Recruiting a diverse workforce should be a strategic business decision. Within a start-up or scaleup environment, the focus is on being disruptive, and quite often that translates to a progressive company culture, with teams who value inclusivity and equality.

Companies with a diverse workforce tend to have better performing teams. According to the McKinsey study “Why Diversity Matters,” diverse management teams have 19% higher revenue because of the innovation that comes from having varied thinkers, and a Harvard review Study revealed that diverse companies are 70% more likely to capture new markets than their less diverse counterparts.

In theory, software scale-ups should not have much trouble building diverse sales teams. A career in Software Sales has a low barrier to entry – it is about soft skills and the company culture. Additionally, 43% of start-ups in the US, UK, and Canada have diversity programmes to increase accessibility for underrepresented groups.

In reality, black employees are not appropriately represented in tech or sales roles either due to lack of awareness, access to opportunity, and ‘old fashioned’ unconscious bias.

One way start-ups are combatting this is by widening their talent pools, through partnering with HBCUs. Whilst they make up only 3% of the country’s colleges and universities, HBCUs produce almost 20% of all African American graduates.

So how do you incorporate these schools into an authentic DEI recruiting strategy?

  1. Expand your network – There are 107 HBCUs in the US, connecting with smaller colleges in addition to well-known HBCUs allows you to reach out to more high potential students across the US.  
  2. Connect with career services – Having worked with the career advisors within these colleges, I have seen the value they add to the recruitment process. Career Services engage with students daily, understand what they are looking to gain in their careers, have seen and overcome barriers to entry, and can really become a trusted advisor for your recruitment teams. Speak to careers services about your recruitment strategies, ask for feedback, and then action it.  
  3. Offer mentorship, internships, and coaching – Hiring from HBCUs should not just be about filling diversity quotas, but instead forming a long-lasting partnership. Evaluate how can you add value to the students. Can you offer mock interviews or internships? Students from HBCUs may lack the network within the industry to advise them on best practice, so this is a terrific way to become a trusted partner and shape the next generation of talent. 
  4. Establish an inclusive culture - Hiring a diverse workforce is a good first step but becomes redundant if you do not establish an inclusive culture that makes them stay. Transactional, hyperactive DEI strategies are not enough considering that these students are coming from institutions that are steeped in black history. Make sure you are transparent about your diversity statistics and authentic about your DEI policies. HBCUs students are more likely to want an emotional connection to the organisation that they are joining.
  5. Rethink your traditional hiring processes – Recruitment strategies are most likely shaped by an Unconscious Bias; they do not allow for diverse candidates to showcase their skills and strengths. work with career services about what is important to these students, what have been barriers to entry in the past, and ensure your recruitment strategy addresses this. 
    • You will need to rethink qualification criteria - Are you considering the soft skills these students have?  
    • Review your job description - does it include inclusive language, highlight workplace flexibility, provide an insight into the company culture.  
    • Be transparent around package and benefits.  
    • Can they access your DEI policy? 

Ultimately, hiring from HBCUs requires allyship. You need to be intentional with your actions to build trust and credibility and allocate appropriate resources to it. Most importantly, approach this with the right narrative - diversity is not a vanity metric, diverse businesses perform better.

Click here to see a list of HBCUs - the largest network of diverse talent to empower your organisation.