Challenges in Talent Acquisition and Management

Published: Dec 11, 2020



According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2019, for the first time in U.S. history, nonwhites and Hispanics were the majority of people under the age of 16. The Census Bureau reported in June that this demographic shift is expected to increase even further over the next few decades.

In 2019, nearly 40% of the total U.S. population was either nonwhite or Hispanic. According to the Pew Research Center in February 2008 and the Brookings Institution in March 2018, it is estimated that non-Hispanic whites will be a minority of the U.S. population by 2045.

Diversity—as it relates to the workplace—is both inherent (such as age, race) and acquired (such as education, experience). Diversity can include race, color, ethnicity, gender, age, physical ability, socioeconomic background, sexual orientation, education level, urban or rural background, religious and political beliefs, nationality of origin, and work experience.

If an organization is focused only on a number or checking a box for diversity, it will be on the defensive and only look at issues that come to light in terms of compliance.


According to “The No. 1 Strategy for True Inclusion in the Workplace,” a February 2019 post from Gallup, “Wide demographics alone won’t make a difference to an organization’s bottom line unless the people within those demographics feel authentically welcomed.”

Inclusion changes the narrative by turning the focus to a positive viewpoint. It is a more authentic way to value people, their skill sets, and their diversity of backgrounds. In an inclusive environment, all employees feel welcomed, respected, heard, and encouraged. Employees are appreciated for their strengths as well as their differences. Inclusion is a lofty goal but one that engages employees to bring their “best selves” to their managers, colleagues, and customers/clients.

The enemy of inclusion is unconscious bias, which 100% of people have. To shift the culture of the organization and hire top, diverse talent, bias must be addressed. Project Implicit is a series of “implicit association tests” (IAT) started at Harvard University in 1998. It has been shown to identify participants’ unconscious biases about other demographic groups. For inclusion to succeed in any organization, it is essential that all employees acknowledge their own biases.


Data from McKinsey’s May 2020 study of 1,000 large businesses in 15 countries show 25% higher revenues for companies with diversity in the leadership ranks. The addition of inclusion also results in higher retention rates at all levels.

To attract top diverse talent, an organization must be genuine in the quest for equity and inclusion. D&I training and education are essential for leadership, human resources, and hiring managers.

People naturally tend to hire others who look and think like themselves. When hiring people with a different perspective or viewpoint, creativity increases and problem solving becomes a group activity. An inclusive group can identify innovations and pitfalls that a homogenous type of groupthink cannot accomplish. Better solutions are achieved when you are not relying on a single narrative.

Diversity should also include political affiliations. In 2013, professors of management Denise Lewin Loyd of the University of Illinois, Cynthia Wang of Oklahoma State University, Robert B. Lount Jr. of Ohio State University, and Katherine W. Phillips of Columbia University asked 186 people to self-disclose whether they were a Democrat or Republican. They all read a murder mystery and decided who they thought committed the crime. Then, the researchers asked each subject to write an essay defending their viewpoint and why they came to the conclusion that they did. They were paired with a Republican or Democrat to discuss their thoughts. All participants were told that their partner disagreed with them and they needed to come to an agreement with the other person during the meeting. They needed to convince their partner they were correct. Half of the subjects were told that they would be making their case to someone who was a member of the opposing political party, and half were told that they would be making their case to a member of their own political party.

What they found was that when any self-identifying Democrat was told that a fellow Democrat disagreed with them, they prepared less well for the discussion than Democrats who were told that a Republican disagreed with them. Republicans showed the exact same pattern. When disagreement came from a socially different person, they were prompted to think and work harder. Diversity awakens us to stronger cognitive action in ways that uniformity does not.


National trends in demographics show increased buying power from minorities and amplified influence both socially and politically. Organizations need a workforce that is comfortable in speaking out to educate colleagues in order to have a positive influence on branding, products, and marketing. Leadership needs to be open when asking the difficult questions, listening, and taking action.

Trader Joe’s in July 2020 was asked by some customers to repackage products that were deemed racist. In the hot seat are ethnic food brand names such as Trader Ming’s, Trader José, Arabian Joe, Trader Giotto’s, and Trader Joe San. A petition was signed by thousands of people in a matter of hours. However, the company is still considering the requests. “We want to be clear: we disagree that any of these labels are racist. We do not make decisions based on petitions,” the company stated on its website on July 24.

Unlike Trader Joe’s, other companies have changed branding in response to consumer pressure and recent racial unrest. These include Quaker Oats’ decision to rename its Aunt Jemima brand in June, Conagra Brands’ rebranding and repackaging of Mrs. Butterworth syrup, and Mars Inc.’s revamping of its Uncle Ben’s brand of rice. Perhaps an argument can be made that the recent changes in all noted companies might not have been necessary if diverse leaders and employees had felt safe enough to speak up earlier in the company’s history.


Another reason an organization should look at D&I is compliance. Government contracts call for diversity in organizations. To work successfully with minority-owned or women-owned businesses, contractors must have diversity in their employee ranks. To attract top, diverse talent, companies must have an inclusive environment. In addition to everything mentioned above, it is also the right thing to do even if not required by contracts and partners.

We’ve all heard that the best way to get hired is to know someone in an organization. That’s fine, but in most cases it does not lead to diversity. A big step toward moving the needle in terms of diversity is hiring people you don’t know and going to where the candidates “live.” This may consist of going outside of your comfort zone, circle of influence, and/or social circle. It may mean looking through a diversity lens for every hire.

Depending on the industry or position, a diverse top candidate or hire may be difficult to find. HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) and their alumni groups are a wonderful place to recruit. Hispanic, Disability, LGBTQ, and Black Chambers of Commerce are also fantastic resources for potential candidates.

Affinity professional associations or LinkedIn groups are another source of diverse candidates. Examples of these are the National Black MBA Association (NBMBAA), the Executive Leadership Council (ELC), the Association of Latino Professionals for America (ALPFA), the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA), the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), Disability:IN, Equality Federation-Leadership Connection, the National Association for Female Executives (NAFE), and the National Hispanic Corporate Council (NHCC). Many of these and other groups have local or state level entities as well as an online presence.

In my firm’s bi-state region of Kansas and Missouri, we have a Diversity and Inclusion Consortium; there are many others across the United States.


In a recent retained executive search, a diverse top candidate was not interested in moving their family to an area with a smaller and/or nonexistent diverse population. An employer needs to know and be able to connect candidates to diversity in the organization and the community. Another top candidate wanted to know whether there were health benefits for their same-sex partner and if the community was LGBTQ family-friendly before exploring the position. Your search firm or internal recruiter should have the answers to those questions at the first contact.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, women are twice as likely as men to sacrifice their careers and leave the workforce, according to WerkLabs, the research division of The Mom Project, in June. These experts say it is usually the challenge of balancing home schooling and childcare with working a 40- to 60-hour workweek that causes the turnover.

In a pre-pandemic executive search, in which my team was looking for an entrepreneur, a top female candidate with small children turned down the offer when the president was not willing to be flexible with a traditional Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. workweek. He thought it would set an inappropriate precedent for all employees if anyone ever chose to work remotely. A command-and-control type of leadership has never really driven productivity. The pandemic has shown that people can be productive even when they’re not in the office. It is the engagement that matters; engaged workers are always more productive.

The online learning company Chegg surveyed staff at the height of the pandemic in the spring of 2020; 86% of employees said their productivity was as good as or better than before they worked from home, according to a June 23, 2020 article in the New York Times. They attributed the uptick to not commuting and not having boundaries to the workday. The Chegg team completed a project in 15 days that would have taken a month during normal times. The executive leaders were trying to be high-touch early in the pandemic; after feeling burnt out themselves, they stepped back.

Many Millennials and Gen Xers do not want to work an 80-hour week. They want a more balanced life. A majority of Millennials also want to work for a company that is socially responsible within their community. It can also be important to them to regularly volunteer for a local charity during work hours.

Job descriptions should be written, and edited after they are written, to attract diverse candidates. Sourcing and recruiting is best when it is done in tandem, not in sequence. Many search consultants and recruiters lack the confidence to push back with biased clients or leaders. There should be diversity and cultural competency on the recruiting and interviewing team.

Assessments should be an insignificant part of the hiring process and should tell you twhat you already know about the candidate from interviews, work history, and professional references. According to an article in SHRM’s HR Magazine, “In researching personality assessment tools, HR professionals should ask vendors for the technical documentation that shows what the test was designed to measure, what group it was tested with and what workplace behaviors it can predict….”

The best personality tests measure stable traits that don’t change over time, compare one applicant’s scores to others, produce the same results if the same person takes it again, and are valid predictors of job performance. A personality assessment should not show adverse impact; that is, scores should not differ for minority group members. Using assessments that may be economically, racially, educationally, or culturally biased or even insensitive is not a practice any organization should follow.

Diverse candidates are intelligent enough to know if an employer is just checking a diversity box. The best candidates will be attracted when they see an effort on the part of the organization and leaders to become more diverse and inclusive.

About the Author: Nancy Huckaba is a vice president of EFL Associates, one of the top 40 retainer-based executive search firms in America and an affiliate of CBIZ, Inc. She leads the nonprofit and for-purpose search practice in Kansas City.