For many good reasons, diversity and inclusion (D&I) has become one of the hottest topics in human resources in recent months, and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. Much has been written on the subject, and most reasonable people need no further convincing why these twin goals – (1) making sure your organization is seeking and attracting historically under-represented talent (the “D”), and (2) making sure your organization is a place where diverse talent feels welcomed and supported (the “I”) – are worthy of our collective attention as HR professionals.
At Change State, of course we share these goals and have been actively taking steps to help our clients attract diverse talent across of range of industries. At the same time, we’ve counseled our clients to steer clear of a common (and we fear, growing) misconception: that being committed to D&I is equivalent to having a strong EVP, and by extension, an effective employer brand strategy.
Before we proceed, it’s worth setting the stage with a brief refresher on what an EVP is, and what makes a strong one. In essence, an employer brand value proposition (EVP) is a succinct crystallization of what makes your organization a desirable place to work. Put more simply, it’s a concise answer to the question:
Why should someone want to work for you?
We’ve covered at length our data-driven approaches to defining a strong EVP, but for our current purposes, it’s helpful to discuss the characteristics of a strong employer brand value proposition. A strong EVP is (at least):
Relevant: Speaks to what candidates are looking for in an employer
Differentiated: Meaningfully distinct from what competing employers are offering
Credible: Aligned with how current team members think and feel about their employee experiences
Authentic: Transparently communicates the pros and cons of working for you
This final quality – authenticity – tends to be the hardest to achieve, and is often what separates average employer brands from the strong ones. Authentic brands transparently communicate not only why someone should want to work for you, but, perhaps even more importantly, why someone should NOT want to work for you.
This point seems counter-intuitive at first glance. You may wonder: why in the world would we want to be broadcasting why someone might NOT want to work for us? By honestly communicating what Charlotte Marshall calls the “give” and “get” of your employer brand, you’re much more likely to attract talent that is likely to be fulfilled by what your organization offers, while actively repelling those who are likely to leave before they reach their one-year anniversary.
After all, the goal of a strong employer brand is not to cast the widest net possible, luring in talent who will be later disappointed to find that your EVP doesn’t match with reality – it’s to attract talent who will love working for your organization so much that the trade-offs, which you authentically communicated in advance, are worth it.
Examples of authentic employer brands include:
A tech company that provide opportunities to create entirely new product categories (the “get”), but requires intense, 60+ hour work weeks, where taking PTO is discouraged (the “give”)
A consulting firm with a reputation for generating industry-leading insights (the “get”) by promoting a culture of intense competition and frequent, direct feedback from superiors (the “give”)
A start-up that advertises the opportunity to “create your own” role (the “get”) due to its lack of a formal leadership structure with limited guidance from management (the “give”)
These very different employers have at least one thing in common: their EVP’s are exclusionary by design – that is, they boldly and apologetically broadcast that working here isn’t for everyone.
At a moment when diversity and inclusion are (rightly) on center stage, this feels like an uncomfortable paradox. On the one hand, we’re telling the world that our organization is a place where all our welcome. On the other, we’re supposed to proudly broadcast how and why working for us isn’t for everyone? What gives?
The key is in unpacking on which bases we are being inclusive or exclusive. With regard to matters of personal identity—that is, ethnicity, gender identity, cultural background, age, etc.—of course all organizations should strive to be as inclusive as possible. In fact, this is such a foundational expectation of modern employers, we often include D&I as one of the “tables stakes” dimensions when generating an employer brand perceptual map.
As a reference to the minimum buy-in required to sit down at a poker table, the term “table stakes” refers to the qualities of an employer brand that are so universally expected by employees that they in some sense represent the minimum “buy-in” required if an employer wishes to compete for talent in a given industry or market. Other examples include:
Safe and secure work environments
Company-provided tools and equipment necessary to execute your job
These are aspects of employment that are absolutely necessary, but aren’t particularly interesting or differentiating because any good employer should provide them. Imagine answering the EVP question (why should someone want to work for you?) with: “We provide safe work environments for all of our employees.” Would you expect this to attract the best and brightest talent available, who are likely to be fulfilled by what you offer? While safety is no doubt extremely important, it’s simply not the basis for a strong EVP.
In a similar way, announcing “We welcome employees of all ethnicities, gender identities and cultural backgrounds” is extremely important, especially at this heightened moment of awareness, but is not likely the basis of an effective employer brand strategy. At best it makes your employer brand appealing relative to organizations that are behind the times, which aren’t likely your true competitors in the first place.
To be clear, not all industries and organizations have lived up to the D&I ideals to which we all aspire: clearly, there is more work to do. And while we all eagerly await the day when D&I becomes a “tables stakes” employer brand dimension across all industries and organizations, we expect leading employer brands to simultaneously excel in their D&I efforts, while building their EVP’s around dimensions that are truly authentic and differentiating.
Questions about how to define a strong employer brand value proposition? Contact us today.