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How to recession-proof your diversity strategy

July 6, 2022

Most leadership teams are aware of the benefits of creating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace. But they also know that a global recession is likely to hit and hiring freezes are coming.

If a hiring freeze is causing your company to feel helpless when it comes to maintaining its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), it’s time to remember that recruitment is only one part of a successful diversity strategy.

Hiring alone was never enough

In my decade of working with companies around the world, I’ve yet to see or hear of any organization successfully hiring their way to a truly diverse workforce. Developing a recruitment process that actively seeks out and supports a diverse pipeline of candidates is undoubtedly important, but it’s only one-tenth of a successful diversity strategy. 

WORK180’s approach is based on 10 key standards that drive equity in the workplace. We developed these standards alongside our expert DEI advisory board, global network of employers and community of women, and in alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

It’s by raising the bar in each of these areas — only one of which relies on recruitment — that the companies we work with are successfully attracting, nurturing, and retaining their diverse workforce. Beyond directly benefiting businesses, we’re also proud to say that these standards have led to policy improvements that have positively impacted over 597k employees in the past year. 

Using the standards to improve your strategy 

Our 10 key standards are a tried and tested structure you can use to review your diversity strategy and improve it with the resources available. By identifying missing elements of your strategy or standards in which you’re already excelling, you can begin to prioritize your efforts and continue to have an impact. 

As a basic example, with an understanding of how flexible working can help you attract and retain women in the workplace, you may identify your company’s current flexible working policy as a key tool in maintaining momentum while resources remain low. Similarly, an increasing number of employers are positively contributing to gender equity while improving their employer branding by introducing and celebrating great parental leave policies

Again, the standards you focus on will depend on the strengths and weaknesses, business objectives, and resources. However, there is one standard that will play a particularly important role for every company dedicated to diversifying their workforce during a hiring freeze. 

Why career development is key right now 

As the guide Five ways to develop diversity (without relying on recruitment) explains in greater detail, career development is a powerful yet all-too-often overlooked way of diversifying underrepresented departments and levels in organizations. 


Download the free guide: Five ways to develop diversity (without relying on recruitment)

Many companies are already sitting on a pool of potential, with women and marginalized groups representing almost half of entry-level positions in many organizations. But whether it’s a result of structural and systemic barriers, cultural practices, deliberate action or unconscious biases, this pool of talent is not moving up the ladder at the same rate or in the same proportions.

The proportion of women at each rung of the career ladder  according to Mercer’s analysis of over 1,100 organizations across the world in 2020

Hiring alone cannot fill these gaps, especially if a culture of inclusion has not been created. As Asif Sadiq put it to our team when speaking in his capacity as a WORK180 DEI Board Member: “So many companies are focused on recruiting and getting to that 50/50 gender or 30/70 ethnicity level of representation […] But they’re not then working on ways to retain this talent. What a waste of money, resources, time, and effort.”

Investing in the career development of your current workforce creates upward mobility for women and marginalized groups. This not only helps your company increase representation in different departments and roles but also creates an ongoing virtuous cycle that will continue to strengthen your diversity strategy.

Investing in career development can fix the leak and strengthen your overall diversity strategy

Knowing that this is just one of many ways your business can develop a diversity strategy that stands the test of time can be exciting. However, it can also be overwhelming for even the most ambitious changemaker.

You don’t have to do it alone 

WORK180’s Equity Audit offers organizations an intersectional, and holistic review of their organization’s commitment equity. Our audit highlights gaps and strengths in your strategy, includes structured guidance and action plan, and provides unique benchmarking metrics. With these numbers, teams can track and measure their progress, and demonstrate to decision-makers that diversity is not an optional extra. 

More recommended reading and resources: 

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About the Author

Gemma Lloyd is Co-Founder and CEO of WORK180, which is on a mission to raise organizational standards for all women in the workplace. Working with employers across the globe and at all stages of their DEI journey, Gemma has a decade of experience helping companies build and benefit from workplaces where all women can thrive.

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