Racial justice protests and coronavirus crisis offer opportunity to change hiring practices

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The protests sweeping the U.S. in the wake of George Floyd’s death have made racial issues top-of-mind for many employers, even as the coronavirus crisis continues to present challenges.

Employers including Apple and JPMorgan Chase have issued statements in response to Floyd’s death, condemning the violence and racist actions of those responsible for his murder, and pledging to support minorities.

However, such statements aren’t enough — employers must take action to create a more diverse workforce, says Tom Gimbel, founder and CEO of recruiting and staffing firm LaSalle Network.

“The statement of saying ‘we support black people and minorities’ is kind of a given,” Gimbel says. “The question really is, to have a more diverse workforce, do you have the population, and where are you going to find them.”

In a recent interview, Gimbel shared his perspective on how the protests for racial justice and the coronavirus crisis provide an opportunity for companies to adopt different hiring practices.

How can employers hire a qualified and diverse workforce as we move towards going back to normal?

It’s like going after business, is how we’re coaching clients. When you want to go after a new business segment, you have to develop a team to go do it. Just saying you do it isn’t enough, just having a diversity and inclusion plan isn’t enough. It’s how are you going about it, where are you recruiting from, and what roles match up with the skillsets of the people you’re looking to bring on.

What’s the current state of hiring?

Obviously there’s downsizing. There are 40 million unemployed Americans that weren’t before. However, the overwhelming majority of those do come from the services industry: hotels, bars, restaurants, cleaning crews, etc. While there are some white collar people that have been laid off, there are companies that are hiring.

There’s also turnover: people being terminated for performance, people voluntarily leaving to take other jobs that were open. There’s not a lot of high-volume hiring going on, but there is definitely hiring.

We’re seeing some manufacturing companies that are hiring, service firms that are hiring, and technology-based companies. It’s really individual companies and how strong their balance sheets are. The really unique thing about this down economy resulting from a quarantine is that every company was prepared differently, so it’s not an industry thing, it’s individual companies. One reason to hire is there’s an opening, the other reason is that we’re going to take advantage of good people being on the market.

What advice do you have for HR managers who are looking to hire now?

If you’ve got people who are unemployed right now and you’re looking to hire those people, one of the key things that we have as an advantage now is how motivated people are on their own. Ask people what their routine was when they were unemployed during the quarantine: what did they do everyday? What time did they get up? What did they do with their day? How did they interact? Did they learn any new skills? If you were working from home during the quarantine, how did you manage your time? How did you communicate with your manager? How did you do daily wrap ups? Most importantly, are you a stronger, more successful worker now than you were before March? What did you do to get better with having all this time to be quarantined?

What changes have you seen in the hiring process during the coronavirus crisis?

It’s all being done remotely so the interview process has actually been expedited. It used to be the final round or the final two rounds or the leader of a group would be the last interview and they’d want it to be face-to-face. Since that’s not really possible, we did see it speed up going on video interviewing. On the flipside, a lot more candidates were weeded out earlier on because they were seen via Zoom versus a lot of phone interviews in a traditional setting.

I think people are shifting to ask, ‘Have you ever reported to somebody remotely,’ or ‘Have you ever not been in the same office with somebody that you’re working for.’ If you’re managing people, ‘Tell me how you manage remote employees.’ Where it used to be just ‘tell me about your management style or your relationship with your people,’ now it’s much more specific about actual hands-on aspects directly related to people working from home and managing people remotely.

What challenges do companies face if they are hiring now?

The interesting thing is how you sell a company. One of the things that is really unique is you bring people into your office and they see if you had a really neat office or a neat manufacturing or a cool location or easy to get to — those were all positives. Now, they’re quasi-irrelevant depending on what companies remote schedules are going to be. A lot of companies are still going to have people come back into the office, if not this summer or this year, next year. But when you’re recruiting somebody now, they’re not seeing the office, they’re not seeing the people in the office, they’re not getting together for a happy hour to meet staff in a casual environment, it’s really changed how you package it.

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Diversity and equality Coronavirus