Diversity and Inclusion: Tips for Gaining Support for Nontraditional Hires

Is your organization considering a workforce development program for nontraditional job candidates, yet unsure where to start?

Or maybe you lead diversity and inclusion efforts and are having difficulty helping hiring managers and business leaders understand that a strong focus on pedigree hiring can be detrimental to your company’s goals.

Pedigree hiring means to heavily favor those with impressive academic and work credentials and gap-free resumes. But it’s a problem if it blocks opportunities for nontraditional candidates with high potential. Pedigree hiring may cause companies to overlook great talent for unfilled job roles, while also sabotaging their efforts to improve diversity and inclusion.

So what are nontraditional candidates? While that can vary widely, it typically means people who stand a good chance of getting screened out of the hiring process for corporate jobs that pay a living wage and offer a path for career growth.

As examples, here are some types of nontraditional hires receiving support through both corporate and non-profit workforce development programs: People without college degrees (with a focus on those stuck in poverty), military veterans, the formerly incarcerated, immigrants and refugees, people with autism spectrum disorders, and people trying to reenter the workforce after taking years off to raise children.

Gaining support and acceptance for nontraditional hires was the topic of discussion during the “Building Great Internal Partnerships” breakout session during last month’s Workday Opportunity Onramps, our inaugural workforce development conference.

If you can get people to talk about the issue, you’ll help increase open-mindedness and crack the perceived mold of what makes the perfect job candidate.

During this breakout, leaders in corporate responsibility and diversity and inclusion from Adobe, FSG, Genentech, and PwC shared best practices on gaining support for nontraditional hires. I’ve compiled five tips based on their advice and shared experiences:

Challenge Corporate Biases

Find ways to broaden and deepen the conversation within your organization about whether and why pedigree hiring is taking place. If you can get people to talk about the issue—which includes examining their own biases around hiring decisions, and thinking about what credentials are truly required for various job roles—you’ll help increase open-mindedness and crack the perceived mold of what makes the perfect job candidate.

Start Small

It’s ideal if executive leadership is supportive of workforce development for nontraditional hires at the onset, but that’s not always the case. And if it’s not, you’re more likely to get their support if you can provide proof points. So start with a small pilot. Most companies launching workforce development programs partner with a non-profit organization that can provide the talent and other resources. Identify a group or two within your organization that’s open to the idea of taking a chance with nontraditional candidates, and would participate in training and mentoring if they believe it can result in strong new additions to their teams. For example, these could be product or IT teams looking for people with skills that don’t necessarily require a four-year college degree.

Engage with Recruiters and Hiring Managers

As one panelist put it, “Talent scouts and hiring managers become the heart of change.” Get their support, and others will follow. The panel shared that in their experience, once managers discover this untapped talent for unfilled jobs—and the satisfaction they get from giving people new opportunities—they want to share their successes and advocate for nontraditional hires. A sign of ultimate success is when, after working through a workforce development program or non-profit partner organization, hiring managers ask if they can work directly with candidates. Said one panelist: “It’s a sign that the lightbulb has gone on—this is something they see value in and want to pursue. ”

Help Others Understand That Risk Comes in Many Forms

Some managers may see risk in hiring workers that haven’t followed the traditional higher education or corporate career path. Yet there’s also a risk—and cost—in hiring people with impressive pedigrees who may only see a job offer as a brief stepping stone to a higher-ranking role or a position with a different company, when managers had hoped they’d stay in the roles they were hired for at least a few years. One panelist recommended that while it may be difficult to get budgets for workplace development programs, that could change if you can demonstrate that the cost of such a program is a drop in the bucket compared to the organization’s employee turnover costs, and has potential to reduce those costs.

Measure the Results

Like any initiative, having the data to validate the business case is important. For example, say you’re piloting a workforce development program that includes technical training, followed by an internship for those who complete training with good results. You could track how many people who entered the training segment went on to land an internship, and from there, how many interns landed a full-time position. Keep tracking those people to learn who gets promoted, and when. “You want to measure, quantitatively, the value of taking a risk,” noted one panelist, adding that this requires an HR system that provides insights into talent, performance, and cost.

We hope these tips are helpful. Our heartfelt thanks to the Workday Opportunity Onramps conference participants for providing their insights on how to broaden understanding and support of workforce development programs for nontraditional hires within their organizations.