Expanding Your Recruitment Pool through Increasing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

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To find the best candidates for open IT roles, IT leaders need to think differently when it comes to recruiting by ensuring the diversity, equity, and inclusiveness of recruiting processes and IT organizations. Discover what this means in practice and what you can do.

photo of a diverse group of people

Let’s face it: We all feel challenged in finding the right IT talent to support our institutions. We advertise for positions that often get only a small pool of candidates in response. We need to find a way to grow our candidate pools by casting wider nets.

To find the best candidates for our roles — to exceed stakeholder expectations and to advance our institutions’ commitments, and our own commitments, to diversity — we need to think differently about talent, about what “the best candidate” means, and about what finding the best candidate requires. In other words, we need to think differently when it comes to recruiting by ensuring the diversity, equity, and inclusiveness of our recruiting processes and our IT organizations.

Think Differently to Expand Your Candidate Pools

How could thinking differently grow our candidate pools? According to the EDUCAUSE 2016 Workforce Landscape survey, only 15 percent of higher-ed IT staff identify as nonwhite. Although women make up 40 percent of the higher ed IT staff workforce, their percentage drops to 30 percent at the level of IT managers and to 27 percent at the level of CIOs. Tapping into these groups by thinking differently provides an opportunity to increase the number of qualified candidates we consider for our open positions.

Work in IT involves technology, of course, but it also involves people — colleagues, customers, partners, vendors, and sponsors. A diverse organization increases the depth and breadth of your talent and therefore the effectiveness and efficiency of your organization.

One of author Keith McIntosh’s former supervisors used to say, “You can’t fix what you won’t face.” This is indeed the case when it comes to the lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion within the higher ed IT workforce. We’re inundated with messages that shine light on this issue as well as its negative impact on our profession. However, the recruitment process is difficult enough without having to worry about trying to ensure that we address DEI. We need usable approaches to implement at our institutions that address this issue.

Why Is DEI Important?

A number of studies have shown that workplace diversity contributes to creativity, productivity, and innovation. For example, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely, and those in the top quartile for ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely, to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.1

We see this recognition taking hold at our institutions, of course. It is exciting to see it come to the fore within EDUCAUSE, which is now recognizing the importance of DEI to the profession and affirming its commitment through one of its principles:

  • Encouraging diversity in perspective, opinion, and representation
  • Infusing principles of diversity and inclusion into activities and programming
  • Seeking to continually broaden our membership in service of higher education

As we seek to add more IT professionals to our staffs, we can see there is room for growth by looking at recruiting those from diverse backgrounds. Consider the following data regarding the higher ed IT workforce2:

  • The higher ed IT workforce is more ethnically diverse now than it was five years ago, especially in CIO positions.
  • The proportion of women CIOs has increased since 2010.
  • For the first time in the ECAR workforce research history, female CIOs and managers out-earn their male counterparts (by $2,400 and $3,000, respectively).
  • Nonwhite workers are underrepresented in the higher ed IT workforce when compared with the overall U.S. labor force: Nonwhite workers make up 15 percent of all positions in higher ed IT and 34 percent of the U.S. labor force.
  • Women are underrepresented in the higher ed IT workforce when compared with the overall U.S. labor force.
  • Across the higher ed IT workforce, men out-earn women by $7,400 (comparing median salaries).
  • Young professionals are underrepresented in the higher ed IT workforce when compared with the overall U.S. labor force. This will affect the employment pipeline for filling positions that are vacated through retirements — an increasingly significant resource concern for CIOs.

These statistics suggest the scope of the problem and the opportunity we face when we consider talent and when we initiate hiring processes.

What Actions Can We Take?

Keith McIntosh: When we set out to recruit Ithaca College’s first director for Architecture and Infrastructure, along with a couple of other director positions, we wanted to cast as wide a net as possible and proactively reach out to candidates from underrepresented groups in order to enhance the diversity of our workforce. When I gave the search committee their charge, I included the following expectation: "Please develop the recruitment plan to enlarge the applicant pool with women and minority applicants, particularly where under-representation exists." We also partnered closely with our HR team to help us implement this proactive outreach. In this case, we searched throughout New York and the surrounding states for women and people of color who met our minimum qualifications, and then we proactively recruited them. We were fortunate to find Casey Kendall, who was serving as the director of Information Systems and Security at nearby Keuka College. Based on her background and expertise, we encouraged her to apply for the position, and then through the interview process balanced our need to evaluate her with our growing desire to recruit her. We were pleased to have her join the team and lead an area typically led by men.

Melissa Woo: My first IT management position was for a group of UNIX system administrators. Some of the strongest members of our team didn't have computer science degrees. One had a degree in sociology and another had been a double major in comparative literature and military science. Had the group insisted on hiring only those with a "computer science or related degree," which we still often see automatically inserted in position announcements for such roles, we wouldn't have had these great sysadmins on our team.

CIOs, their HR partners, search committee members, interviewers, and other parties such as recruitment agencies and search consultants can all play valuable roles in increasing the diversity of campus IT organizations and the inclusiveness of our cultures. We think of these actions as institutional and individual, and we suggest that hiring and promotion decisions as well as on- and off-campus mentoring activities are all crucial ways to advance this objective.

The institution's commitment to diversity should be expressed in position announcements and should be evident to candidates when they research the organization before interviewing, when they interview, when they interact with HR staff, and when they meet potential colleagues in less formal settings. Everyone who interacts with candidates during a hiring process needs to own this.

As a hiring officer, your commitment to diversity in your workforce activates when you develop the position description, when you identify — with your HR partner — an advertising and recruitment strategy, and when you facilitate the selection processes that will bring candidates into your interview process and eventually bring one of them to the point of accepting your offer.

Everyone involved in this work must emphasize the importance of ensuring that position announcements really signal what we want them to signal in terms of both the work environment we are trying to hire into and the competencies and attributes we are seeking. We usually have many requirements listed. But do we really think through before posting what the real combination of quantifiable attributes (a technical certification, for instance), learned attributes (such as effective customer service), and what might be a more inherent trait (such as an aptitude for collaboration) should be? If we thought through what the appropriate balance is for each position before recruiting for it, we might create for ourselves and our organizations more space in which to hire for talent, impact, and diversity.

Several web-based tools evaluate the language of a job posting to identify wording that might signal or invite bias on the part of selectors or that might alienate potential applicants (for one such tool, see Talent Sonar [https://talentsonar.com/], previously Unitive). Furthermore, there are ways to avoid suggesting that you maintain old stereotypes about a function that has historically employed a predominantly male workforce. Consider replacing "strong leadership" with "effective leadership," for instance, or crafting a set of position requirements that emphasize kinds of experience — in change management or consensus building, for instance — over narrowly defined technical skills.

Beyond finalizing a position description that communicates everything we would want to communicate about our organization (and communicates nothing we would not want it to), we can broaden the applicant pool beyond higher education. Yes, considering applicants from the corporate sector or from government entails difficult decisions about how successfully someone might come to understand and work effectively within an academic environment, with its shared governance, decentralization, and multiple (or no) bottom lines — not to mention faculty!

Another technique to increase the diversity of candidate pools is to de-identify resumes so that putatively indicative data such as names are invisible. Of course, the downside of this practice is that selectors committed to including underrepresented minority group members in a candidate pool have less information to go on when creating a diverse and inclusive short list of candidates.

When we recruit, we often look for the perfect candidate. We’re not discouraging you from looking for someone who fits 100 percent of your needs, but our experience tells us that it’s rare to find someone who fits the bill completely. What if we simplified the initial criteria and made sure they did not unduly discourage applicants from a range of backgrounds, generalized the requirements, and expanded where we posted our recruitments? What if we emphasized generating a large pool of candidates with a range of backgrounds represented and then bringing a diverse set of selectors to the task of sifting out the candidates with the track record, the competencies, and the potential to have the biggest impact over time? We are confident that thinking like this won’t result in weaker performers — you are still in charge of the hiring decision, after all — but will give you the opportunity to hire for all the competencies you seek, all the impact you would like to have, and all the statement you would like to make about the culture and values of your organization.

Getting Out of Your Own Way

DEI starts when you and your team consider the position in the context of your organization’s and your institution’s goals. Search committees, hiring authorities, and organizations as a whole should be routinely discussing the presence and impact of unconscious bias in decision making, particularly in hiring and evaluation. Not doing so can result in not identifying, and subsequently not addressing, a significant barrier to finding the best talent and preparing our teams to meet today’s challenges.

Over three decades of research documents the unconscious bias in all of us, including those who have the best of intentions.3 But what is most important for us to know about this research is its conclusion that we all have the ability to reduce our bias. Additionally, we often evaluate candidates in the context of the position for which we are hiring, not in the broader strategic context of the organization. What if we redefined the “best” candidate as the one who serves organizational goals rather than just meets the needs of the individual role?

Helena Rodrigues: A campus leader came to me following a recent recruitment to discuss the outcome of his search. He detailed the decision making after the committee determined there were two finalists to be considered, one woman and one man. The man was selected because he had a longer list of accomplishments, including the desired leadership experiences described in the posting. Because this campus leader and I had discussed his challenges recruiting women, he asked me if he had done anything wrong. I assured him that he had not, then I asked him to reflect on how he and the committee had considered the organization’s long-term goals in addition to its needs right now, and whether or not that was a component of the evaluation of candidates. He understood that he had not done that. Hiring is not only an opportunity to fill a void: it is also an opportunity to advance our organizations.

We should all bear in mind that candidates (the good ones, anyway) research the organizations they are considering for employment, and they may well seek to learn who is serving on the search committees. The faces they see and the culture they perceive may affect their decision to even pursue a job opening. This still surprises some hiring managers, and as leaders in IT this might not be how we recall seeking our earlier opportunities in the field. Search committees, hiring authorities, and their respective HR partners must therefore discuss recruitment objectives and strategies that will lead to the creation of successful, diverse, inclusive teams.

Melissa Woo: An effective approach to creating and maintaining a welcoming environment for diverse candidates is to establish affinity/ally groups comprised of members that represent the current majority. One example of such an affinity/ally group program is the HeForShe program initiated by UN Women. Its goal is to engage men and boys as allies in the UN Women campaign to take action against inequalities experienced by women and girls. Stony Brook University is a university member of the HeForShe Impact 10x10x10 pilot initiative, which makes gender equality a priority through institutional commitments.

What’s a Hiring Manager to Do?

Leaders have a tremendous role to play in making a positive impact on the future of our profession. Effective recruiting also has a role, demonstrating to candidates that your workplace culture supports DEI.

As leaders, we can start by educating ourselves and acknowledging our own biases. Then we can shift to setting the tone for our areas and the teams we lead. Publicly and consistently reaffirming our values and our commitment to increasing DEI in our organizations will go a long way toward shifting the culture. As leaders, we should emphasize our expectations in one-on-one and group meetings with our teams. And we should partner with our colleagues in human resources to develop strategic and tactical approaches to changing our organizational cultures to reflect and embody our shared DEI expectations.

Keith McIntosh: In an effort to raise awareness and address biases within the IT team at Ithaca College, we created a Diversity Standing Committee comprised of two men and two women. We partnered with Belisa Gonzáles, an associate professor of Sociology and director of the Center for the Study of Culture, Race, and Ethnicity, to help us develop an agenda for our team. The team met regularly with Gonzáles. We decided to focus on gender bias. Drawing on her expertise and harnessing the enthusiasm of the team, we developed a robust program consisting of monthly meetings with the entire IT team using table exercises, group discussions, videos, and articles from experts in the field. The conversations weren't always comfortable! But regardless of background and initial expectations, everyone on the team learned that though the topic brings discomfort, it was important to address this head-on. My role was to establish leadership for these discussions, to champion the team’s efforts, and to provide the resources.

Creating, contributing to, and sustaining talent pipelines are also parts of what it takes to increase the diversity of our profession. While a talent pipeline may or may not immediately benefit our own organizations — timing is so much a part of hiring, and by definition a talent pipeline is future oriented — grooming IT talent that ends up benefiting another CIO’s organization is still a net gain for the profession. As part of growing and developing this leadership pipeline, we need to ensure that aspiring leaders are guided toward a mindset that incorporates DEI. We should actively mentor, guide, and coach our teams to raise their awareness and understanding so that they are comfortable discussing the topic of DEI and, when they mature to the point of owning hiring decisions, are ready to act on the basis of their principles and with a recruitment “toolkit” that they use confidently.

What Can You Do?

We’ve identified five practices that CIOs and unit leaders can commit to in order to enhance their recruiting efforts by increasing diversity, equity, and inclusiveness:

  1. Admit it:​ Recognize and acknowledge both unconscious and conscious biases.
  2. Talk about it:​ Prompt a conversation about setting DEI expectations with the search committee. This will help avoid "group think" around attaching a particular value base to candidate qualities.
  3. Think differently:​ Assess and reduce bias in your job ads. Consider organizational strategy rather than just recruiting for the requirements of an individual position. Use tools like the job ad gender decoder, the tool Talent Sonar [https://talentsonar.com/], and CUPA/HR DEI resources.
  4. Recruit for inclusiveness:​ Engage in relational recruiting, seek referrals, and use platforms/listservs that promote inclusiveness. Identify the social media communities to learn about candidates and where to share job postings.
  5. Develop an inclusive workplace: Set DEI expectations in the workplace. Demonstrate to prospective employees how your workplace supports DEI.

Final Thoughts

This article came out of the collaboration that went into and the discussion that occurred at the EDUCAUSE 2016 panel "How to Increase the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusiveness of Our Recruiting." Drawing on research done by ECAR, two CIOs, a university HR leader, and an executive search consultant, we addressed the opportunities and challenges of increasing the diversity of higher education IT organizations. We, and the audience members who posed probing questions and contributed wonderful perspective based on their own hopes and experiences, addressed issues inherent in recruiting and developing high-performing and diverse IT talent. This article infuses our presentation with the richer content that emerged from our panelists and our audience and that comes from our ongoing collaboration to solve these dilemmas. Ultimately, as we see EDUCAUSE doing through its new areas of strategic focus, we found ways to implement personal, organizational, institutional, and professional commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion. In IT, we know something is real when it becomes an acronym — DEI.


  1. Vivian Hunt, Dennis Layton, and Sara Prince, “Why Diversity Matters,” McKinsey & Company, January 2015.
  2. D. Christopher Brooks and Pam Arroway, Higher Education IT Salary Report, 2016, Research report (Louisville, CO: ECAR, October 2016); and Jeffrey Pomerantz and D. Christopher Brooks, The Higher Education IT Workforce Landscape, 2016, Research report (Louisville, CO: ECAR, April 2016).
  3. Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald, Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People (New York: Delacorte Press, 2013).

Keith McIntosh is vice president for Information Services and CIO at the University of Richmond.

Jeffrey Pomerantz, PhD, is a senior research analyst for the EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR).

Helena Rodrigues is assistant vice president, Human Resources, The University of Arizona.

Craig Smith is a partner with Opus Search Partners.

Melissa Woo is senior vice president of IT and CIO at Stony Brook University.

© 2017 Keith W. McIntosh, Jeffrey Pomerantz, Helena Rodrigues, Craig Smith, and Melissa Woo. The text of this article is licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0.