It’s Time for a Gut Check on Your Employment Brand

Peter Weddle

There’s a fast-growing movement among employers these days to reassess their employment brand. Despite record high unemployment, companies are still finding it a challenge to recruit top talent, so they need a brand that will appeal to every demographic in the workforce. What for some may have been nothing more than a compliance issue in the past has now become a critical business imperative for a company’s success in the future. Today, even CEOs and Boards of Directors are paying attention to diversity and inclusion, and that’s often where the problem begins.

HR and recruiting teams have, for the most part, always done what they could to support diversity and inclusion in their talent acquisition initiatives. The social justice movement, however, has put a spotlight on just how far many, maybe even most companies still have to go. Although some halting progress has been made, the glass ceiling as well as systemic and other biases remain realities in the workplace. Those handcuffs, in turn, undermine recruiters’ ability to acquire the best talent and ultimately impact the company’s performance.

That’s no surprise to most recruiters, but it comes as a shock to the denizens of today’s c-suites. Many of those executives are still living in the 1950s, when job skills were more transferable and workers were more plentiful. At least until recently, they’ve seen talent acquisition as fishing in a barrel. They’ve kept recruiting headcount and budgets low – at least in relation to their impact on the bottom line – because, well, in their opinion, it’s just not that hard to bring in new employees.

Now, before you rise up in righteous indignation to protest such a charge against your CEO and his or her leadership team, let’s be clear. It’s simply not enough to say the right words, you have to walk the talk. You have to put priority behind the PR. And in the world of business, priority is all about staffing and budget. So, look around at what’s happening to your recruiting team (and a whole lot of others) today. Does that feel like you’re a priority?

The Push for a Brand That Features D&I

That same disconnect is now occurring in the area of diversity and inclusion. Company leaders want to be seen as up to speed on social justice, so many are now pushing their recruiting teams to revisit their employment brand to make sure it includes a commitment to “opportunity for all.” That’s fine … if it’s true. The challenge for many recruiters, however, is that such a representation doesn’t match up with what’s actually going on in the company.

For some time now, recruitment marketing agencies and the other experts in employment branding have been telling companies that one of the most important tests of any brand is its credibility. When you use a brand that says the organization is something it isn’t, you not only look out of touch and even dishonest, you turn off the best talent and potentially your own employees.

The situation at Carta, a Silicon Valley startup offering financial services, is a case in point. According to The New York Times, the company branded itself as a new kind of employer. It quoted the CEO’s remarks at a past conference: “Working for a paycheck had evolved from indentured servitude and serfdom, he said. In the next era, employees would own a stake in their companies.” That was how employment worked at Carta, he apparently went on to say, and the company even promoted the idea on billboards in San Francisco. Now, however, four employees have sued the company because, they allege, it didn’t walk the talk. The lawsuit has yet to be litigated, but the headline of The Times article says it all: Talking Equality, but Not Practicing It.”

So, what should a conscientious recruiter do? First, of course, they should take advantage of the numerous strategies and tactics being proposed and discussed online these days. There’s a lot that recruiting teams can do to improve the reach of their sourcing, the appropriateness of their selection criteria, and the interviewing habits of hiring managers that would actually move the needle on advancing an employer’s diversity and inclusion.

But, it’s also important to be realistic. And honest. Corporate culture begins at the top and if a company’s culture is not diverse and inclusive – if leadership doesn’t walk the talk – it’s important to do whatever can be done to avoid creating a public statement – an employment brand – that is not credible and could actually backfire, causing damage to both recruiting and retention.

Food for Thought,

Peter Weddle is the author or editor of over two dozen books and a former columnist for The Wall Street Journal. He is also the founder and CEO of TAtech: The Association for Talent Acquisition Solutions. You can check out his latest books on Amazon or in the TAtech Bookstore.

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