By Bella Pratt, Graduate Assistant and MBA Candidate
Working with companies that are looking at potentially expanding their business to Boise, Boise Valley Economic Partnership, or BVEP, aims to bring jobs and investments to the Boise metro area. This often means thinking about both talent and diversity in the area. The topic of diversity “often comes up. It is a discussion point and companies need to make sure that their values and goals can be realized and supported in the community where they’re going to locate,” Charity Nelson, Director of Economic Development at BVEP, said.
About six or seven years ago, before Nelson came to BVEP, the company worked with a law firm that did a lot of work surrounding diversity. “It was critically important for them to be in a community that had an emphasis on diversity and actually demonstrated diversity as well. In the end, Boise did not win that project and that was one of the reasons” she said. However, she added that diversity “is a factor, but it’s going to be different for every company.”
Nelson also pointed out that the conversation is about critical talent, too. “One of the areas where we struggle with is trades, and I’m not sure everyone would say, you know, top talent. And yet if you don’t have a CNC machinist for your manufacturing company, that’s a critical need and that’s one of the spaces where we really struggle.”
This struggle isn’t unique to Idaho, but a hurdle nonetheless. “We’re really having to go out of the state to recruit those positions, which you would not expect to do,” Nelson said.
Finally, she added that companies also need to expand their view of diversity and look at it beyond just a few categories, such as race or ethnicity. She talked about Bosnian immigrants as an example. “We actually have a pretty sizable population. But sometimes we leave that out because they’re also white. And yet their experience is very different than the other groups.”
- Create a job analysis. “Good recruiting is about putting together intentional strategies and then having the capability to go out and court your ideal talent… Don’t wait for it to happen,” said Stephanie Parker, President of Talent Spark. “It’s got to start with what are the requirements of the role from an experience perspective and also a behavioral and competency perspective?” Mapping the job analysis out before starting the recruitment process is key. “Because if you don’t start with some very thoughtful job analysis about what the position’s needs are, then you’re going to open a pretty subjective process. Interviewing can be full of subjectivity unless you’re grounded in the requirements.”
- Use a consistent hiring rubric. In order to stay away from subjectivity, Gayla Thomas-Dabney, the Regional Director of Diversity and Inclusion in the Western Region at Saint Alphonsus, recommends a consistent tool to interview candidates. “I wish that people knew that bias, implicit bias, systemic racism, and racism does exist in these processes.” Hiring managers and others in interview panels also need to receive guidance, like unconscious bias training. At Talent Spark, when they’re showing hiring managers candidates’ resumes, they’ll remove names so that the hiring manager focuses only on the candidates’ experience; “because unfortunately, whether conscious or unconscious… names can sometimes trigger bias,” Parker said. Parker also suggested using behavioral interviews and psychometric personality or skill assessments. “Layering those processes on top of each other,” she added, “actually drives even better and more valid outcomes.”
- Recruit in diverse places. In order to intentionally hire, Parker advocates for recruiting in more diverse places like colleges and universities, posting on job boards that are aimed towards diverse candidates, and creating referral networks. Thomas-Dabney recommends creating relationships with diverse recruitment and talent resources, attending Historically Black Colleges’ and Universities’ events, and promoting programs such as mentorships and sponsorships to help with retaining diverse talent.
- Look beyond Idaho. Bringing in a more diverse talent pool often requires going out of state due to the state’s lack of racial diversity. “Recruiting is going to look different depending on the geographical location and where you’re recruiting at… especially for your leadership, professional staff and faculty positions in higher ed,” Thomas-Dabney said. Saint Alphonsus does a lot of outreach through different associations and organizations, often out of state. Thomas-Dabney said that these types of programs lead to attracting more top talent and internal candidates. However, while companies can recruit out of state as much as they need to, Nelson pointed out the importance for the Boise community of having talent in the area to pull from. “Our stronger case is if the talent is already here. So as a state and a community, if we can have that talent here already we have a greater chance of bringing more businesses in.”
- Obtain buy-in from top leadership. There needs to be buy-in from top leadership to make hiring diverse talent a priority. “For it to have velocity, it needs to come from the top exec,” Parker said. “It needs to be mandated as a priority… It’s not simply enough to say diversity is important.” She also stated the importance of creating goals towards reaching diverse talent. “People need to be held accountable to meet those goals and companies need to just simply be more human and empathetic.” Being human, in her eyes, also means being willing to change some processes as needed. “What is your level of, like, empathy and willingness to change what you’re doing internally to meet those objectives?” she asked. “I think that that’s the kind of thing that really resonates with candidates; you know, they want to come work for good people, not necessarily just a big company.”
In the end, though, the hiring process isn’t just about bringing talent in, it’s also about ensuring that talent, especially diverse talent, wants to stay. “The retention is so critical and the retention can’t happen in isolation, right?”
- Right company culture. “You can do all the right things and recruit all the diverse talent, but if you do not have the environment in place, you can’t keep them,” Nelson said. In order to constantly learn more about how Saint Alphonsus can increase retention, Thomas-Dabney reviews all of their employees’ exit surveys and personnel action reports, which report terminations, resignations, and promotions to look for any gaps.
- Mentorship and sponsorship programs. Having mentorship and sponsorship programs increases retention by building relationships within the organization. This also helps with building community within your organization. “If you do not build a community for those individuals that are underserved or underrepresented at your organization, then you’re going to lose them,” Thomas-Dabney said.
- Authentic leadership. Thomas-Dabney also added that authentic leadership is a large factor in retention. “Because when you’re not authentic with people, you won’t retain them.”
- Inclusive community. Still, the reason retention can be challenging at times is because it doesn’t simply just come from the organization but from the community as a whole. “Yes, we talk about businesses and their need to recruit diverse talent, but who else is involved?” Nelson said. “It’s gotta be everyone, you know? If you don’t have a community that has markets that sell the food that people want to cook with, the barbershops to serve them, then this is never going to be a place that feels like home for them.” She also suggested that companies be honest when recruiting diverse talent and explain what Idaho currently looks like in regards to diversity. “I always felt as a recruiter that you really needed to give candidates all of the information so they could self-select out if it was not the right thing for them…the thing that comes to mind is that we need to continue to do the hard work, but we need to be really honest.”
Still, Nelson is optimistic about the future of Idaho and the Boise area. “I even think about the last 5 or 6 years that I’ve had some involvement in this type of work, we’ve made a lot of progress. We just still have a long way to go.”
Born and raised in Boise, I have seen this progress firsthand over the past 25 years–but, admittedly, I’ve also seen we still have a long way to go. For this reason, when I graduate with my MBA this May, I plan to leave Idaho for my post-graduate position. Many of my bright, almost-MBA graduates plan to do the same. Personally, I haven’t seen enough of the community culture for me to want to stay. As an aspiring women leader, I’ve felt that I need more support around me, both within organizations and in the area as a whole.
Which brings me to my final point: in the end, the responsibility of recruiting and retaining top, diverse talent doesn’t just fall on the employers. It falls on the community, too, to create the kind of space where top talent wants to stay. We as a state have a choice in every decision we make, but especially now as the world is watching: does the recent, tragic Anne Frank memorial vandalism define who Idaho is and will be or will we be known instead for the outpouring of love and support that followed? It’s up to us as a community to decide.