Acquiring the best people requires patience, hard work, and experience. In speaking with LaTonya Wilkins of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who has this kind of experience and dedication, we learned more about focusing on diversity in the workplace to ensure hiring of quality people. This type of focus allows the variety of experiences, knowledge, and ideas to flourish at each company that embraces it. We asked LaTonya about how her company strives for this as well as tips on achieving the same.What is your background and what kind of work do you do currently?I have spent most of my career leading talent management and leadership development teams within the consulting industry and global Fortune 500 companies. Last year, I joined the University of Illinois, College of Business. In case you have not heard of the College of Business, we have globally recognized business education programs including our MBA and Accounting degrees.My position, Director of Talent Management, was newly created and is focused on building a high-performing, inclusive, culture. It has been a wonderful experience so far and we are definitely ahead of the curve when it comes to culture and higher education.What advice would you give to an organization that is trying to attract a more diverse applicant pool?I think you need to be networking all the time at conferences and other events to identify diverse talent. Also, publicly share your commitment to diversity on websites and in blogs. Finally, try to create career paths and other enticing benefits to make a move worth it. Understand what the talent wants and try to provide it as much as possible. For example, if a candidate is leaving the corporate world and eventually wants to teach or write a book, do what you can to support that.
What are the key barriers to diversity applicants succeeding in the interview process?I think that employee referrals do more bad, in many cases, than good. If you have these programs, add in another dimension like referring someone with a diverse background. Also, I think that in the interview process you really need to make sure your search committees thoroughly understand the role and are not imposing unnecessary requirements or ‘similar to me’ biases. Some of our best candidates do not have a higher education background so we need to be open to skills in addition to experience.I also think that companies should question how they use screening tools and tests. Some of these disproportionately screen out different cultures and have a disparate impact on the talent pool. It's okay to use these, but use some discretion. I have heard way too many stories where someone goes through the entire interview process and then is screened out by a personality test.How should companies enable diverse applicants to be successful in the hiring process?I think cultivating applicants through networking events and talent pools is the best way. Once a role is open, you have to treat all applicants the same, so keeping in touch with diverse pools and giving them a chance to understand the culture and organization (similar to referrals) before interviewing, is key. Enable everyone to start on a similar playing field.What organizations are doing a great job currently of attracting a diverse applicant pool?In Chicago, I find that the organizations that do this the best are those that dedicate resources to it and are truly committed to diversity as an organization. Frankly this is tough because it not only requires diverse slates but also an inclusive interviewing process as a whole. It's iterative, requires trial and error and has to be able to survive staff and leadership changes.
All in all, both connection and process are vital for diversity and inclusion. LaTonya shows us that people with her passion and dedication to D&I are important for new hires as they will be D&I advocates, embody the D&I vision and cultivate others. Contact us today to learn how to attract and keep great people!