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The Long Game

Companies such as Cisco Systems and EY are taking a long-term approach to increasing the supply of diverse talent with their industries.

Monday, March 20, 2017
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When Chris Motley was a sophomore at Columbia University, a conversation he had with a senior executive at Goldman Sachs led him to switch his major from economics to history.

It was 2002, and Motley had his heart set on a Wall Street career. Majoring in economics seemed like the wise thing to do, he thought. Then he had a talk with Edith W. Cooper (who's now Goldman Sachs' global head of human capital management) while working as an intern at the financial-services firm.

"She asked me what I was interested in, and I said history," says Motley. "So she suggested that I major in that instead. If I majored in something I was really interested in, she told me, I would do well at it and it would ultimately make me a more attractive hire."

It was one of the best pieces of advice he ever got, says Motley, who went on to a job as a Goldman Sachs trader after graduating and is today the founder and CEO of St. Louis-based recruitment-technology and consulting firm Better Weekdays.

As he pursued his studies, Motley immersed himself in business history, which made it easier for him to have knowledgeable discussions with Goldman executives about topics such as commercial banking and the Glass-Steagall Act during his internship. "I could talk comfortably with them about business issues that were on their minds at the moment, and for a young person -- especially a young diverse person like myself -- that was so important."

Motley's exposure to Cooper and other high-ranking Goldman executives was made possible in the first place via a program called A Better Chance, which helps connect minority youth with scholarships at collegiate prep schools and is supported by the financial-services firm, among other companies. Through his involvement in the program, Motley was introduced to Goldman President Gary Cohn (who currently oversees the Trump Administration's National Economic Council), a meeting that eventually led to his internship at the company. 

When it comes to recruiting ethnically diverse college students to industries in which they're under-represented -- particularly high-paying ones such as financial services and technology -- Motley and others say it's important for companies to do more than simply show up at college career fairs and post pictures of diverse employees on their websites. It requires a sustained approach that may not yield short-term dividends yet will lead to more-robust pipelines of diverse talent in the longer term.

"Hiring high-quality diverse talent is an intimate, concentrated game, not a high-volume game," says Kelly Jones, director of talent acquisition and global university relations at San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco Systems. "You cannot parachute into a diverse school, pass out trinkets and expect students to rally to you. You need to take the time to get invested."


Building Talent Pipelines

Over the last two years, Cisco has adjusted its college recruiting strategy to focus more on recruiting top students from a variety of colleges and universities rather than from a list of 50 "target" schools, says Jones, whose team oversees hiring for new graduates and interns.

"We found that not only was this not capturing the volume of diverse talent that we wanted, it probably wasn't capturing the best talent, period, so we migrated our approach to focus on recruiting top students rather than those from a limited list of schools," she says. "There are plenty of high-achieving students at places other than MIT or Stanford."

As part of its new approach, Cisco used its "Diverse Representation Framework," an internally created data analytics tool, to help it identify schools that would be good potential sources of diverse talent. It also trained its campus recruiters to use data mining to identify top students in science, technology, engineering and math fields, says Jones, adding that engineers constitute about 60 percent of Cisco's annual hires.

The company is also focusing on building a pipeline of diverse STEM students early on in their college careers. "We go a bit deeper, focusing on students who are freshman and sophomores, because juniors and seniors have already decided on their major -- but sophomores and freshmen are often still exploring," she says. 

African-American and Latino college students disproportionately drop out of the STEM fields. A 2011 report by the National Academy of Sciences found that although under-represented minority students enroll in STEM majors at roughly the same rate as non-minority students, historically they have lower completion rates in those programs. Change the Equation, a coalition of Fortune 500 companies in STEM industries, found that, in 2014, the STEM workforce was no more diverse than it had been in 2001.

Cisco's strategy to grow the pipeline of ethnically diverse STEM graduates includes a newly created engineer-in-residence program at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, a historically black college in Greensboro, N.C. The program, which began this year and is funded by Cisco, features an African-American engineer from the company (who's also a North Carolina A&T alumnus) teaching a class in advanced network security.

"Studies have found that if you put industry in the classroom, it disproportionately retains African American students, so if they see an engineer rather than a professor it increases their engagement in engineering," says Jones. "The class had a huge number of students sign up, and our plan is to do this every year and grow it equivalent to its success rate.”

New York-based EY (formerly Ernst & Young) -- which consistently ranks among the top 10 of DiversityInc's Top 50 Companies for Diversity -- starts even earlier, focusing on diverse high school students to get them interested in the accounting profession. 

At the University of Texas at Austin's McCombs School of Business, the company sponsors Discover Yourself in Accounting Majors and Careers, or DYNAMC, an annual week-long summer camp in which high-achieving high school juniors and seniors from first generation, minority and low-income families live in the dorms, visit classrooms and a local EY office, conduct case studies and participate in fun activities such as laser tag and tours of the football stadium. 

The summer camp and others like it are mutually beneficial for EY and the participating colleges, says Ken Bouyer, director of inclusiveness recruiting at EY Americas.

"There are business schools around the country that are tremendous feeders of talent, so we work with them on programs like these because they're also interested in increasing their own enrollment of diverse students," he says, adding that EY sponsors 15 to 20 similar programs in the United States each year.

For ethnically diverse college students, EY offers its Launch Internship Program, in which students from under-represented groups who are at least two years away from graduating and are majoring in business or accounting spend the summer working at an EY office and being mentored by EY managers. The program, which has rigorous admission standards, not only gives the students a chance to learn what it's like working in the professional-services industry early on in their college careers but also helps EY stand out among a highly sought-after group, says Bouyer.

"There are a lot of companies out there competing for the limited number of under-represented minority students at top business schools, and we felt that if we waited until their junior year to reach out to them, they'd be gone," he says.


An Authentic Voice

One of the most effective ways for companies to establish relationships with ethnically diverse college students is to match them with employees from similar backgrounds, says Motley.

The difficult issues that most college students struggle with--choosing a major, managing student loans, preparing for a job or internship interview--are often magnified for these students, many of whom are the first in their families to attend college, says Motley, whose firm has interviewed more than 1,000 such students.

"Many of them haven't had access to the types of information that people from other backgrounds may take for granted, and so they're terrified by the job-search process and, as a result, may not come across all that well during an initial meeting with company representatives," he says.

What these students really want, he says, is the opportunity to have an honest and open dialogue with someone from a background similar to theirs in which they can feel comfortable asking questions and raising concerns about working in a particular industry or establishing a career without feeling self-conscious, he says.

"You might hear about a job title that just doesn't make sense to you, and you need someone to put it in context," says Motley. "But it's hard to put up your hand in the middle of a company presentation in a classroom and say 'I don't understand what that means.' It's intimidating for all students to publicly acknowledge that they don't understand something, but it's especially intimidating for ethnically diverse students."

That's why it's important for companies to have diverse employees in their first or second year at the organization go back and speak to individual students or diverse student groups at their alma mater, he says.

"These are the people who can most closely relate to what these students are going through and what their concerns are," says Motley. "When I was at Columbia, we had a Mexican-American trader from Goldman come and speak to a group of us--he brought us pizza and we just asked him about what it was like to work in the industry. He didn't try and sell us on the company. It was very helpful, and very much appreciated."

At Cisco, the company taps its employee resource groups for volunteers to go and speak with diverse students at their alma maters about their experiences working at the company and to serve as mentors, says Jones.

"Students want to hear authentic messages about what it's like working at your company and in your industry, and that authentic voice comes from your employees, not recruiters," she says.

It's also important to help diverse students establish their own networks with others who are pursuing studies in similar areas, says EY's Bouyer.

One of the most important components of the firm's diversity-recruiting strategy is Discover EY, a three-day, all-expenses-paid, invitation-only event for black, Latino and Native American students from colleges and universities across the United States. Students must have a grade-point average of at least 3.8 in order to qualify for an invitation.

At the most recent event, held in New York, 180 students from 92 campuses participated in networking events and attended seminars with senior EY leaders, including EY Global Chairman and CEO Mark Weinberger, on topics such as developing a global mindset.

"[Discover EY] gives students the opportunity to see others like them who are interested in a business career and to start building networks across the country," says Bouyer. "It also gives them a chance to get to know us as a company."

For Bouyer, who is African American, one of the most rewarding parts of the event is the opportunity to share his own story with the students.

"I tell them about my own background -- I grew up in Queens, was a first-generation college student and when I first walked through the doors of EY many years ago I had a little bit of doubt, as in 'This is amazing, I can't believe I'm here,' " he says. "My message to the students is that you deserve to be here, go back and work really hard during your senior year, don't get complacent, and to think about whose shoulders you're standing on -- none of us got here alone." 


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