Best Practices: How to Build a Diverse Workforce

by Mike Tannian on April 06, 2022

Learn how your government agency can build a diverse workforce so you can better serve your community with new ideas and programs.

Article Highlights:

A major question in the public sector is how to build a diverse workforce. Hiring managers are learning the importance of diversity in recruitment because it makes their organizations better and stronger.

Diverse workforces create new ideas and new programs. They launch new initiatives and can better meet their communities' needs. And they have an easier time attracting other candidates from different racial, community, and identity-based groups.

There are different markers of diversity beyond just racial identity, including ethnic groups, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, cultural background, age, and disability. You can even consider experience and job history, education, social and political perspectives, and ideas and personal philosophies.

While it can be a challenge to find people with backgrounds different from yours, it's  very possible. It starts with a commitment to diversity and inclusion in recruitment.

In this article, we’ll show you how to get a more diverse workforce, the benefits of working with people from different backgrounds, and some out-of-the-box methods for recruiting.

The Importance of Diversity in Recruitment

A government agency generally serves an entire population, whether it's a local, state, or federal agency. That means the racial and gender makeup of the agency should reflect its community.

In other words, if the population being served is 10% Hispanic or Latino, then the agency's workforce should have the same amount of Hispanic or Latino employees. More is always better, but less is not acceptable.

Similarly, when hiring for a job in that agency, the talent pool should reflect the community your agency serves. The same percentage of qualified applicants should reflect the community throughout the hiring process – meaning if 15% of the eligible applicants are Black, then 15% of the candidates who make it to the interview process should be Black as well.

When applicant pools don't reflect those same makeups, it may be a result of unconscious bias.

What is unconscious bias?

Unconscious biases are stereotypes about different racial, cultural, and identity groups beyond a person's own conscious awareness.

Everyone has them. They're more prevalent than conscious prejudices and you may not even be aware you have them. 

The biases often appear as attitudes and beliefs as we organize our world into categories, not realizing that we're ascribing negative attitudes or beliefs about someone because of their particular "groups."

For example, are Asian and Latino populations represented as a whole in the public sector? Based on some of our own research, yes.

  • Asian people make up 6% of the US workforce. They are also 6% of the public sector workforce. So Asian people have proportionate representation in the public sector.
  • The same is true for Latino candidates. They make up 18% of applicants and 18% of hires, which means they're proportionately represented throughout the hiring process.

This is not true for the corporate sector, though. According to our same research, we found that Latino candidates were hired at a non-proportional rate in 14 of 22 job categories, like architecture and engineering, legal, physical sciences, and sales. That means less than 19% of hires were Latino in 14 job categories.

Asian candidates were also underrepresented in 12 of the 22 categories.

On the other hand, White candidates were over-represented in all 22 categories, making up more than 60% of the hires.

And according to the 2021 Diversity Report from, Black women are 58% less likely to be hired in the public sector than White men.

The two-year study, which analyzed over 17 million government job applications, found that in order to match societal representation, they had to apply at a much higher rate than any other racial group: Black candidates made up 28% of applications but were only 18% of government employees.

Specifically, Black women were 39% less likely to be offered an interview than White men. This means it's harder for a qualified Black female candidate to ever reach the interview stage, usually because of unconscious bias. Interviewers may hold them to a higher standard, weighing so-called "deficiencies" much more harshly than they do for White male candidates.

Another example: Black women were 26% more likely to be interviewed when the interviewer didn't know any of the candidate's personally identifiable information (PII), which meant they couldn't make any prejudgments about their name, neighborhood, or the college they attended. This led to a 33% increase in hiring.

These statistics make it clear that many organizations need unconscious bias training and initiatives in place.

Fostering innovation through a diverse workforce

Clearly, there are benefits to having a diverse workforce that looks like the community it serves.

For one thing, organizations that embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are much more innovative and productive. In the private sector, diverse teams create 19% more revenue than their non-diverse competitors. DEI gives companies a competitive advantage because they have people with new ideas, new ways of thinking, and new philosophies. This kind of creative shakeup can only benefit an organization.

Diverse companies can also create more relevant products because their employees understand the audiences they serve. Similarly, government agencies can launch more relevant programs and better serve your community because diverse workforces also understand the communities' wants and needs.

Bottom line, fostering innovation through an inclusive workplace becomes easier and more beneficial. You get a greater breadth of ideas, and groups can reach a greater audience more efficiently and cost-effectively.

Diversity Recruitment Best Practices

Organizations that practice DEI have figured out how to hire more diverse workforce candidates. They have defined and implemented their own diversity recruitment best practices. Here are 9 best practices for a diverse workforce.

Audit the recruitment process for bias

To discover the unconscious bias in your agency's hiring – and overcome it – it's time to audit your recruiting process to see where you can improve. You should ask:

  1. Where do you source the candidates?
  2. How do you screen them?
  3. How can you improve the criteria for being shortlisted and hired? 

In other words, how do you recruit diverse candidates, how do you create diverse candidate slates, and how do you hire them?

You can start by identifying where you might have problems finding people of color for your candidate pool. Find new ways to reach your candidates, such as visiting historically Black colleges and universities on recruiting trips, reaching out to community groups, and using social media. And actively counter stereotyping in the workplace by offering unconscious bias training for anyone involved in your hiring process.

Show diversity in your recruitment materials

If your organization is lacking in people of color, women, and other underrepresented groups, people won't believe that you're looking to create an inclusive environment. Your recruitment materials, such as your LinkedIn page and photos on your website, should reflect your overall diversity. Diverse candidates may not want to be a tiny part of a mostly White workforce.

But what if you do have a diverse workforce, but still aren’t attracting a diverse candidate pool? Maybe you're not showing it properly on your website or social media. Show off your inclusive culture by posting various photos and videos on social media.

Also, make sure your website features your commitment to diversity by showing traditionally under-represented groups. Participate in community events and publicize it through various traditional and social media outlets. And don’t forget to ask your employees to re-share those photos and publicity.

Offer testimonials from current employees

Another section to include on your website, as well as to share on your social media accounts, are testimonials from your employees. Ask them to share their thoughts about their professional experience with your organization, the kind of work they do, and the difference they've made in the community.

Post these testimonials on your recruitment website. If you have more than a few, create a page solely for the testimonials. Otherwise, intersperse the messages throughout the website, such as the “Life At” page or the “Why Work Here” page.

Share the testimonials on your social networks, too. These reinforce your organization’s public commitment to diversity and can be spread by your employees to their own networks.

Improve your recruitment website

If you're on a big recruiting drive for your company, you should have a separate website just for recruiting. Barring that, you need several pages on your main website dedicated to the recruiting process.

This is your chance to showcase life at your agency, the kinds of jobs available, and your workplace diversity. This is also a place to discuss your diversity initiatives and diversity training, as well as any mission statements, letters from your agency chief, and photos of your workforce. Make sure that potential employees know you're committed to representation and inclusion.

Be sure to also explain the interview process. Lay it out in steps so people will understand what to expect. Do they need any special tests or licenses? Will they have one-on-one interviews or will they meet with an interview panel? How long does the interview process take? How will people be notified of their applicant status?

Finally, make sure your website is up-to-date with the latest technology. Allow candidates to apply using LinkedIn or Indeed, and make sure they can apply using their mobile phones. Millennial employees and Gen Z, two important recruiting populations, are extremely active on their mobile phones, and even use them to fill out job applications. You can greatly increase your applicant pool by letting people apply with their phones.

Cast a wider net

Think beyond the typical job boards, which are not nearly as effective at reaching potential candidates. Take the show on the road and start recruiting in person. This will give you a leg up on both corporate recruiters and even other government agencies that are trying to recruit from the same candidate pools as you.

Recruit through refugee, immigrant, and community groups

Most large cities have refugee, immigrant, and community groups. Some cities have larger populations from a particular country, which means they often have different community groups. 

Work with the leaders of those groups and tell them you're recruiting for jobs in your agency. Ask them to share your job portal and opportunities with their members, or ask if you can attend one of their public events to talk about what it's like to work in your agency and the kind of work that you do.

Expand your campus recruiting

Most of the elite colleges have corporations scrambling to hold job fairs on campus. But if you want to increase your inclusion efforts, try recruiting at the schools that work to keep education accessible and affordable – the ones that have diversity already baked into their identity.

This can include HBCUs (historically Black colleges and universities), Hispanic-serving schools, women's colleges, junior and community colleges, and schools with cooperative education programs.

It can also help to start building relationships with faculty in the departments that you’re recruiting for. If you need IT professionals, build relationships with computer science professors. If you need planners, talk to the faculty in the urban planning departments. Focus on faculty at the institutions we mentioned above, and you can greatly increase the diversity of your talent pool.

Tap into your team's network

Nearly 86% of Millennials use social media, which means they're tech-savvy and will use their smartphones – which 93% of them own – to search for information, read the news, watch videos, and communicate with friends and family.

One way to increase your diversity and inclusion in recruitment is to tap into your employees' social networks by asking them to share job postings, identify possible job candidates for you to pursue, and even encourage applications through LinkedIn's “Easy Apply” feature.

Your social media-using employees are very connected and know a lot of people outside work, many of whom would be willing to work in the same organization. So, ask your employees to help you. This is also where an employee referral program will help.

An employee referral program will encourage employees to refer job openings to their friends. Organizations usually give a bonus to the employee if any of those referrals get hired into the company or agency.

Share your jobs in surprising ways

Let's face it, government agencies are not known for being cutting edge and forward-thinking. A lot of the ideas we're suggesting may seem unusual and make you uncomfortable. But these are recruiting techniques that corporations and small businesses are embracing. They're attracting top talent by doing the unexpected and surprising. If you want to compete for that same top talent, you need to be unconventional and surprising as well.

To start, stop relying on job boards to promote your jobs. The truth is, only 15% of jobs are filled with job boards. Another nearly-40% of them are made through employee referral programs. So create an employee referral program and offer people a bonus for every successful recruit they recommend who gets hired.

Next, create a video or animation that shows off your job opportunities and your diverse workplace. Post it to TikTok and Instagram Reels. Encourage your employees to share the videos on their own social networks, too. Post your job openings on social media, and ask employees to do the same.

Finally, attend in-person community events where you can connect with people. Ask the organizers if you can have a table about your agency and its job opportunities. Provide people with a way to start the application process at your table or give them a card with the URL to your job portal.

Improve your hiring funnel in general

You may be hampering your hiring efforts in general if you're adhering too rigidly to older recruitment strategies. The way we work has changed dramatically over the last few years. Work from home has become possible and mainstream, not just because of the pandemic, but because broadband and video technology have made being in the office every day from 9 to 5 unnecessary.

Rather than just hiring employees who live in the immediate area, you can hire employees from outside your city, county, or even state. Agencies in small towns and rural areas can have some of the best candidates who are accessible to your organization just by allowing remote work opportunities.

Other tactics, like using applications that remove personally identifiable information like name, address, and date of graduation, can also increase your pool of applicants, as well as increase the chances of underrepresented groups making it further down the hiring funnel.

You should also re-evaluate whether some of your requirements are actually necessary, such as a graduate degree or other "nice-to-haves." You might be disqualifying highly-skilled candidates just because they didn't finish a Master's degree or they live 100 miles from the office.

Mesh diversity with cultural fit

Culture is a tricky issue in the workplace. It's often already established, growing slowly and passively by necessity. No one stated what it was or should be – it's just sort of developed.

Changing your culture to include a diversity of people who bring a diversity of ideas will take some work. But rather than trying to mesh your candidates with the culture, you can help change the culture by getting buy-in from your executives. 

Once they buy into the idea and understand the benefits of having a culturally diverse workforce, you can begin to change your company culture. Making diversity, equity, and inclusion foundational to the organization will make recruiting diverse candidates even easier in the future.

Final Thoughts

We've provided you with a toolkit for recruiting and hiring a more diverse workforce in your organization – and we also created a solution to help you get started. NEOGOV's Insight is an applicant tracking system that helps you improve equitable hiring practices with features like: 

  • Diversity Health: Measures and scores the diversity of your applicant pool 
  • PII Blinding: Hides personally identifiable information (PII) about applicants to reduce unconscious bias
  • Process standardization: Ensures consistency in your candidate recruitment and interviewing process to promote fairness

Built with specialized focus on public sector organizations, Insight allows you to evaluate a well-rounded pool of applicants that reflect the community you serve. To keep learning about how to get a more diverse workforce, including why you should (and how you can) personalize the hiring process, check out our website.


11 Tips for Hiring a More Diverse WorkforceWant more detailed best practices for integrating diversity into your recruiting and hiring approach? Download our free eBook, 11 Tips for Hiring a More Diverse Workforce:


Mike Tannian

Mike Tannian is the Director of Content Marketing at NEOGOV. With a talented team of writers by his side, he aims to produce content that delivers real value to public sector HR professionals at every stage in the buying journey.

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