Ask a Recruiter: How Can My Company Hire & Support a New DEI Position?

What’s your elevator pitch?

I’m Shilena! I started my career in the fast-paced and dynamic world of human resources in (agency) talent acquisition/recruiting. Undoubtedly, learning to connect with people has shaped how I deliver transparent and scalable people solutions in hyper-growth companies today. My career has spanned nonprofits, startups, and enterprise organizations in health care, tech, and government. As a professional of color, my work has always had an intentional focus on the advancement and equality of women, minorities, and other diverse representation in our workforces.

Many companies are rushing to hire people to fill DEI positions in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests. What are some trends you’ve noticed in that hiring process?

The most concerning “trend” I’ve noticed in the rush to find DEI professionals is limiting and exclusionary job postings/descriptions. By this I mean, a company looking to hire a vice president or chief of diversity professional and asking for 10–15+ years experience. This is exclusionary because 1) DEI wasn’t a largely prioritized area of focus for companies 10–15+ years’ ago (to be honest, even five years ago), and two) if a company did have a diversity role, it likely wouldn’t have been a Black/Indigenous/Person of Color (BIPOC) but rather a career/corporate HR professional who was responsible for a diversity/LGBTQ+ employee resource group (ERG) or other community engagement type of responsibility.

With DEI positions being so new, what qualifications should hiring managers look for instead, both in terms of hard skills and interpersonal ones, when bringing on new DEI positions?

As I briefly touched on above, companies should be looking for candidates who have experience in their communities, volunteer organizations, employee resource groups, projects and even lived experiences. This person should also be an excellent communicator, resilient, comfortable partnering with senior leadership, and presenting or speaking publicly. I’d like to emphasize resilience for a moment because if the role is new to an organization, they might receive a lot of pushback (unintentional or intentional) simply because DEI is a sensitive and important area of focus.

Employers are going to be competing to fill DEI roles for a while. What are some practices companies can implement now to start making their workplaces more inclusive?

There are tons of ways to be more inclusive. (“Inclusive” in and of itself is a troubling word because it perpetuates the narrative that non-BIPOC are the gatekeepers to inviting BIPOC in even though they’ve always belonged.)

After a new DEI position is filled, what can leadership and even individual contributors do to support that person’s efforts?

Respect this person’s expertise, experience(s), and professional recommendations. Also, understand that even though this is a paid position, the emotional, physical, and mental labor involved is significant.

Despite the growing importance of DEI over the past few years, this recent push for more inclusive and equitable workplaces has been quite sudden. What are some ways leadership, employees, etc. can help keep that flame lit?

Set clear goals and focus on immediate areas of improvement first while working on larger and stickier projects in parallel to keep the momentum and excitement going. Also, have DEI conversations early and often with other company leaders to keep it on their radars and to ensure you’re aligned on strategy and vision.

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