Diversity Sourcing: Strategies that Work

Published by:
Joe Caccavale
May 18, 2021
min read

Are your jobs appealing to the right candidates?

When marketers try to sell you a car or new perfume, they’re selling you more than just a product… they’re selling you a lifestyle.

And the same principle applies to advertising jobs.

It’s not just a job you’re advertising.

  • It’s the lifestyle that person will be living
  • The identity that comes with the role
  • The salary that roles pays
  • And all the extra benefits that come with the role 

It’s not only a question of where to find candidates but also how to make sure that the job actually appeals to the people you want to hire.

Let’s say you’re struggling to hire females into your engineering team…

Rather than immediately pointing to the scarcity of female engineers as the cause of your woes, you’d first want to check that the job itself is a good match for this target demographic.

Below are a few things to consider when matching your job to a target demographic:


Before dedicating hours to an application process, candidates should at least have an idea of whether or not the job pays enough to support them. You should also rethink unpaid internships since they assume that candidates can afford to work for free for months.


Parents and carers require flexibility. This is a huge pool of talent that you’ll miss out on by not offering flexible working options.

Workplace culture

You can put all your effort into diversity sourcing but if the workplace culture isn’t inclusive, you’ll not only struggle to source a diverse pool of candidates but also struggle to retain any minority background candidates you do hire.

Writing diversity-optimised job descriptions 

How you write your job description will have a direct impact on who applies.

The words you use convey a subconscious meaning that can signal whether or not a candidate would belong in the job/company.

Use inclusive language to attract an even gender split

Certain words and phrases are typically associated with a particular gender.

If you use too many of these in your job description, you’re likely to put candidates of the opposite gender off of applying.

A study conducted by the University of Waterloo and Duke University found people are less likely to apply to job adverts that had words biased in favour of the opposite gender.

This effect predominately applies to masculine-coded language.

Men aren’t put off by feminine-coded language in the same way.

If you write either feminine or neutral-coded job descriptions, you’ll attract an even gender split.

We even put this to the test with our own job descriptions - you can see the results below.

Job ad gender coding vs diversity of applicants

Our findings: feminine-worded job descriptions will increase the odds of women applying, while masculine coded job descriptions will discourage female applicants.

Most commonly used male-gendered words:

  1. Lead
  2. Analyse
  3. Competitive
  4. Active
  5. Confident

Most commonly used female-gendered words:

  1. Support
  2. Responsible
  3. Understanding
  4. Dependable
  5. Committed

Education and experience requirements

Your standard job description will usually include education and experience requirements.

Something along the lines of “minimum x years' experience” or “educated to degree level”.

Whilst this may be common practice, it certainly isn’t best practice when it comes to diversity sourcing.

We know from years of research that people from minority backgrounds are disproportionately overlooked when it comes to hiring.

Hiring bias by ethnic group

If you want to improve diversity, then asking for specific experience could potentially exclude many of these people, since they struggle to gain such experience.

The same can be said for education.

Whilst there will always be outliers, those who attend the most prestigious universities tend to be from the most privileged backgrounds.

In fact, privileged students are 10x more likely to progress to a top university.

Some occupations (think surgeon, pilot etc) will naturally require a degree of certification. However, most office jobs can be hired for without these requirements.

*At Applied, we use skill-based assessments instead of CVs. This means that we can completely forgo education and experience requirements (everything is anonymous) and simply test for the skills we’re looking for, as opposed to guessing at them from candidates’ backgrounds.

Education and experience aren’t just unhelpful when it comes to diversity sourcing, they’re pretty unhelpful with finding talent.

As the study below shows, they’re some of the weakest predictors of real-life ability.

Predictive validity of hiring methods chart

Keep requirements to a minimum

Listing too many requirements in your job description will decrease applications, usually from female candidates.

Research has shown that generally speaking, women tend not to apply for roles unless they meet 100% of the criteria, whereas men who will apply meet only 60% of the requirements.

This is likely due to the fact that women are socialized to follow the rules (the opposite being the case for men).

The more requirements, the more it may seem like a risk to apply. It’s not that women don’t think they can do the job, it’s that they’re more likely to perceive your requirements as strict rules for who can and can’t apply.

Keeping your requirements below 10 would be a good place to start as well as ditching any nice-to-haves. If they’re not literally requirements, then it’s best not to mention them at all.

A few handy resources for more inclusive job descriptions:

The danger of employee referrals

Employee referrals aren’t inherently bad but if left unchecked, they can actively work against your diversity sourcing efforts.

The problem with referrals is that referred candidates tend to reflect the employee who referred them.

So if you’re struggling to diversity your team, relying on referrals is likely to widen any diversity gaps - especially when you take into account that referred candidates are more likely to be hired (not necessarily because they’re more talented).

According to PayScale’s report, female and minority applicants were significantly less likely to receive a referral than their white male peers (White women were 12% less likely to receive a referral, men of colour were 26% less likely and women of colour were 35% less likely).

How referrals harm diversity

Employee referrals are undoubtedly a faster and cheaper means of sourcing candidates and so this doesn’t mean you should drop them altogether.

However, they should be used with caution.

You’ll want to make sure all candidates are assessed fairly and equally via the same process, no matter where they were sourced from.

And you should also track where candidates come from.

If certain employees refer a more diverse set of candidates, there’s no reason you shouldn’t double down.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the referees reflection of the referrer can be used to your advantage.

If you ask a diverse group of employees to refer candidates, then the pool itself should reflect this diversity.

Pinterest saw a 55% increase in candidates from underrepresented ethnic backgrounds from doing this.

Choose your job boards wisely

If diversity is a priority, then job boards are a must.

Although they can be expensive, job boards tend to be used by both women and ethnic minorities (rather than relying on networks).

Job hunting men vs women

To ensure you’re getting maximum ROI from your job board spend, try tracking which candidates come from which job boards (you can do this using UTM links).

You’ll most likely find that some job boards are bringing you a more diverse set of candidates than others.

There are also specialist job boards you can use to fill any specific diversity gaps.

Specialist job boards

Is the rest of your process harming diversity?

It’s not uncommon for organisations to attribute their lack of diversity to sourcing.

They believe their process is fair and objective, it’s just a matter of finding candidates to put through it.

Whilst this may sometimes be the case, there’s a very strong chance that the rest of your process is also hindering diversity.

Both CV screenings and traditional interviews are rife with unconscious bias.  

Extra applications required for a callback by country

The only way to effectively remove this bias is to design more an ethical and empirical process.

Diversity sourcing is undoubtedly an important piece of the puzzle but this alone will only get you so far if your assessment process isn’t inclusive.

This is why we built Applied - to design bias out of the hiring process. Our platform uses anonymised applications and skill-based assessments to find talent that would otherwise have been overlooked.

Find out how we’re pushing back against conventional hiring wisdom with a smarter solution: book in a demo