerged as an innovative way companies are trying to position themselves as an employer of choice for mostly Gen Z, but also young people of color in general,” Arnold says. 

Many corporations have also partnered with HBCU Connect, one of the most widely used digital platforms with the largest network of students and alumni. It was founded by two HBCU graduates in 1999, and aimed at creating a social network that connected HBCU graduates which evolved into a job platform.

HBCU Connect and GE Appliances partnered to host a 90-minute virtual recruitment event, which included a company overview, panel discussion, and Q&A. It was attended by several hundred students who were invited to apply online and informed of GE Appliances’ interview days on campus. “We want to attach ourselves to talent networks that allow us to attract and engage in hiring diverse candidates and people who have been vetted. HBCU Connect is that. It’s important that we go where the candidates are,” Rockingham says.

3. Recruit HBCU Students on Campus

When career fairs ramp up at HBCUs, ask coworkers, especially HBCU alumni, to get involved. Not only does it strengthen your organization’s commitment to diversifying its recruiting strategy, but it’s important prospective employees see people who look, think, and act like them within your company. 

Fidelity asks HBCU alumni to volunteer with diversity and inclusion teams to provide guidance on what works at their schools, including how Fidelity brands itself and where it creates positive touch points through on-campus experiences, such as mentoring sessions.

North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (A&T), the largest HBCU in the country, is one of Fidelity’s priority institutions for technology. It produces more Black and Brown engineers than any other school in the nation, and Fidelity leverages approximately 90 A&T alumni to engage these highly sought-after recruits.

“When [A&T alumni] go on campus and participate in career panels or an interviewing skills workshop or resume writing workshop, the students perk up and say, ‘Oh, you’re from A&T and you work at Fidelity? Tell me more,’” Jeffreys says.

Rockingham embraces “business champions,” or leaders from employee resource groups (ERGs), in addition to alumni to run recruitment tours for GE Appliances. This builds a sense of camaraderie between the company and school, Rockingham says, another tactic for running a successful tour. 

“For us, business champions come in many shapes and sizes. They are subject matter experts who volunteered to go out and bring back talent that either shares common interests or are in the functional areas we’re looking for,” Rockingham says.

4. Build Diverse Hiring Panels, Apprenticeship Programs for HBCU Candidates

After your organization begins building relationships with students and educators at HBCUs, you should have a list of prospective interns and employees who are as interested in working with you as you are in hiring them. It’s time to start building their future at your company. 

According to Rockingham, GE Appliances’ hiring process begins with a diverse hiring panel. For example, interviewing for an engineering role would involve a hiring panel with different kinds of engineers from different cultural backgrounds and job levels. But there’s more to it than metrics. “When we look at inclusion and diversity, we look at it not just from a color perspective, we look at it from a broadening experience perspective of what you bring to the experience. We have people from all over the world,” Rockingham says. GE Appliances has regional and global operations in Mexico, Puerto Rico, India, China, and South Korea. 

The previously mentioned study from McKinsey & Company determined organizations with more diverse hiring panels are 35% more likely to have a more diverse candidate slate and are twice as likely to improve the diversity of their hiring outcomes. 

To move candidates toward full-time positions, Fidelity offers various apprenticeships, including Fidelity LEAP, a four-month technology program for recent or upcoming grads from all backgrounds that takes them from a learner-centered career development program to a full-time position. Fidelity also offers the Emerging Leaders Program, an 18-month rotational program for students from all backgrounds with a liberal arts degree.

Measuring the Success of Your HBCU Recruitment Strategy

After initiating your HBCU recruitment strategy — building connections with students and graduates, and inviting them to interview for a position at your company — it’s time to measure its success. Turns out that’s more complicated than it may seem. As it stands, many DEI leaders don’t have a metric they are tracking in regard to HBCU recruitment. Instead, HBCU recruitment has become a part of their overall strategy to diversify employee demographics. 

At Humana, its workforce is made up of 18.4% Black employees and 17.5% Latinx employees. Its HBCU recruitment metrics are a part of its greater DEI metrics. “I try really hard not to have separate HBCU metrics, different from the greater strategy. We’ve worked with our people strategy team to make sure that our HBCUs are part of a greater DEI metrics and that they’re part of the people strategy,” say Carolyn Tandy, the senior vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer at Humana. 

Fidelity uses its diversity and inclusion report to measure success and inform future initiatives. It also uses other companies’ reports as a benchmark against their progress. “Not only is D&I the right thing to do but we know the impact that will be measured by our ability to sustain the effort, expand and scale our projects’ progress year-over-year as it relates to our HBCUs,” says Jeffreys. 

Instead of tracking HBCU recruitments, Jeffreys advises focusing on how many HBCU recruits you’re moving along the interview process, retaining students your hire, and fostering community through mentorship and affinity groups. 

Measuring the success of your goals is as idiosyncratic as setting them. Most importantly, keep in mind what’s best for the students you’re recruiting and for your organization.

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