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Updated: April 3, 2023 Outside the Box

Fix your failing targeted recruitment

A picture of Bonnie J. Walker Image | Courtesy of Bonnie J. Walker Bonnie J. Walker
To read Bonnie J. Walker's other Outside the Box columns, follow the links at the bottom of the article.
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For most of my career, I have worked in academia and supported the needs of constituents in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. As a professional advocate supporting people from underrepresented backgrounds, focused on outreach and building pipelines for success, I’ve learned a lot about how people have a short-sided mentality around targeted outreach and recruitment. It is no longer an added benefit to have and sustain a diverse workforce; it is a necessity in our ever-growing, ever changing national and global economy.

I’m still miffed when Black, indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) are referred to as minorities. Can we stop using this antiquated and oppressive language? Black and brown people are not and never have been minor, although this narrative has been perpetuated by the oppressive majority. As of July 2021, Black and brown people made up 40.7% of the U.S. population, and by 2050 will make up 53%, becoming the majority racial demographic. Globally, non-white people make up 84% of the population.

Let’s revisit why diversifying our organizations is important. We were all created different on purpose. No human is the same as another, and this is necessary for our survival as a species; we all have different talents and abilities so we can get all of the needs of the communities met. We are different for our survival as a collective. Our different gifts and ways of thinking, and insight and input from our lived experiences contribute to the success of the communities we inhabit. If we were copies of one another, in homogeneous collectives, how would we innovate? The more diversity, the greater the innovation, and the more competitive the collective. Yet, creating diverse workforces is not enough. With diversity, there must be inclusion, supporting all of the differences. This is imperative for any business and critical for those saving lives, upholding national security, and protecting the vulnerable.

Wholistically, organizations have to rethink how to do outreach and recruitment of unrepresented and/or marginalized populations. This is targeted recruitment. Perhaps your organization does understand why targeted recruitment is important; but does your organization understand why the efforts are failing? It’s not because there are too few Black and brown people to recruit from! Commitment to these efforts does not mean going to the same targeted conferences and recruitment fairs. It is about networking and relationship-building long before these events take place, providing outreach, exposure, and access to the fields in your organization and then to your organization, drawing BIPOC people in with authentic connection, long before you ever post a job. Are you reaching young children and young adults, introducing and exposing them to your industry? Are you connected to the most diverse institutions of higher education and building bridges to your organization? Are you reaching out to connect with and mentor people who are from a different race and/or culture? Your greatest targeted recruitment tool is happy, connected, and thriving BIPOC people in your organization.

What does your organization's brand tell BIPOC? Are they welcomed; will they belong? Belonging is different than fitting in. Anyone can assimilate, but belonging is being able to show up authentically. Does your organizational culture level-set everything around white norms and revolve around white cultural needs? How would you expand this and realign it to meet the needs of a more racially diverse workforce? One of the most basic human needs is a sense of belonging. Start with yourself. Be introspective. Uncover and interrogate your biases and be clear that you have gaps. We all have gaps. You don’t know what you don’t know because your first and most influential frame of reference is your own lived experience, which is limited. Leaders must lead themselves first. If only certain people feel like they belong in your organization, it will only grow and adapt as much as the people who belong there. All of the other people, who share a much broader collective diversity to support innovation, will grow and adapt to your competitors.

Bonnie J. Walker, a Worcester resident, is principal diversity & inclusion officer at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington.

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