8 Tips to Improve Your Hiring Pipeline for Black Talent - Senior Executive

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Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in Hiring and Recruiting 7 min

8 Tips to Improve Your Hiring Pipeline for Black Talent

Your company has committed to increasing diversity. Here’s how you can bring Black talent into your organization…

by Sharon Hurley Hall on May 12, 2022


  • Partner with Black networking groups and historically Black colleges and universities

  • Rethink your referral system and leverage ERGs

  • Enact a diverse slate approach to ensure a certain number of underrepresented candidates receive interviews

Companies across the U.S. have made a commitment to hire Black employees. However, employers have moved slowly along the path to talent parity, where the percentage of Black workers at all levels of the organization matches the percentage of Black people in America.

Black people make up 12% of the U.S. population, and Black workers make up 12% of entry-level jobs, according to research from McKinsey & Co. However, only 7% of Black workers move into management roles. On today’s trajectory, Black employees will reach talent parity (12% representation) in 95 years.  The consulting firm predicts that addressing the major barriers to Black advancement could cut that timeframe to 25 years. 

What’s that timeline at your organization? Addressing your hiring pipeline and bringing Black talent into your organization is one starting point. Here are the winning strategies we’re already seeing in the business world. 

1. Check Out Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs)

If you’re still recruiting from predominantly white institutions (PWIs) and the Ivy League, you’ll definitely have trouble filling your pipeline. Sure, there are Black people in those places but the number of Black students is not proportionate to  the percentage of Black people in the U.S. 

Improve your odds by checking out Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs). That’s been a good strategy for Boston Consulting Group in increasing the diversity of its workforce year-over-year. 

Capt. Curtis Brunjes, managing director of Aviate and pilot strategy for United Airlines, agrees. Brunjes runs a job training program for future pilots that culminates in a job offer to join the United team. He adds that putting the HBCUs the company has partnered with on the Aviate website also helps attract diverse talent and get the company closer to its goal “We really want to ensure that the cockpit reflects the demographics of our nation, which it doesn’t presently,” he says. “This effort is going to get us there.”

2. Widen Your Professional Networks 

Expand your search to include the places where Black job seekers are hanging out — that includes online job boards and in-person networking. Jill Allison, national director of talent acquisition at catering technology company HUNGRY, comments: “It’s easy for companies to say, ‘We posted on LinkedIn and Indeed, and we just don’t have Black talent coming our way.’ If you truly want to put your money where your mouth is, then you have to be proactive. That’s the bottom line.”

Not sure where to start? ModelExpand has a great list of places you can check out to hire Black talent in different fields. Career accelerators, like Kadima Careers, that specifically work with people from underrepresented groups are another option.

3. Use Referrals the Smart Way 

If your company relies on referrals, Black candidates are likely being left out. “People refer individuals that they know, people who look like them and hang out in the same social circles,” says Alan Stein, Kadima’s CEO and chief accelerator,  who worked for some of the world’s biggest tech companies before founding the company. “Because of that, referrals are highly skewed towards the existing population dynamics of the companies. That happens to be predominantly male, predominantly white and very small percentages of Black and Latinx folks.”

Change that dynamic and tap diverse employees at your organization for recommendations. For example, Citigroup uses its 10 affinity groups, each co-led by someone on its leadership team, to ensure it’s reaching out to wider networks. Affinity groups are also a winning strategy for Estee Lauder, where 46% of U.S. employees come from underrepresented groups.

4. Offer More Internships and Apprenticeships

If you can’t find the Black talent you want, consider creating your own pipeline through internships and apprenticeships. This also gives you the chance to spot people with potential early and bring them into your company. IBM uses this strategy and recently decided to increase the number of paid internships ten-fold. The company now offered 1,000 positions to help ensure that the tech industry represents the country’s demographics.

5. Be Flexible With Hiring Criteria

Not everyone who ends up as a good hire will come through the four-year degree route. If you want to improve your pipeline for Black talent, open up your hiring process to the more than 70 million people in the U.S. who are skilled through alternative routes (STARs). And be prepared to be “understanding and open to a conversation”, as HUNGRY’s vice president of operations Juliet Falsafi says, rather than rejecting candidates who are a bit different.

“You have to make the effort to really identify and look for those folks,” says Allison. “A lot of our talk now is, if we wanted to attract Black salespeople, what experience would transition well?” 

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6. Use a Diverse Slate Approach

Stein says the diverse slate approach (DSA) is one of the most effective strategies for recruiting Black talent. Also known as the Rooney Rule,  DSA ensures that a certain number of people from underrepresented groups interview for open positions. 

“When I was at Facebook, we had a rule on my team that two people from underrepresented groups had to make it through, including Black and Latinx people, differently-abled people and so on,” Stein says. “That incentivized me to look harder for talented individuals.” 

He adds that as the team expanded from 5 to 15 people, the diversity in the team grew from 40% to 87%, proving the effectiveness of the diverse slate approach.

7. Be Transparent and Accountable for Diversity Goals 

Public accountability is another great strategy. Plus, your target candidates are more likely to consider working at your company when they see your dedication (and progress). 

Wondering what you should report? Netflix recently shared that in the U.S., Black people hold 13% of leadership positions. Nike has set clear and ambitious targets for representation. Currently, 24.3% of its U.S. workforce is Black or African American; the brand aims to have 30% racial or ethnic minorities at the director level and above by 2025.

8. Create an Environment Where Black People Want to Work  

“If you want to attract Black talent, become an organization where Black talent can thrive,” says Jessica Millett, who has 15 years of experience in recruiting, human resources and DEI strategy. However, senior leaders should never assume that they’re going above and beyond for their Black employees. Start with self-reflection and measurement, she says. 

“Unless you are willing to uncover the systemic processes and narratives that are preventing Black talent from entering and rising within your organization in the first place, any efforts you take [to build your pipeline of Black candidates] will not lead to the desired results,”  Millett says. “However, if a team is willing to start with self-examination and take action to address what they uncover, then their hiring strategies will always be effective.”

For example, Millett says her team measured team demographics, only to find that over 80% of the team — and their referrals — were White.  “This meant that no matter how talented, experienced and equipped an external candidate was for the role, they were inevitably passed over for a referral — a White referral — a process that was repeated with every position we filled,” she says. By measuring and reporting on this trend, Millett says she was able to identify the steps needed to improve the process. 

Equitable work environments benefit the Black talent you already have while attracting top candidates to join your organization. Stay tuned for future pieces on supporting Black employees once they join your organization.

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