Erik Nesler: Realize the benefits diverse recruiting

Tuesday, January 9, 2018 - 5:26pm

We all know, and dread, the Fall Career Expo put on by the University of Michigan’s Career Center. The ballroom in the Michigan Union is always packed with nervous college students trying to get an internship or a full-time position at one of the 180 companies that recruit on campus.

This year, I noticed that many recruiters trumpeted their company’s diverse and inclusive workplace. Awards from publications like DiversityInc as well as the Human Rights Campaign were proudly displayed at various booths, and recruiters were more than willing to speak about the gender mix at their firm and how it compared to specific competitors.

Beside displaying awards and openly discussing their efforts to promote diversity, many organizations have begun to specifically recruit diverse talent. Through accelerated internship recruitment (that can start as early as freshman year) and mentorship programs, companies are making an effort to hire more women, more racial minorities and more LGBT individuals directly from universities.

As I passed through the dozens of firms advertising these programs, I wondered whether or not they were just for show. I thought that maybe they were a way to make the company more appealing to undergraduates. Trumpeting their firm’s diversity and inclusiveness would allow recruiters to rein in the very best talent that the University of Michigan has to offer, as everyone ideally wants to work in an inclusive and supportive workplace. I would later find out that there is actually a compelling business case for diversity.

In one of my courses on human behavior I learned that diversity in groups promotes heightened organizational performance and success. Academics emphasize the enhanced creativity and originality groups are able to achieve with more diverse members. When you put people together with varying backgrounds and experiences, the performance of the team surpasses that of a team with members of relatively similar backgrounds. Diverse teams simply have more tools at their disposal to solve the problems the organization faces. Better performing teams yield a better performing company.

LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company recently stated in their Women in the Workplace 2017 report that “diversity leads to stronger business results.” With this, it’s clear to see why companies are tirelessly recruiting more women, along with other underrepresented identities.

After realizing that diversity promotes a certain competitive advantage, organizations have started to set “gender targets” along with various “minority targets.” These targets call for a specific percentage of women or minorities to work at certain levels within the firm, whether it is at the entry-level or in the C-suite. The Women in the Workplace report also discussed how companies who use these targets have faced staunch disapproval from employees, largely white men, who believe that merit-based hiring and promotion practices should be the norm. Despite their objections, companies have learned to successfully implement these targets (with employee approval) by clearly making a compelling case for diversity to all employees.

The promotion of diversity and inclusion in organizations serves another purpose: Companies seek to ensure that new recruits, particularly women and underrepresented minorities, feel safe and respected in the workplace. In the wake of the most recent election and the onslaught of sexual assault allegations from the “Weinstein Effect,” students are looking to work in inclusive environments, where no single identity dominates.

After learning why more and more companies are recruiting diverse talent, it became clear my initial assumption— that recruiting diverse talent was merely a marketing technique—couldn’t be further from the truth. The accelerated internship recruitment and mentorship programs were, in fact, benefiting companies and employees alike. They were carefully thought out and strategically implemented to better their firms and the environment of the people they hire.

Similar to how affirmative action brings different perspectives to universities, diversity-based recruitment programs help bring different perspectives to organizations. These different perspectives are imperative for companies to compete and to remain relevant in the ever-changing marketplace. Promoting diversity and inclusivity in organizations isn’t just the right thing to do; it may also be the best way to foster success.

Students that are ineligible to take advantage of these programs may feel that they are unfair and borderline discriminatory, but I believe that they serve a distinct business purpose. I also believe this trend of recruiting diverse talent can teach everyone an important lesson. Companies are recruiting diverse talent because they are looking for unique candidates — candidates with different perspectives. Anybody, regardless of their gender or race, can differentiate themselves by possessing a unique set of skills and experiences and thus, possessing a different perspective.

Erik Nesler can be reached at egnesler@umich.edu