By Vickie Thrasher, Senior Vice President Human Resources–Organization and People Capability, Oracle
It may seem obvious that most employers want to recruit not only the most qualified job prospects, but also bring aboard employees that, as a group, mirror the diversity of the population at large.
But to do so, HR professionals must reexamine talent acquisition practices from the past and, in many cases, revamp them so that job postings encourage a diverse range of people to apply. It’s simple: If you can’t get women or underrepresented minorities to even check out a job opening, your chances of fielding a diverse workforce are pretty slim. And the reality is that getting more candidates from different demographics will lead not only to a more diverse workforce, but also a stronger one.
Words matter in job postings
To cast the widest possible net for new hires, companies must take a hard look at the wording of job ads, not only for what they say outright, but also for what they may imply. In the past, many postings incorporated what we now recognize as “code words” that discourage certain segments of the population from applying. For example, terms such as “rock star” and “driven” connote a work environment that individuals—particularly those with childcare obligations—might avoid because they hint at a hyper-competitive environment that precludes flexible work hours or remote work.
Even seemingly less loaded terms like “expert” and “superior skillset” are problematic. Research has repeatedly shown that women tend to downplay their own skillsets, while men are more apt to “fake it till they make it.” So, if a job posting lists five required skills, a woman who feels she meets two requirements won’t apply, while a man with the exact same skills will forge ahead. That means more men may be hired over comparably skilled women simply because more men applied.
Older job descriptions were often not worded in gender- or age-neutral terms. I remember some ads specifying the need for recent college graduates, which could be perceived as age bias, unless the role is specific to early career professionals.
Look both at what your job listings say—and what they hint at.
Job postings should not just eschew coded language that encourages a certain group of candidates to apply, while implicitly excluding other demographics. They should also list positive attributes of the corporate environment. Saying that the hiring company welcomes diversity and prides itself on fostering an inclusive workplace will help reassure female and minority prospects that they will fit in. This can go even beyond the EEOC boilerplate that is typically appended to job listings. As my Oracle colleague Traci Wade notes, “Ads that state right up front that employees can ‘bring their full selves’ to the workplace will encourage more diverse people to apply.”
Another tactic used to thwart discrimination is to scrub gender, race, and age identifiers from an applicant’s profile. Professional orchestras are turning to “blind auditions” that put applicants behind a screen, while they audition, so judges don’t know the person’s race, gender, or age. While that exact technique may not be feasible for all jobs, many companies do redact such identifiers, including names from candidate referrals before forwarding them to hiring managers. In addition, some companies use voice modification technology to mask the applicant’s identity during spoken interviews.
The value of a flexible workspace
The pandemic has caused a disproportionate number of women to leave the workforce, so companies seeking experienced workers might want to make a special effort to welcome those people back into the employment fold. They can do this by sponsoring networking events and webinars that make it clear the company values experience and wants to bring people back to work, even if that means they work remotely full- or part-time. Companies can also offer programs, like Oracle’s Career Relaunch Program, which helps individuals re-enter the working world through personalized onboarding, mentorship, and internal community support.
One small bright spot of the pandemic era is that companies now know that remote working works well for large subsets of their employee base. Breakthroughs in video conferencing and collaboration tools mean that many employees can be as productive—potentially more productive—working outside the traditional office, especially if they are able to set their own hours around family-care duties.
I remember one manager, early in my career, who told me to be at the office 15 minutes before the 8 a.m. start time and to be “properly” attired, meaning professional dress a step above what we consider business casual in the workplace. For me, that meant getting two young kids to school or daycare before even beginning my commute. There was zero flexibility, but I did it.
I can only wonder how much more comfortable—and productive—I could have been had I been afforded the sort of work choices now enabled by technology and forward-thinking management.
The good news is many companies that value hiring and nurturing talent have rejected that old-school mandatory in-office mentality. Workplace flexibility has become table stakes for companies that want to hire the best and most diverse talent, because the talent now absolutely demands it.
Vickie Thrasher currently serves as Oracle’s senior vice president of HR. In her current role, she leads Oracle’s Organization Talent Development, Diversity Compliance and Inclusion, Employment Practices, Oracle Women’s Leadership, Top Talent Development, HR Strategic Communications, and Organization Design and Insights.
Vickie joined Oracle Corporation in 1996 as an HR consultant and in 2000, she was promoted to vice president of business HR for North America Sales. As Oracle experienced exceptional growth, she was given additional responsibility, ultimately responsible for Business HR for the Americas. She has directed and led a variety of major initiatives in the areas of Talent and Performance Management, as well as M&A integration. With more than two decades of HR experience, Vickie has led HR teams across a variety of industries, including manufacturing, health care, telecommunications, and information technology.
Vickie attended Michigan State University earning a BA in Social Science, Labor and Industrial Relations and Saint Francis University of Pennsylvania earning a MA in Industrial Relations. She currently lives with her husband Greg, in the DC metropolitan area.