“Refer your friends and family to earn a bonus!” We’ve all heard about these programs and I know I’ve used this as a recruitment tool. Does this create Homogeneous Hiring? Does it perpetuate Systemic Racism?

It certainly can, but like most things…it depends. I am still a huge fan of having a robust employee referral program. I had the privilege of working for a retirement community that employed staff from all over the U.S. plus 23 to 27 countries at any given time plus several young transgender folks and they all referred their friends and family members who were hardworking and excellent additions to the community.

The Positives:

  • Referring employees didn’t want to be embarrassed so they only referred quality applicants they thought would enjoy the work, benefits, and culture of the organization
  • Referring employees took it seriously to onboard and continuously support their referrals to hit the one year mark successfully (and they often stayed longer than that)
  • New employees did not want to make the referring employee “look bad” and worked really hard from the get go
  • New employees had a built in buddy system at work from Day 1
  • The organization became known as a “safe and welcoming space” so current employees felt good about referring others they knew in their circles; including those that were English language learners, refugees or transgender, for example. That really became a point of pride for the organization and still is.

That really became a point of pride for the organization.

The Negatives:

  • There were a few snafus to work through, like when a family dispute made it into the workplace or their were gossipy issues among close friends, but nothing that leaders couldn’t address and calm down.
  • There also needed to be reminders to check ourselves for “group think” tendencies and actively ask those with other traits to challenge and play Devil’s Advocate, which we did, often.

For Organizations of the Future:

If your organization is pretty homogeneous to start with, you are smart to take time up front to make sure you’re not perpetuating this. I have a few suggestions for you:

  • Review and edit job postings for language that is not gender-neutral, stereotype-free
  • Post your openings with Black, Hispanic, LGBTQ+ Chambers of Commerce, disability organizations, schools/colleges, trade associations, and other specialty/affinity websites and magazines 
  • Invite diverse candidates to apply, check your name biases and notice if you’re skipping over unusual, ethnic, hard to pronounce names, or don’t “resonate” with an applicant picture or style of writing
  • Interview at least five people for the position even if you and the referring employee are convinced the referred candidate is a “perfect fit”
  • Utilize a panel interview format for at least one level of the interviewing process so multiple impressions of the candidate can be included in the decision making process
  • Create a diverse interview panel (Bonus: This can also be a great opportunity to candidates to show you value diversity)

Shifting Away from “Culture Fit” to “Culture Add”

This new mantra could be the most game changing shift of all. Let me know if you’d like to discuss further or are interested in a culture review of your organizations documents and processes. Together we can move from Non-Discrimination/Anti-Harrassment language and practices to Inclusive, Equitable, Belonging workplaces.

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