With unemployment at a historic low, the fight for top talent has only heated up. In fact, 77% of CEOs see the limited availability of skilled candidates as the biggest barrier to their business, according to research by PwC. In this “talent crisis,” tapping into new talent pools and hiring the best and brightest is more important than ever to the bottom line.
But hiring this top talent doesn’t just mean implementing an effective recruiting process on your end; It also means exceeding the expectations of the people you’re hiring and showing them why they belong at your organization. Diverse interview panels allow your organization to do both: make more effective hiring decisions and demonstrate that your company is a great fit for diverse talent. However, they are still largely under-utilized in organizations across the globe.
We spoke to two professional women who’ve helped implement diverse interview panels at their organization — Amy Philbrook, head of diversity & inclusion at Fidelity Investments, and Megan Tidwell, recruiting manager, Americas sales at Qualtrics — about how diverse hiring practices are the most effective way to recruit and retain diverse talent.
The Argument for Diverse Interview Panels
Research shows that diversity makes everyone, even hiring teams, better. A 2015 report by McKinsey & Company found that organizations in the top quartile of ethnic and racial diversity in management had financial returns above their industry mean because of their ability to focus on what matters, process the facts more carefully and innovate.
“Our differences help us make better decisions and consider a broader range of options and solutions,” Philbrook explained. “Research supports, and our own experimentation [at Fidelity] has shown us, that a broader set of perspectives involved in hiring decisions leads to better outcomes, regardless of who ends up getting hired.”
Essentially, when there are a variety of opinions on an interview panel, every angle of a candidate and their potential is considered — their strengths, their weaknesses, how they will contribute to the culture, and more. Both women argue this layer of thought is crucial in the hiring process, even if it means more work to establish the panel.
“The best decisions are made by a group of diverse people with different perspectives,” Tidwell echoed. “Clearly, it's important to have a group of diverse perspectives to make one of the most important decisions at your company: who you bring into the team.”
Additionally, as Tidwell mentioned in our conversation, interviews are a two-way street. Interview panels don’t just mean more informed decisions for the organization — they also allow the candidate to make a more informed decision about joining the team.
“It's just as important for the candidate to understand if your company is the right fit for them as it is for your company to vet the candidate. Candidates can do this better if they get varied viewpoints.”
Diverse candidates who see themselves represented on the interview panel are more likely to feel that they would fit in with the company culture and to understand their growth potential at the organization — both important factors when weighing a job offer.
Making Diverse Interview Panels Happen
Diverse interview panels have obvious benefits, but they may require rethinking hiring practices and processes at an organizational level. This kind of change often requires winning champions with data and a clear plan — what one senior leader did at Fidelity by making change within one business unit.
“We started in one business unit with a mandate from the senior leader, a simple execution guide for both our recruiters and our hiring managers, and a realistic process flow that accounted for the step of assembling the diverse interview panel,” Philbrook said. “We also incorporated an accountability check for our recruiters to log the interviewer panel in our talent management system.”
She says now, there are several champions for the initiative across the organization.
“Our business leaders, our Head of Talent Management and our Employee Resource Groups all championed this change,” Philbrook shared. And now that we’ve been at it for a while we have hiring managers who are extolling the benefits as well.”
Tidwell took the process into her own hands within her organization. She says she implemented diverse interview panels across her team with huge support from Qualtrics, who saw this initiative as naturally fitting in with their diversity hiring initiative. She has tried to get at least one woman on each mid-to-senior interview loop — something that’s gotten easier as her organization prioritizes hiring women leaders — and also uses cross-departmental interviewers as part of her team’s process to ensure diversity on panels.
“Sometimes it's hard to make it happen, but we think it's worth it,” she said.
Philbrook says Fidelity has seen huge success in leveraging members of its different Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) in interviews.
“Your ERG members are fellow colleagues who have willingly identified with an aspect of difference that is usually under-represented in the office, and who have most often raised their hands to help a company advance on their mission of diversity and inclusion,” she said. “Therefore, it makes sense that they would welcome the opportunity to help make hiring decisions.”
She says there are real benefits for mobilizing ERGs beyond greater representation during hiring.
“This also helps all of us build relationships and extend our networks through meaningful interactions versus standard social and networking events,” she shared. “Our ERGs now offer interviewing skills training and manage lists of volunteer interviewers who can be on call to join hiring panels.”
To ensure diverse interview panels become a mainstay in an organization, the data has to back them up. Tidwell says she’s measured number of female hires since starting the initiative, and that data speaks for itself.
“We have been able to drastically increase our percentage of gender-diverse hires this year as we've implemented this process,” she said. “Compared to Q1 this year, we have doubled the raw number of female hires and have also increased the percentage of hires from 27% to 47% women in Q3. We are excited about the progress, but more excited about how we can continue to improve in the future.”
Similarly, Fidelity measures the percent of diverse hires and says the difference is satisfactory.
“This is just one of the many changes we’ve made to our hiring practices at Fidelity, and like all big corporations it takes time for new habits to become embedded as “business as usual.” But our efforts are paying off, and over the last two years the people we’ve hired new into the Firm represent 13% more diversity than our existing workforce.”