Recruiting for a Diverse, Multicultural Team

No one wants to believe that they or their company has bias, especially nonprofit organizations whose purpose is to do social good. But, it happens. Conscious or unconscious bias reduces your openness to people who are different from you, and in turn, can dramatically affect your hiring process.

Research over the past eleven years has repeatedly demonstrated a tilted field in nonprofit hiring, especially in senior executive and development level positions. Despite this knowledge, the percentages have shown little movement.

So instead of rehashing the statistics, we’re offering some immediate, introductory steps that can improve diversity within your nonprofit organization now.

These steps don’t require a major financial investment. They do, however, require sustained commitment from top leadership.

We recommend that you start with identifying your own biases, and have your team do the same. The Implicit Association Tests cover topics including age, gender, sexuality and disability. You’ll find it at

To learn more, please download Recruiting for a Diverse, Multicultural Team: An Introductory Executive Action Blueprint for Nonprofits.

Introductory steps to overcome bias in hiring and to build a more diverse workforce

  • Identify, commit and prioritize a culture of diversity and inclusion.

Picture what your current workforce looks like and then visualize what you want it to look like. Do you see more professionals of color in management positions or more women in the boardroom? Do you see a wide range of age and experience? Do you envision a culture where every employee feels that their contribution is important to your mission? Defining what diversity means to your organization creates a starting point.

Bring others into the process. You’ll need the CEO/Executive Director, the head of HR, and at least one person from each department, program or level of the organization. Leadership inclusion and diversity of voice in the planning and implementation of your strategy is critical to success. We recommend bringing diverse applicants into the process too. These are the individuals who have experiences to share and realistic ideas to contribute. You might also consider hiring a diversity consultant if you are uncomfortable managing the process internally.

Like most activities in business, it’s impossible to achieve a goal if no one is in charge of it. Once you have clearly articulated your vision, quantify expected outcomes. Track and measure your progress using recruitment, interviews, hiring, pay, retention, and promotion metrics.

Don’t wait until you are at the point-of-need—plan and budget ahead. Develop a realistic action plan, including an honest assessment of the current organizational culture. Change is hard and doesn’t happen overnight. Most likely, managers will need training on inclusion, cultural sensitivity and diversity recruiting. As you move through the process, identify your best practices, continue to build on them, and budget accordingly.

Make retention part of your diversity strategy. Candidates not only consider diversity when deciding where to work, they want to see the organization’s commitment when deciding whether to stay.  Diversity and inclusiveness are significant factors in retaining employees, and nonprofits that fail to value diversity invariably have higher turnover rates.

  • Take recruitment beyond insider recommendations.

Nonprofits, like their for-profit brethren, tend to favor recommendations from staff and board members when it comes to hiring for key positions. Studies show that that 65%-75% of jobs in the U.S. are filled this way. Because people tend to socialize with those who are like themselves, their networks are often self-reflective. If these individuals are predominantly white (and they are—only 14% of nonprofit board members and 6% of development staff are professionals of color), they are more likely to recommend “look-a-like” candidates. A recent report notes that 75% of white Americans have social networks without any minority presence. Thus, a homogenous culture could be created without deliberate thought.

An easy first-step to create a diverse pipeline into your organization immediately is with interns, volunteers and new board members. The relationships created here will help you develop connections that drive diverse, high-potential referrals from entry-level through senior management.

To move beyond this, recruiting efforts should include outreach to minority groups through events and career fairs, community partners, multicultural associations, HBCU alumni, HSIs, and recruiting firms dedicated, equipped and proven to identify potential candidates of color. Developing a diverse slate of candidates may take time, so start building these community relationships now.

  • Implement blind recruiting techniques—and better job descriptions.

The goal of blind recruiting is to focus on the right qualifications and capabilities that the job requires, removing implicit bias from the early phases of recruiting. Breaking current identification habits mitigates the unfair loss of opportunity and significantly increases the candidate’s chance of advancement throughout evaluation process. For example, one study shows that blind interviews increase the likelihood that a woman will be hired by 25%-46%.

Most nonprofits already block out photos in the early stages of recruiting. It’s encouraging to see that many organizations already go further and remove the candidate name to create a more equitable review process. This act alone can make a big difference. A study by Community Wealth Partners shows that applicants with stereotypical white names are 50% more likely to get an interview than those with African-American ones.

A far too common practice that holds nonprofits back from finding diverse talent is the use of traditional job descriptions. Instead of using boiler-plate templates, focus job descriptions on the skills, values, and characteristics that will develop your nonprofit. Think about the traits that are needed to be successful in the role, then build job descriptions and conduct interviews accordingly. Barry Deutsh, author of You’re Not the Person I Hired: A CEO’s Survival Guide to Hiring Top Talent, recommends interviewing based on 5 key predictive elements: high initiative, flawless execution, leadership, past success, and adaptability.

Be careful with the idea of “cultural fit”—this is fertile ground for implicit bias, as is the practice of identifying one candidate over another before everyone has been considered.

  • Assemble a diverse hiring committee.

Less diverse workplaces often come across as unwelcoming. If those who are conducting interviews don’t reflect an inclusive workforce, candidates are more likely to self-select out of the hiring process because the culture doesn’t resonate with them.  71% of people of color attempt to evaluate a prospective employer’s commitment to diversity during the interview process. Job seekers, especially Millennials, take jobs where diversity is valued and individuals are encouraged to grow professionally.

  • Stay on point.

Once a personal connection is made between the interviewer and the candidate, the possibility of slipping into a more conversational style of interviewing grows. Research shows that when the interviewer becomes “personally connected” with the candidate, bias starts to form. Listening skills drop, and often times, the candidate is subtly prompted to refocus an answer, giving the candidate a “second chance”. These distractions are wrought with implicit bias, eat up time, and take away from fairly completing—and evaluating—a comparable set of questions and answers between candidates.

Even the best interview process can get tripped up during the internal post interview analysis. Cross-cultural and gender dynamics often come into play during the interview process—and the evaluation process. White interviewers recommend a candidate of color significantly less often than a white candidate, even though they have the same credentials. Make sure that those on your hiring team will speak up when conscious or unconscious bias is affecting decisions.

  • Standardize your scoring system.

We’re always amazed when we find organizations that don’t use a scoring system to evaluate candidates, rather than going on “gut-feel”. Best selling business books focus on the importance of defining outcomes instead of checking boxes of skills, education, experiences and other qualifications. Whatever your preferred scoring system is, use it. Don’t hire without a clear picture of the traits necessary for success, and an evaluation methodology that’s numerically scores the required attributes.

  • Avoid tokenism.

It’s unwise and unfair to expect an individual from a minority group to represent all members of the group. Research has shown that while recruitment programs focusing on diversity may gain new staff, tokenism creates alienation and diminishes retention.

If you benchmark the organizations that have achieved success with inclusive, diverse staffing, they share a commonality: they have all taken a strategic approach to diversity recruiting. Download PNP’s full Executive Action Blueprint here to learn more.

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