The Tricky Ethics of Diversity Recruiting
For recruiters, access to Piazza Careers, a platform that utilizes its student courseware as a recruiting mine for companies, starts at $50,000 per year. Piazza Careers also gives recruiters and employers the ability to narrow their search results down by “diversity” for substantially more. If a recruiter or employer chooses to go this route, they could easily end up shelling out more than $100,000 a year.
And Piazza Careers is only an example; there are plenty of other platforms charging similar amounts for similar services.
Despite the hefty price tag, diversity recruiting is a common practice among recruiters. It can be a very useful way to find every candidate who may be a potential match for an open position according to experience, education, expected salary, and cultural fit — especially those candidates who would otherwise go overlooked.
If you’re not a recruiting pro, you should understand that this kind of “diversity search” isn’t done in an effort to discriminate, but rather to create a more inclusive, dynamic culture.
“When I first started, I had clients who came to me and said, ‘We have a team of mostly Asian guys and really need to diversify. Can you help us transform our team?’” says Jason Zhang, executive search recruiter at Hiretual, an online recruitment tool. “To companies — especially startups — [diversity] is what makes them really grow and develop past their initial stages. No one can argue with the power of difference. My perspective, your ability — it’s a team’s lifeblood.”
Still, the question remains: Is it ethical — or even legal — to recruit through a “diversity search”?
The Legality of Diversity Recruiting
You may be surprised to learn that diversity recruiting is entirely legal. In fact, one could argue that it’s encouraged, especially when it comes to U.S. government contractors, who sometimes have to demonstrate that they have achieved diversity in their talent and employee pools. As certified HR pro Ruth Mayhew writes in the Houston Chronicle:
“Government contractor employers are, however, encouraged to expand their recruitment practices through outreach methods that produce a wider pool of qualified applicants. Employers that have reporting requirements under Executive Order 11246 have a legal responsibility to identify how they achieve diversity in the workplace.”
Nevertheless, all employers are expressly prohibited from showing “a preference or discouragement” toward any specific type of worker in a job posting or announcement. As business writer Kay Bosworth explains:
“Employers are forbidden from running help-wanted ads that show a preference for or discouragement of specific types of workers — for example, using descriptions such as ‘young man’ or requesting ‘men only.’ Other means of recruiting, such as word-of-mouth or job boards, that apply to specific groups and exclude others are also illegal.”
A Question of Ethics: How Recruiters Should Handle Diversity Recruiting
In an imperfect land of mixed opportunities and discrimination, anti-discrimination policies must be treated as more than just government-ordered bans on biased job postings. When a company requires, explicitly or implicitly, that a third-party recruiter embark on a secret mission to recruit only a certain type of person at the exclusion of other types of people, every recruiter should answer with the following: “I deliver only the best — no more, no less.”
That being said, no matter how broad a pool of candidates a recruiter creates, the hiring manager’s biases may still be present at the end of the day. Only the hiring managers themselves can uncover any unconscious biases they may have on the subjects of race, ethnicity, and/or gender.
Still, that doesn’t totally let recruiters off the hook.
“It’s definitely a delicate balance,” says Ninh Tran, CMO of Hiretual. “You’re not only responsible for your actions, but in a way, for the actions of the clients as well.”
Tran recommends just being honest with yourself as a recruiter.
“At the end of the day, the most qualified and best-fit candidate will be hired,” he says. “That takes in a lot of different considerations, so just keep in mind that the job seeker you are talking to is probably the perfect guy or gal for some company, even if it’s not this one right now. As a recruiter, your job is to deliver the most qualified people from across the world.”
“It’s a sacred duty,” Tran adds with a laugh.
And maybe a legal one, too.
Hannah Tran is a coder and communicator currently studying at UC Berkeley. During breaks and quiet moments, she writes and codes for Hiretual.