By Shane Nelson
On May 20, 2016, I delivered a benchmarking debrief to BASF’s diversity council at its North American headquarters in Florham Park, NJ. It was a month removed from the 2016 DiversityInc Top 50 event, in which it was announced that BASF ranked No. 24 on the Top 50, moving up four spots from the previous year. There was a lot of momentum and Chief Diversity Officer Pat Rossman wanted it to continue, so she didn’t waste time in scheduling the debrief. It was a very good meeting and I learned about BASF’s diverse candidate slate initiative.
Eighty-seven percent of companies that participated in the 2016 DiversityInc Top 50 survey required diverse candidate slates for openings. That is up from 69 percent in 2011. However, the best companies for talent management distinguish themselves from the rest by requiring a high percentage of candidates to be diverse. BASF is one of those companies, and they took another step to raise the bar. I followed up with Rossman to discuss in more detail.
The Need for a Robust Diverse Candidate Slate
On the surface, BASF wants its internal talent composition to reflect the external talent market availability in North America. Rossman explained, “We believe that diverse perspectives, different ways of thinking, help us anticipate and meet market needs in new ways. They help us look at problems differently, and help make BASF more innovative and a stronger partner for our customers.” Rossman considers the leveraging of different backgrounds and perspectives a business advantage.
And that is precisely the catalyst for implementing a diverse candidate slate. Rossman describes the company’s diverse candidate slates as aspirational goals to reflect the diverse mix of the talent market in the region “Our aspirational goal is that half of the people that are interviewed for a role, or at least half, are diverse and reflect some measure of gender diversity, racial, ethnic diversity,” explained Rossman. “We’re also looking for people who bring different market perspectives to our organization.”
That’s a very good start — but, according to Rossman, it’s still not enough: “Our aspirational goals are twofold: 50 percent of the people interviewed for roles are diverse, and 50 percent of the people doing the interviewing are diverse.” Do both sides of the equation matter? BASF agrees that they do. Rossman pointed out, “Both sides matter because we’re also looking to have people who reflect different perspectives listen for the different kinds of potential and competencies and talents that people bring to our organization. We want to make sure that we’re reflecting a perspective that takes all of those differences into account and understand how we can leverage difference as a strong business advantage, and part of building a great place to work.”
The world’s leading chemical company, whose motto is “We Create Chemistry,” sought to create chemistry in its recruitment process. By looking at both sides of the equation, the company ensures that it shrinks the aperture that potential diverse candidates might fall through.
The company’s goal is all about hiring the best talent for the role. In order to do so, explained Rossman, “you must look through as many different angles as you can to determine who is the best talent for the role.”
“When you have different perspectives reflected in the interview team, you’re asking a different level of questions, you’re probing different experience levels, and that’s all very, very helpful.”
Rossman outlined another benefit of the initiative. She explained, “What we also find is, we’re also reflecting out to the external market (the candidate community) that we’re looking to build a diverse and inclusive work environment. That is very important to us.”
She agrees that brand awareness is a critical component of BASF’s diversity strategy. “One of the things that we’re trying to do is really establish that BASF is a place where great people can do great work. And so we’re trying to see how we can improve our brand as a great place to work, and one of the ways we’re doing this too is through the interview experience.”
“We’ve actually received some recognition with outstanding candidate experience awards, and that’s the kind of verification we appreciate. If you join BASF or if you work with us as a collaborator, an innovation partner, a customer, a competitor, we want to make sure it’s a positive experience. We’re finding that this new approach for interviewing is very positive across a number of levels.”
Success in Adjusting Job Requirements
BASF initially found that some of its good intentions were not giving it the results it was looking for. In particular, the company found that it was very rigid in its requirements for jobs. Rossman explained, “We were being so deliberate, we had 10 or 12 specific requirements for a job. We found that we were screening out a lot of great talent because we were being so literal and so deliberate.” Rossman continued, “we were finding that while we might have 10 or 12 very specific requirements, the industry best practice was five or six that are much more competency-directed, looking at leadership potential. It was not as detailed as 20 years’ experience in radiant flooring technology, or something like that.”
“We changed the way we posted and described our jobs, so that they showed much more of the higher-level competencies and traits and skills that lead to someone being very successful at BASF. By doing that, we broadened the talent pool from which we select.”
The change was especially needed and very much welcomed in the chemical manufacturing industry. Rossman elaborated, “We draw quite a bit from an engineering population, and engineering is a great example of a type of job that’s really a problem-solving job, people who are innately curious, who love solving problems, who love looking at customer challenges in new ways. But some of the language that we were using to describe those jobs was not reflecting the excitement that they bring.
So our efforts to change the way we positioned some of our roles were truly additive, because it allowed us to reach out to a much broader population and to attract great talent from all backgrounds, and that has been a positive change that has come about through this effort to look more deliberately at all aspects of our hiring process. By being more intentional in how we described our roles at a higher level, and less literal and less focused on finite, very detailed aspects of it, we found that we attracted a broader spectrum of great talent, and that is one of the positive successes of this effort that we are engaged in.”
Helping Hiring Managers
The initiative has also widened the lenses of the company’s hiring managers. Rossman explained that human nature is that as hiring managers we all tend to feel a comfort level with ourselves and therefore tend to write the job description in a way that is very reflective of the incumbent that we have or had. “This is true across industry, that there is a comfort level with the people who are most like us. And this was one of the drivers, the encouraging drivers, of our effort to broaden the pool of talent that we interviewed. We want to help our hiring managers see that there is great talent out there in the North American market that may come from all different backgrounds and experience levels, and as we get to know people, you go deeper than the résumé.”
“So, I think it one of the challenges across industry is when you’re looking through résumés, you tend to look at résumés to say who reminds you most of yourself at an earlier stage in your career or who went to the same school, who comes from the same part of the country. This is human nature; there’s a comfort level. So I think things like what we are doing, in saying that half of the people that you’re interviewing have to bring some element of diversity and difference, half of the people doing the interviewing have to be diverse, are the circuit breakers that help us truly find the best mix of talent, and go beyond our comfort zone and help us ask questions about the fit for a role.”