Many companies that have an employee referral program in place and are satisfied with its process of generating a highly qualified workforce are still concerned about its impact on teams’ diversity. Studies have shown that a diverse workforce contributes to higher productivity, lower turnover, stronger loyalty, and innovative human capital, resulting in better business performance and revenue. That means companies must invest in building heterogeneous teams and an inclusive workplace.
Consequently, many Talent Acquisition leaders find themselves fretting over decreasing the use of employee referral programs and all the benefits that come along (the vast outreach to the passive workforce, highly qualified candidates, significantly lower cost-to-hire, time-to-hire and turnover rate) in favour of traditional recruiting channels that might bring in a more diverse workforce.
As we can see, the opposition between the most efficient source of recruiting – referrals – and the need to satisfy the demand for diversity give rise to a significant conflict of interests.
Talent Acquisition leaders’ main apprehension is that employee referrals endanger workplace heterogeneity. It is known that the referrers – which we call Talent Scouts at Firstbird – tend to mirror the model of the existing company workforce, catering towards the “refer candidates you’re sure of” rule.
Therefore, they refer candidates with similar socio-demographic, educational and personality traits to themselves or their colleagues, prompting a pipeline of referred candidates with similar social, cultural and academic backgrounds, a similar skillset and soft skills, personalities, age, gender and ethnicity.
However, is there any possibility for employee referrals to foster workplace inclusion and diversity instead? As companies struggle to overcome their diversity challenges, we decided to share our five ways to build inclusive and heterogeneous teams via referral recruiting.
Analyse and Keep Track of Your Referral Data
What does your data tell you about diverse referrals? Hiring diverse teams should be gauged to specific benchmarks to track the fulfilment of desired hiring achievements.
If you are building up an employee referral program, keeping track of your referral record will allow you to see how your referral strategy benefits your diverse hiring goals. Therefore, you should determine explicit diversity goals in terms of the actual number of diverse referrals you want to achieve, schedule the milestones for control along a project’s timeline, and intervene with corrective measures to redirect your referral process in the right direction.
On the other hand, if you have an employee referral program already in place, we suggest you start by analysing the statistical information you have – they will depict your referral trend and pinpoint your underlying issue. A structural measurement is a monitoring tool assessing the pool’s diversification and the extent to which it leads to desired results.
If, for example, the overall tendency is employees mainly referring one demographic group or gender, or referrals leading to salary inequities or under-representation of specific demographics, recognizing it will allow you to rethink your process by investing in corrective strategies. The ultimate purpose of examining your referral statistics is to assess your referral program’s performance and reevaluate it if necessary.
Ask for a “Culture-Add” and Cross-Department Referrals
When your Talent Scouts refer carbon copies of their team members, they are driven by different biases in recruitment, such as affinity bias, gender bias, confirmation bias and many others. This blends in the tendency to refer prospective candidates akin to themselves or who fit certain stereotypes or credentials for a role.
How to prevent this tendency? Encourage your Talent Scouts to submit referrals without worrying about their fit. Instead, ask them for culture-add referrals, that is for referred candidates that could benefit and enrich the company’s knowledge and know-how with their cultural and professional skillset.
This will lead your employees to think about what is missing in your company’s human capital and refer candidates from under-represented groups that can fill that void. Additionally, it will make your Talent Scouts feel free in their choice to refer suitable candidates according to their own criteria.
Another functional approach could be asking for cross-department referrals. Talent Scouts don’t have to refer candidates only from the field they operate in, which would also mean referring the same candidates all over again. Encouraging your employees to provide referrals from a broader range of their professional fields will lead them to diversify the criteria according to which they usually refer – and therefore to provide varied referrals.
Ask Externals to Provide You With Referrals
Many companies offer externals the opportunity to provide referrals, involving them structurally in their employee referral programs. They can be their partners, alumni, external consultants, (former) interns – irrespective of their degree of involvement within the company.
This way, companies can diversify and broaden their talent pool referrals with the heterogeneous workforce while keeping in touch with their former employees and connecting with future talent. Additionally, it assures them a never-ending pipeline of varied and talented candidates to draw from in times of need.
Ask Talent Scouts from Under-Represented Groups for More Referrals
As aforementioned, referrals can be discriminatory in terms of candidates’ heterogeneity. But you certainly have a diverse workforce at your disposal that can assist you in tackling the homogeneity in the workplace by fostering an adequate referral process that offers equal job opportunities to the under-represented groups.
To rebalance the existing inequality in the demographic representation of your human capital, start by asking employees from minority groups for more referrals. Afterwards, pinpoint them as the ambassadors of your employee referral program. They are the bearers of diverse referral culture and can convey the importance of diversity and heterogeneity to your Talents Scouts while fostering open and transparent communication.
However, you can involve diversity ambassadors at several levels in your recruiting process. They can:
- be promoters of an equal and inclusive company culture and referral process by providing diverse referrals and advertising vacancies in organisations;
- help you write non-discriminatory and cross-cultural job advertisements in inclusive language that target a diverse workforce;
- participate in job interviews with candidates to mediate the conversation with diverse candidates and monitor the presence of any recruiting biases.
Run Employee Referral Contests for Diversity Contribution
Organising employee referral contests can be an excellent opportunity to increase the number of referrals from underrepresented groups and promote your diversity policy among your employees. All you need is to set a goal of diverse referrals to achieve in a certain amount of time and engage within the contest all your Talent Scouts: partners, alumni, external consultants, (former) interns.
At the end of the contest, choose your winners based on the highest amount of referrals contributed to the overall diverse referral goal. Also, don’t forget to offer enticing, creative and varied rewards that will gratify your Talents Scouts for their efforts in providing a high number of referrals.
Further Considerations and Takeaways
The benefits of a diverse team won’t emerge by simply putting the diverse employees together to work on the same task. A positive working environment must be inclusive and cooperative – that means that all members should be given a voice and they should be fairly considered, valued and supported.
Cross-cultural, inter-disciplinary and socio-economic intersectionality thrives in a sustainable working environment. That’s why setting the milestones for diversity within companies should be realised across a deliberate and well-planned strategy committed to equity and inclusion, and implemented and taken on by the top management board and leadership. Even the keenest recruiting strategy won’t succeed in the long term if it’s not upheld by a business-lead approach and systematically driven from the top.
As with all other radical changes, the innovation of recruiting assets and company mindset also happens bit by bit before expanding. To develop a sustainable working culture for diversity to thrive, many companies introduced Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) measures and practises. DEI initiatives will help advance your workplace diversity by addressing the unconscious recruiting biases.
Therefore, before asking your employees for diverse referrals, your Talent Acquisition team should be equipped with DEI practises and strategies. Your recruiters should share the inclusive practises and educate your Talent Scouts on the existing biases in recruiting that mislead them to refer a homogeneous workforce with similar background characteristics to theirs. In the end, your Talent Scouts will be able to balance employee referrals with an equal and inclusive referral process.
If you want to know more about bringing together DEI practises and referrals, read our Diversity & Employee Referrals Whitepaper. In our report on diversity and inclusion in referral recruiting, you can dive more into details on how to increase your D&I with your employee referral program.