How Experiential Learning and Remote Work Can Accelerate Diverse and Inclusive Recruiting

By running Externship programs that available to applicants from every background, companies have a chance to work with candidates before offering them jobs. Over 6-8 weeks, can assess how well a candidate will fit in with their team and culture, how motivated they are and how impactful their work is.

Tamara Mathias
February 2, 2022

As companies grow more comfortable with remote work, many will choose to revisit traditional recruiting practices, simply because remote work can be cheaper, save time and increase the size of a firm’s recruiting pool. 

But this also means that for the first time, many firms will look beyond Ivy League campus fairs, the conventional yardstick used to measure pedigree, and instead open up virtual interviews to students from colleges that their recruiters don’t usually visit in person. 

If recruiters build efficient-enough processes to bring new hires on board entirely online this season, they might cut down on campus visits even after the pandemic and devote more time to interviewing candidates from diverse backgrounds online. This could organically accelerate the inclusivity efforts that companies have so far had to consciously integrate into their recruiting processes.  

"One of the biggest reasons great candidates from diverse backgrounds don’t make it to the interview process is because their applications just can’t get past the bots,” says Rebecca Ahmed, Corporate Managing Director at Savills North America, who has worked in HR for over a decade. 

“A great first step for companies is to stop relying so heavily on AI to filter resumes by degree title or school name, and instead look for more equitable ways to assess student talent."

Working with a third party organization like Paragon One to recruit and manage intern cohorts remotely is a great way for firms that don’t have the bandwidth to screen applications without artificial intelligence to inject a human perspective into the sourcing of candidates. Further, having an independent third party involved in early talent identification programs allows companies to tackle internal biases in recruiting because they stand to benefit from blind assessments of candidates. 

Last year, 82% of US employers embedded diversity efforts into their recruiting programs. With the disruption to regular hiring practices and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement this year, organizations world over have had renewed conversations on how to improve their inclusion policies, right from their entry level hiring practices.  

Many companies are now beginning to understand that it is not only necessary to support diverse employees, but also to recruit and mentor students when they join the workforce, so they progress in their careers.

For example, firms like hospitality brand Hilton Hotels & Resorts and financial services company Moody's have forged partnerships with historically black colleges and universities (HBCU’s) and organizations that serve low-income and underrepresented students to expose them to opportunities in their respective industries, with the intent to attract future interns and workers. They also pair students with mentors to help navigate office culture, and have refined their interview processes to try and check implicit biases.

Nicole Wagner, who heads a national internship program with Compass Group, notes that companies need to stop hiring managers from automatically recruiting interns from their alma maters, because this practice undermines diversity efforts.

“One of the things we’re doing when recruiting students is creating a more targeted approach by building relationships with student led organizations.

Clubs such as National Society of Minorities in Hospitality and Entrepreneurship & Innovation have been a great source of talent,” she said.

Big Tech in many ways is pioneering ways to scale diversity and inclusion efforts by investing more in experiential learning programs that create pathways for young people from minority backgrounds and underserved communities to begin careers in competitive fields.

A good example is Facebook University, an eight week hands-on, immersive internship program established to enable students from underrepresented communities to get to know Facebook’s people, products and services.The program is offered to students looking to gain experience in engineering, analytics, product design, operations, and sales and advertising. 

Similarly, IBM’s “New Collar” program, which aims to recruit diverse candidates and train them through apprenticeship-style experiences, has a tagline that speaks volumes about how the tech giant is thinking of recruiting in future: It's not about degrees, it's about skills.

“We did an overhaul of all the job descriptions for different roles we were hiring for at IBM and eliminated the requirement of a college degree, because we asked ourselves, ‘is the credential we are relying on even necessary for this job?’,” explained David Leaser, Senior Program Executive, Innovation and Growth Initiatives at IBM. 

“We used to do all our recruiting from really elite schools, but now we don’t care about college degrees as much as we care about skills. That’s why we’re investing in experiential learning programs that help us assess talent, and actually build a more diverse and inclusive workforce.”

What stands out through initiatives of this sort is that companies are finding ways to leverage experiential learning as a way to achieve their diversity and inclusion goals, which is a far more equitable and effective approach than merely working to improve the structure and culture of teams through CSR initiatives.

Recruiters on the hunt for the perfect candidate for a position often already have that perfect candidate’s resume buried in the slush pile of applications they’ve received. The only reason they haven’t realized it is because the candidate has been unable to leverage their own network to reach the recruiter and get them to pay attention.

When it comes to establishing diverse and inclusive recruiting practices, it is counterintuitive to expect candidates from underrepresented backgrounds to have a network to leverage that will help them curry favor with recruiters. That’s why experiential learning programs are modern tools that can help employers separate the wheat from the chaff in an equitable, but also useful way.

By running scalable work experience programs that encourage applicants from every background to apply, companies have a chance to actually work with candidates before they offer them permanent contracts. Over a period of eight to twelve weeks, they’re able to assess how well a candidate will fit in with their team and culture, how motivated they are and how impactful their work is.

“It’s time for both companies and colleges to break the traditional recruiting model because it’s become clear the recruiting process has typically favored those who come from target schools and have social connections,” says Jerry Lee, COO of career coaching startup Wonsulting and former senior Strategy & Operations Manager at Google.

“Experiential learning programs are a step in the right direction, because they mimic what it’s actually like to have to perform in the workplace and don't sugarcoat that.”

Tamara Mathias

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