Hiring for Diversity in 2024: Everything You Need to Know

Published by:
Valerie Valmores
December 29, 2023
min read

You’re committed to improving diversity.

You want to build a diverse team.

But how do you attract and hire the right people, without diversity quotas and positive discrimination?

Spoiler alert: you don't have to buy recruitment platforms, there are steps you can take that will have a genuine impact...

In this article:

  • What does 'diversity hiring' mean?
  • What doesn’t work
  • Proven, data-backed diversity hiring strategies
  • Debiasing your assessments for improved diversity hiring
  • Diversity hiring best practices
  • FAQs

What does 'diversity hiring' mean?

So, when we say, ‘diversity hiring’, what we really mean (at least here at Applied) is a fairer, more inclusive process that removes biases that would usually prevent minority background candidates from being attracted/hired. Hiring for diversity means making a conscious effort to attract a more diverse set of candidates at the very top of the funnel, and then ensuring that no single group is disadvantaged by any steps in the hiring process.

Improving the diversity of your workforce requires a long term commitment, it can’t be fixed within a matter of months.

The diversity recruitment strategies we’ll talk you through below won’t necessarily guarantee hires from minority backgrounds every time.

However, you will see steady progress over time.

Let’s clear one thing up: the process below does not guarantee you’ll hire someone from a minority background. However, by removing bias from your process and starting off with a diverse pool of applicants, diversity will improve.

It’s also worth taking a moment to define what we mean by ‘diversity’. 

True diversity hiring that measurably fuels growth should go beyond basic optics.

Whist race and gender may be the first things that spring to mind, we’d encourage you to expand your definition to include educational background, geography, economics, disability, sexual preference, religious affiliation, age, and neuro-diversity.

What doesn’t work:

Unconscious Bias Training

Before exploring the strategies that have been proven to increase diversity, it’s worth taking stock of what doesn’t work.

Valued at nearly $8 billion annually, it’s safe to say that unconscious bias training is big business.

However, when it comes to actual outcomes, there’s no evidence that unconscious bias training can lead to a lasting, significant shift in behaviour.

Whilst participants biases are reduced immediately following a session, the effect seems to wear off after around 8 weeks.

A study of 829 companies over 31 years showed that bias training had no positive effects in the average workplace. 

Another study found that for some positions, training actually decreased diversity (chart belowYou can read all of the research around unconscious bias training here.

Why doesn’t diversity training work?

Because it attempts to debias individuals. We all have biases, it’s human nature.  And no amount of training will change that. If it is at all possible to debias a person, it would take a tremendous amount of time and money to do.

It is, however, possible to debias a process... 

And if you debias your recruitment process, hiring for diversity shouldn't be a challenge - even at a senior or board level.

Diversity Quotas

Diversity quotas tend to overlook intersectionality, instead focusing on increasing the number of ethnic minority candidates hired into senior roles, and increasing the number of female candidates hired into senior roles.

The emphasis isn’t on recruiting women of colour for senior positions, nor on hiring ethnic minority LGBT+ individuals or women with disabilities, despite these intersectional groups being the most underrepresented in workforces.

Diversity quotas also tend to encourage rushed hiring and head counting – especially when there’s the incentive of bonuses for those that meet company targets.

This might improve diversity in the short term, but tokenism doesn’t foster inclusive company cultures.

The solution is simple: focus on hiring the best candidate for each role, rather than candidates that come from certain backgrounds.

Proven, data-backed diversity hiring strategies

Below, we’ll outline exactly how we hire at Applied.

Does it work? Well, organisations using this process report up to 4x attraction and selection of ethnically diverse candidates - with a 9/10 average candidate experience rating.

1. Sourcing a diverse pool of candidates

When recruitment driven diversity fails, it's often put down to being a sourcing issue.

It doesn’t matter how fair your assessment process is if there’s no diversity in the people going through it. 

The diversity of your initial candidate pool matters -  studies have shown that when there’s just one woman in the finalist pool, their chances of being hired are statistically zero.

When there are at least two women in the final pool - the odds are 194 times greater.

If you’re not seeing the top-of-funnel diversity you’d like, there are a few steps you can take to attract and source people from a wider range of backgrounds.

2. There’s a science to job descriptions - here’s how to master it

The words you use in your job description will directly influence who applies. By using the behavioural science-based guidelines below, you’ll cast your net wider and attract a more diverse set of candidates.

Only list essential requirements

Demanding an extensive list of requirements will rule out talented people who simply haven’t been afforded certain opportunities.

Ask yourself: which of your requirements are actually more like ‘nice to have’s?’

We strongly recommend keeping requirements to a minimum if you want a large, diverse (and of course skilled) candidate pool.

The steeper you make the barriers to entry, the more risk-averse candidates you’ll deter.

Being risk-averse doesn’t make someone any less talented or qualified, it simply means that they qualify themselves out quicker.

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 (likely due to a combination of gendered differences in confidence and the fact that women are more socialised to follow the rules).

So, by cutting down on requirements alone, you should see more female applicants.

Forget education and experience requirements 

Perhaps one of the biggest and most common diversity hiring mistakes is over-indexing on education and experience.

Although they might seem necessary, they’re actually one of the weakest predictors of actual skill.

We know that candidates from underprivileged backgrounds are less likely to attend top universities - a key determining factor when it comes to gaining impressive-looking work experience.

Studies also tell us that people from ethnic minority backgrounds are more likely to be living in relative poverty.

% of people in relative poverty by ethnicity (chart)

So, how can we claim to be hiring for diversity if we gatekeep the background required to even apply?

Sure, experience might make someone better at their job, but not all experience has equal worth, and sometimes an outsider perspective can be the breath of fresh air the role needs.

As we’ll cover shortly, if your assessment methods are predictive (which they will be), you have nothing to fear when it comes to letting go of experience.

Gendered language

The words you use carry subconscious meaning. 

As a result, candidates who feel that they don’t ‘fit the bill’ will rule themselves out.

Your job description is telling candidates what sort of working environment they can expect, and if they’d fit in or not.

By using excessive masculine language like ‘superior’, ‘competitive’, ‘decisive’ and ‘determined’, you risk deterring women from applying.

Why? Because you’re signalling to female applicants that this role was built for a male.

Try writing either neutral or feminine coded job descriptions. 

Feminine-coded job descriptions will increase the odds of women applying, while masculine-coded job descriptions will discourage female applicants.
Gender coding effect on diversity (chart)

Wait, won’t feminine language put off men? No. Feminine language doesn’t seem to have the same effect on male applicants. 

So, the key takeaway here: avoid masculine coded language to improve gender diversity in your recruiting.

Examples of masculine-coded language

  • Analytical
  • Autonomous
  • Independent
  • Leader

Examples of feminine-coded language

  • Committed
  • Dependable
  • Supportive
  • Trustworthy

Psst... you can grab our behavioural science-based Job Description Template here.

3. Use the networks of candidates from minority backgrounds when headhunting

Referrals may be cheap and fast, but they can seriously harm your diversity recruitment efforts.

How employee referrals harm diversity (chart)

The problem with network-based hiring and referrals is that one’s network tends to be a reflection of themselves.

And some demographics have stronger networks than others.

According to Payscale, referral hiring programs tend to benefit Caucasian men more than any other demographic and McKinsey’s found that when men are asked about their professional networks, 63% of them state it’s comprised of “more or all men.”

Whilst you shouldn’t rely on your network to source candidates, you can try asking people you already know from minority groups to share roles.

This tactic helped Pinterest attract 55% more candidates from ethnic minority backgrounds.

4. Use specialist job boards

If you’re looking to fill specific diversity gaps, then post your jobs on specialist job boards. Here are a few to get started.

Job boards are expensive, so make sure you’re getting your ROI. We’d recommend tracking the candidates each job board is bringing in. You’ll likely find that some bring in better and more varied-background candidates than others.You can set up basic tracking by using UTM links, which will tell you who came from where.

5. Make sure your careers page is optimised for diversity

Glassdoor found that 67% of job seekers see diversity as an important factor when considering companies and job offers.

If your organisation is making an effort to improve diversity in recruiting and across the business as a whole, then be sure to shout about it on your careers page.

According to Linkedin, the #1 obstacle candidates experience when searching for a job is not knowing what it’s like to work at an organisation. 

The more transparent you can be around your company culture the better.

Make sure your careers page shows real photos and quotes that provide a genuine insight into what it’s like to work there.

6. Anonymously test for skills using work samples

Now that you’ve got a diverse pool of candidates to assess, how can you ensure they’re being judged fairly and accurately?

At Applied, we favour work samples. 

Work samples simulate parts of the role by asking candidates to either perform or explain their approach to them.

The idea is to have candidates think as if they were already in the role.

Instead of the traditional approach of filtering out 80%+ of candidates before even meeting them, work samples offer a chance to showcase skills upfront.

When it comes to hiring for diversity, work samples are your secret weapon.

Rather than rely on assumptions based on background (which is often clouded by socioeconomic factors), work samples test directly for the skills needed for the job.

Ideally, you’d outline 6-8 key skills needed for the role, and then base your questions around them.

This means that every question serves a purpose and you can build a profile of each candidate’s skillset.

Of course, education and experience may well forge the best candidates. But we want to test for skills learned via experience, not just for the experience itself.

It’s often the case that experience in an unrelated field gives someone the unique perspective that makes them the best candidate.

And when it comes to hiring for diversity, shifting the emphasis from experience to skills will be the key to hiring a diverse array of quality talent.

7. Make sure you have standardised scoring

The key to unbiased, data-lead assessment is using standardised criteria for all candidates.

Every candidate should be scored against the same criteria, across the entire process.

You don’t need an elaborate system, just a 1-5 star scale for each work sample or interview question.

Not only does this prevent gut-assessments (which is essentially just bias taking effect), but it also enables you to get a better-rounded view of someone’s skillset.

If every candidate is scored out of 5 for each question, you can add their scores to create a scoreboard.

This means that at the end of the possess, there should be a clear winner, with no room for debate.

8. Switch to structured interviews

Referring back to the predictive validity chart above, you’ll notice that structured interviews are the next most accurate assessment method behind work samples.

Structured interviews mean that every candidate is asked the same questions in the same order using the same scoring criteria.

The more uniform your interviews are, the easier it’ll be to objectively compare candidates.

Since biases can be triggered by near enough any aspect of someone’s background, you’ll want to stick to work sample-style questions if you’re focused on diversity hiring.

As a general rule: if it isn’t relevant to the job, then no need to ask.

Instead, you can pose questions hypothetically, similarly to work samples.

Ask what they would do in a given situation or faced with a certain task.

Interviews are a chance to see how candidates would think and work in the role, so you could use case study or role-playing tasks to dive deeper into candidates' skills.

Are there any parts of the role that could be simulated in the interview?

This could be a presentation, a mock client meeting or simply explaining how they'd approach a hypothetical project.

9. Have at least 3 reviewers

We’d recommend having three team members score work samples, and then a new three-person panel for each interview round.

This is to harness the power of ‘Crowd Wisdom’ - the general rule that collective judgment is more accurate than that of an individual.

If a reviewer has a certain bias towards or against a candidate, this will be averaged out over the course of the process.

The more diverse your reviewers, the fairer the scores should be - and they don’t all need to be from the relevant department /function, this is why we have review guides!

If your team is big enough, having a different three interviewers for each interview round will give you the most unbiased scores - and help to improve diversity as time goes on.

For both work sample scoring and interviews, it’s recommended that you have at least another two team members score questions with you. 

Each of you should be scoring independently.

This is so that you reap the benefits of ‘crowd wisdom’ - the general rule that collective judgment is more accurate than that of an individual… and the more diverse the reviewers, the more diverse your hires will be.

10. Try tracking diversity metrics

If your goal is equality and diversity in recruitment, you’ll need to actually track these metrics in order to optimise your hiring process and make a solid business case for your efforts.

This begins with an equal opportunities form.

Although your process should be anonymous, you’ll still need to collect diversity metrics to ensure its fairness - whether it be ethnic diversity, disability status or the gender pay gap.

Whilst it’s up to you which details you ask for, you should be clear about what they’ll be used for and that they’ll only ever be used at an aggregate level.

Analyse how candidates perform - are there any stages with a big drop off?

Giving scores across each assessment stage doesn’t just help decide who to hire, it also helps to ensure no groups are being disadvantaged at any of those stages.

Hiring for diversity is more complex than just attraction and bias-removal.

Even when well-intentioned, you can still have questions or entire assessment rounds that are hindering your efforts.

You want to see that the diversity in the initial pool stays relatively similar throughout the process.

If there are any stage - maybe it’s an entire interview or just a particular question - that a given group is disproportionately underperforming in, then you might want to ask yourself whether the phrasing, structure, etc is inclusive enough.

Applied diversity analytics

Diversity hiring best practices (summary)

  • Remove gendered language from job descriptions
  • Track your job boards and post to specialist job boards
  • Don't rely on referrals
  • Use skills-based assessments
  • Give yourself scoring criteria
  • Anonymise applications
  • Have multiple reviewers to reduce bias
  • Structure your interviews
  • Use case studies and role play tasks instead of questions about background
  • Track diversity data to see any drop-offs


What is diversity hiring?

Diversity hiring refers to the intentional and strategic process of recruiting and welcoming individuals from a wide range of backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives into the workforce. 

Why is diversity hiring important?

By bringing together individuals with diverse backgrounds, skills, and perspectives, companies can enhance creativity, problem-solving, and overall performance. Moreover, fostering a diverse workforce promotes social responsibility, and contributes to long-term sustainability.

How can I improve my diversity hiring?

To enhance diversity hiring, consider adopting data-driven approaches, implementing name-blind recruitment, and leveraging technology that facilitates unbiased assessments. Emphasise inclusive job descriptions, provide equal opportunities for skill assessments, and continuously evaluate and refine your recruitment strategies to ensure fairness and equal representation.

What diversity hiring laws should I be aware of?

Familiarise yourself with Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws and any specific regulations related to anti-discrimination and workplace diversity. In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 offers legal protection for nine protected characteristics, although legal frameworks differ between countries.

Regularly update your knowledge to ensure compliance and foster a workplace that champions diversity and inclusion.

Applied is the essential platform for debiased hiring. Purpose-built to make hiring empirical and ethical, our platform uses anonymized applications and skill-based assessments to identify talent that would otherwise have been overlooked.

Push back against conventional hiring wisdom with a smarter solution: book in a demo