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No one-size-fits-all strategy for recruiting a diverse workforce

Panelists suggest partnering with workforce development groups, casting a wide net and measuring success

Keeping an open mind might be the best way to recruit and retain a diverse workforce, several experts said last week at the Rochester Business Journal’s second annual Diversity and Inclusion Summit.

About 100 people attended the second of three workshops this summer focused on diversity and inclusion, where panelists and audience members discussed ways in which to recruit diverse job candidates and the importance of committing to community engagement.

Mubarak Bashir

Mubarak Bashir

“Workforces should be representative of their communities,” said Mubarak Bashir, from the Greyston Center for Open Hiring. “I think it’s very important that businesses are intentional with their diversity and inclusion strategies.”

To do that, businesses should consider working with a local workforce development organization, said Sarah Fletcher from the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) Rochester.

“We work with diverse populations already, and our job as a workforce development provider is to understand program participants, understand the hiring needs of an employer and make sure there’s a good match,” Fletcher said of CEO. “We typically stay with our participants for a whole year, so we try to provide those wraparound services, make sure it’s a good match and that things are going well for the company and the program participants.”

And it is important to keep an open mind, looking beyond what’s written on a résumé, Fletcher said.

Sarah Fletcher

Sarah Fletcher

“Many of our returning citizens or program participants don’t have a great résumé but they do have experience that would be very beneficial to lots of different companies and organizations, including time when they were incarcerated,” she explained. “So being more open to a not-great professional résumé, but understanding that they have a lot of other things that they’re bringing to the table.”

Fletcher also suggested work tryouts, in which job candidates are given a chance to experience the job and decide whether it is for them by actually doing the work. Additionally, Fletcher said in terms of employee retention, mentors are important because they give new staffers someone to turn to, outside of their supervisor, that understands how the company works.

But what if employers are just not drawing in diverse candidates?

“Work with local organizations, workforce development organizations. That’s what we do. We recruit people to our programs that need the assistance,” Fletcher reiterated. “In terms of CEO … about 85 percent of our participants are people of color, so if you’re working with us you’re working with people who come from diverse backgrounds. Going out in the community, being visible, but also working with organizations that are already working with those diverse candidates is important as well.”

And business leaders should not limit themselves to local networking, said Talethea Best, founder of Best Innovations Consulting.

Talethea Best

Talethea Best

“As you’re casting that wide net don’t limit yourself to our geography to build networks,” Best said. “Partnerships with schools and universities in and outside our area can be a helpful resource in terms of contacts and getting introduced to people who work within a function and field.”

Bashir said a company can easily determine its success in diversity hiring by looking at its retention rate, among other things.

“In order to measure success we have to look at retention of employees, promotions, productivity, and then we can also just look at the overall diversity of the organization, not just the employees, but look at the board members,” Bashir said. “I think it’s key that organizations from the board all the way down to front line staff are diverse. This is one way that we can measure success.”
Each of the panelists said they have learned lessons along the way. There is no one-size-fits-all strategy to diversity recruitment, Best said.

“You’ve got to match what you do with where you’re really at on the diversity continuum. If you’re fairly new to inclusion and creating a diversity, equity and inclusion strategy you don’t want to turn your talent review process upside down just because you decided to put your diversity strategy in play,” Best advised. “On the flip side, if you’ve got a more robust diversity strategy with multiple activities that are associated with it, putting an employee social together around the holidays isn’t necessarily going to help move your diversity efforts.”

Business leaders, Best said, should try to match their strategy with where the company is on the continuum and recognize that it may have multiple moving parts that enable the business to move its effort forward. Those might be efforts that are inclusive of resource groups, that are inclusive of training work done with managers, that are inclusive of looking at the recruitment process and removing bias from job descriptions.

Maureen Wolfe

Maureen Wolfe

Involvement in the community aids in diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, and to that end, last week’s second panel discussion focused on community engagement and the tactics businesses can use to push its message out there.

Representing ESL Federal Credit Union was Maureen Wolfe, who noted that when the organization wanted to up its outreach it hired an outside consultant to come up with a community impact framework.

“This framework is going to guide our giving and our investments in resources for many years to come,” Wolfe said of the organization that is widely known for its charitable giving. “But how we got to identifying our framework was we held interviews with ESL employees, with board members, with community leaders who gave us feedback on how ESL could have the most significant impact.”

That framework has changed over time, Wolfe said, and continues to change in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and racial unrest in the community.

Heritage Christian Services’ Sara Taylor said community engagement must be authentic and seen throughout the organization.

Sara Taylor

Sara Taylor

“Right now we know that in the current climate there are many companies that have put out statements on where they stand regarding race relations, as well as COVID-19. Being authentic is understanding that it’s more than a letter, it’s more than a statement. Your business has a role, no matter how small or how large your business is, you have some type of role,” Taylor said. “How does community engagement align with your business values, your business mission? We talk about tactics and strategies, it has to align with your organization’s mission and values. And also make sure you have buy in at all levels. It can’t just be the leader or CEO speaking publicly. It has to be from the top down and the bottom up, that everyone in your organization from the receptionist to the accounting department, that every aspect of the organization is on board.”

Engaging with the community is a learning experience and rewarding, Wolfe said.

“There really is no template for community engagement. Every organization has to define what it means to be engaged in the community for your organization and really think about what’s important to your organization, but it can be an opportunity to involve employees in this discovery process as well,” she said.

The final event in RBJ’s Diversity & Inclusion Summit will be held via Zoom at 8:50 a.m. on July 14. Register and find more information at

[email protected] / 585-653-4021 / @Velvet_Spicer


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