Businesses of all kinds are coming to the realization that employing a diverse workforce can be more complex than initially realized. Nevertheless, prioritizing diversity in the workplace is an excellent goal for a variety of reasons. This makes it essential for all employers to strategically identify, deploy, and support their diversity initiatives.
What makes diversity so complicated is that true diversity isn’t just about employing diverse talent. It’s about having a mix of people of different races, genders, socioeconomic statuses, and marital statuses, as well as a wide array of other differentiators. In other words, it’s not just diversity for diversity’s sake; it’s diversity that’s built upon a genuine sense of belonging and respect.
Another obstacle many organizations — especially federal contractors — experience is trying to not just stay within laws with their diversity, equity, and inclusion best practices but to make sure they know what those laws are. Parsing out all the rules and regulations surrounding topics like affirmative action employer requirements and good faith efforts can be an exercise that sometimes feels futile. It needn’t be.
At Biddle Consulting Group, our goal is to help businesses of all shapes and sizes understand how to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Our team is well-versed in untangling everything from the role of compliance to the execution of an effective affirmative action program.
Consequently, if you’ve been confused about how to source, qualify, and onboard diverse talent into your workplace, you’ll find this guide a helpful tool to better understand diversity, compliance, DEI objectives, veteran recruitment, and other pertinent topics. Our goal is to provide the education and tools necessary to help you move forward confidently and nurture a diverse and inclusive workplace where everyone feels welcome to contribute.
Part 1: What Is Diversity?
The majority of employees, especially those from younger generations, seem to be in favor of workplace diversity. When Gallup asked job seekers in 2021 about their future employer must-haves, 42% said they wanted to work at a place that practiced diversity and inclusion. The problem is that diversity can be defined in a number of ways depending on who you ask. This can make it hard for leaders to establish practices ensuring they prioritize diversity.
How confusing can diversity be? Let’s begin with the government definition of diversity, starting with Title VII. Title VII originally prohibited companies from discriminating on the basis of race, religion, national origin, color, and sex. Over the years, other categories of protected individuals were added by other laws, such as age and genetic information, and we have clarified that “sex” includes pregnancy-related issues, as well as LGBTQI+ status (effectively). This implies that from a purely federal point of view, diversity is limited to those characteristics or conditions.
Here’s where things get tricky, though. If you talk with someone who works in the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) sector, you’re going to get a far different “take” on diversity. DE&I is broad enough to include everything from culture and background to experience and skill sets. So simply saying, “We want to be a diverse workplace,” isn’t specific enough. Companies need to pinpoint what diversity means to them. A good place to start is with their affirmative action plan.
The Role of the Affirmative Action Plan
All federal contractors with 50 or more employees and at least one federal contract or subcontract worth $50,000 are required to prepare an annual affirmation action plan (AAP). This doesn’t mean that AAPs can’t be helpful for other employers, too. Any business can begin mapping a path toward diversity by setting up an AAP.
As a refresher, the purpose of an AAP or program is to serve as a management tool that ensures equal employment opportunity (EEO) is given to all job candidates and workers. Every organization’s workforce is expected to reflect the gender, racial, and ethnic profile of the labor pools within the recruitment area. It is meant to help organizations avoid what most people think of as “affirmative action”—things like quotas and point systems and set-asides that should not be necessary if the underlying law is being followed.
Although an AAP is an annual EEO compliance requirement, it isn’t just an exercise to be completed and forgotten. A well-considered AAP establishes workforce demographics that can be measured and analyzed. (Remember: You get what you measure.) That’s a huge benefit, particularly when it comes to supporting diversity and inclusion efforts.
Example: How to Use an Affirmative Action Plan
How can you use your AAP to move diversity initiatives forward? Let’s say you conduct an evaluation of your gender and race composition in senior management and executive-level positions. You discover that your composition falls short in that you have five people in positions but none of them are women or people of color, even though women and people of color candidates are available in the labor market.
You have now identified a shortfall. This doesn’t mean the next hire you make has to be a woman or person of color. You always want to choose the most qualified person for the job. On the other hand, you can see that you might need to improve your outreach and recruitment efforts to attract more applicants who are women and people of color for upper management positions. Alternatively, you can direct your focus on training current midlevel women and people of color employees so they’ll be ready for promotions.
In no way does the AAP lock you into any kind of quota. Frequently, people conflate AAPs with quotas. This is a misunderstanding of the purpose of affirmative action. Your AAP simply highlights potential problem areas so you can begin to make changes within your company.
Where Does Good Faith Enter the Picture?
There’s a term that you’ll often hear in the AAP world: good faith. Good faith efforts are essentially actions by contractors or employers to identify and remove EEO barriers by expanding opportunities within their workforces. For instance, if you disseminate information about internal job openings, you need to make sure you’re disseminating the information with the intention of making it available to all possible candidates.
Good faith also implies that you’re working toward measurable results. You can’t simply identify a shortfall and do nothing. That’s not good faith. You need to take the initiative and track everything you do. That’s a weak point that tends to arise. To show effectiveness in your initiatives, you need to be able to back up everything with objective data that indicates you’ve been strategic and haven’t just gone through the motions.
Part 2: Compliance and DE&I
It’s impossible to talk about diversity from a bird’s-eye level without entering into a discussion that involves both compliance and DE&I. Further, the conversation might seem a little confusing until you have a complete understanding of how everything works together.
First, compliance and DE&I programs aren’t the same thing. That’s fairly obvious because they are commonly housed in different departments, or if they’re handled by one person, that person treats compliance and DE&I as separate functions.
The best way to think about compliance is that it’s engineered to make certain your company isn’t breaking any workplace discrimination laws. What you do and how you go about everything, as far as compliance goes, is largely detailed for you in federal regulations and enforcement agency guidance.
Compliance tools are typically provided either in the form of enumerated actions you’re expected to take or norms in your industry that have been developed over the years and adopted by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP). Case in point: A combination of targeted outreach and recruiting have become the de facto response to achieving your AAP goals based on sex, race, and ethnicity. If you comply with AAP regulations to a T and use best practices, your efforts will not fall out of compliance.
What if, during your AAP duties, you discover actual discrimination or a process that’s having a discriminatory effect? Compliance can help you understand how to proceed so you can remedy violations. Once you have fixed what was wrong, have updated your AAP, and are not violating Title VII or any other statutes, you can continue operations.
Bringing in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Best Practices
Where does DE&I fit in with compliance? It generally sits outside of the compliance world. However, it has a lot of overlap. Both departments or functions need to work with the other to drive diversity.
As the moniker implies, DE&I is composed of three facets. The first is enhancing diversity in the workplace because it’s a good thing and it’s not happening in many organizations. This isn’t too controversial. McKinsey & Co. research has shown that firms with more cultural and ethnic diversity perform better. Plenty of other reports and surveys have shown likewise.
The E in DE&I stands for equity, which can be a puzzling term. Equity assumes that policies and procedures are designed to be sex- and race-neutral, as well as apply to everyone in the same way. The playing field is completely level when you have across-the-board equity.
Inclusion rounds out the last letter in DE&I. Inclusion means not only being treated equally, but also being thought of equally. It requires changing people’s hearts and minds toward one another.
Unlike affirmative action, compliance, and law-based directives, DE&I doesn’t have a road map. You can’t just read federal regulations to figure out how to make it work. DE&I is based on social science, not legal requirements. It serves to help people overcome their basic instinct to be skeptical of things that are new and different.
How DE&I Can Leverage Compliance
Where do DE&I and compliance come together? Compliance keeps placement benchmarks and AAP goals within effective, legal guardrails. In an ideal world, compliance alone would be enough to promote diversity within any unencumbered marketplace. But it’s not. Just because companies aren’t violating Title VII doesn’t mean they have a thriving DE&I-friendly culture. Equal opportunity and culture are not one and the same.
Nevertheless, compliance is important because compliance professionals keep DE&I professionals within the four corners of the law. Many self-styled diversity professionals bring bright ideas to companies that violate longstanding federal anti-discrimination laws. Trained, credentialed diversity professionals like those at Biddle know how to avoid putting clients at risk.
Although compliance keeps DE&I efforts on track, it shouldn’t be expected to move any diversity needles. Compliance isn’t meant to improve diversity; it’s meant to make sure laws aren’t broken and diversity isn’t impeded. This is where DE&I can take up the charge.
DE&I should be focused on bringing in qualified people who represent a mosaic, not of skin tones but of thought. DE&I helps an organization see the value of having a workforce filled with people who are dissimilar but aligned to achieve the company’s mission. It’s a discipline that requires constant education, evolution, and dedication.
Ultimately, DE&I and compliance can and should work together. The functions or departments may even use the same monitoring tools and methods. The more synergy they have, the more ground they can cover.
Part 3: Recruiting Protected Veterans
As of 2022, there were 17,431,290 veterans working in the civilian labor force. These veterans are an important element of the diversity discussion. If you’re a federal contractor, you’re required as part of your affirmative action plan to have a hiring benchmark set for protected veterans.
You might already be focused on hiring veterans due to their proven leadership, creative problem-solving abilities, technical know-how, readiness skills, extensive training, security clearances, and experience working with diverse teams under a variety of conditions. Or you might not have realized that certain veterans are considered protected. The subset of protected veterans includes disabled veterans, active-duty wartime or campaign badge veterans, recently separated veterans, and armed forces service medal veterans.
It might seem like it would be easy to source and reach protected veterans when recruiting and hiring. But it can be harder than you might realize to make sure you’re not just advertising to them but are showing them you’re serious about hiring veterans (and military spouses, too).
First, you can translate all job descriptions to align better with how the military defines a person’s occupational skills. For instance, 13A means field artillery general. A field artillery general typically has the skills to apply and qualify for roles like general operation manager, security manager, or emergency director. Not sure how to translate this? There are systems and software tools that can help.
Second, include a welcoming statement on your website’s career page that encourages military members and their spouses to apply. Many times, veterans and their spouses won’t submit applications because they assume organizations aren’t friendly to their mobile lifestyles. The more you talk about your openness toward military candidates, the more military-related candidates you’ll likely receive.
Next, expand your normal sourcing pool. You might want to go directly to military bases and request to be part of the transition assistance program there. This would get you in front of people who were former military and moving into civilian work. Finally, be sure the diverse images you use in all your organizational messaging appeal to a military crowd in addition to other underserved populations.
Part 4: Website Tips for Federal Contractors
At this point, you should have a much better understanding of how all the elements of diversity work together. The final area left to consider involves posting requirements if you’re a federal contractor.
Today, applicants are accustomed to digitally searching and applying for jobs. Your obligation, per the EEO, is to notify applicants of their rights if you’re using an electronic application process. The “Know Your Rights” poster must be conspicuously stored with or as part of the electronic application. Most federal contractors comply with this by having a link on their career page or DE&I page. If you’re working with a large population of potential applicants who speak Spanish or Chinese, for example, you can get the notice in those languages. You might want to offer up other notices, too, even if it’s not a requirement.
Some job applicants might need accommodations, such as the ability for a person who is hearing-impaired to have equal opportunities to interview over the phone or via Zoom or just to contact your organization to ask questions. To help applicants, offer alternate means of communication, including an email or a portal where candidates can make needed accommodations known.
Of course, you’ll want to handle all your accommodation requests in a timely manner. Think “level playing field.” A 48-hour or 72-hour response would be reasonable. Several weeks — which could mean the difference between a candidate getting evaluated or not — is unreasonable. Teach your team members that all requests should be prioritized and documented. The documentation is key in the event that the OFCCP performs an audit.
Including the Right Job Posting Information
Another aspect of plugging equality into your diversity recruitment efforts is by including all the right information in your job postings. Take mental and physical qualification review requirements. The standard approach is to determine the extent to which each qualifier might tend to screen out otherwise qualified people who have disabilities. This enables you to determine whether the qualification is truly job-related and necessary. Now, as long as the basic qualifications you list are legitimately basic qualifications, you’re done. If they’re merely preferred, you have to be explicit about that.
Here’s how this works: You might have a qualifier in your job description stating that applicants must be able to unload and load delivery truck boxes up to 50 pounds. But what if that’s just 1% of the job function? Is that essential? Or is it marginal enough to be assigned to someone else as an accommodation? Those are the types of questions that employers need to ask when creating job descriptions that are an accurate representation of what an employee needs to succeed in the workforce.
Skills are hardly the only areas that often require some polishing. Employers notoriously ask for experience and education that is not “need to have” despite being “nice to have.” Being specific on a job posting lets job seekers self-select based on what really matters.
Appealing to Diverse Candidates
A few other tips to consider when writing and advertising job openings that will appeal to the most diverse set of candidates include the following suggestions:
- Make job advertisements available in multiple languages per your affirmative action plan goals.
- Use stock pictures or videos that could appeal to many different types of candidates.
- Add your diversity statement (and related employee testimonials, if available) to all career-related messaging.
- Use text colors and fonts that are easy to read for those with visual disabilities such as colorblindness.
- Go for gender-neutral language, especially with pronouns.
- Set your job posting readability level appropriately for the candidates you want to apply.
- Be aware that some words and terms, such as “young,” “energetic,” “recent graduates only,” and “supplement your retirement income,” refer to a person’s assumed age group.
- Include the appropriate EEO tagline on all job postings.
Why Choose Biddle to Help Grow a Diverse Team?
At Biddle, we’re dedicated to the principles of equal opportunity, non-discrimination, and diversity. Our consultants want to change the world, which is why we focus on helping organizations get the most out of all the elements that go into reaching their diversity objectives.
If you’re interested in working with our experts, please visit our contact page. Together, we can make sure all the people inside your company feel wanted, welcome, prepared, and successful.