Q and A: Exclusive Interview with Sam Schwartz-Fenwick

September 29, 2021 by Verified First

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The multifaceted topic of how to further diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workplace has been discussed for decades. There have been research studies, social movements, and conversations of all types that captured the attention of employers and emphasized the value of fostering a diverse workforce. Yet many organizations still struggle with representing the diverse communities surrounding them or diversifying their candidate pipeline. 

In September’s HR at the table webinar, we spoke with Seyfath Shaw’s Labor & Employment Partner, Sam Schwartz-Fenwick, on how HR tech improves diversity in hiring. Sam represents clients in litigation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Illinois Human Rights Act. He provides day-to-day counseling and advice to clients about the various laws affecting the employment relationship, especially as it relates to diversity, equity and inclusion. Sam also leads the firm’s LGBT Affinity Group, and he’s a member of the executive committee of United Pride.

In his interview, Sam touched on four questions that reflect how important it is for businesses to support diversity and inclusion efforts within hiring.

  • Why does diversity in hiring matter?
  • How can a company take the first steps in enacting D&I change?
  • How can professionals use technology to find gaps in their diversity hiring?
  • In what ways can professionals optimize technology to grow D&I initiatives?

Why does diversity in hiring matter?

If achieving a more diverse workplace is the vision of the future, businesses need to take responsibility for their role and for their employee’s career goals and well-being. When asked why diversity in hiring should matter for organizations, Sam shared how four key benefits every size organization can experience with a diverse corporate culture. 

A diverse workplace creates:

  • Corporate Responsibility 

“Diversity matters for a lot of really strong business reasons. Beyond that, it really has a lot to do with corporate citizenship. If we want our country to be moving forward into the ‘more perfect union,’ businesses have a role to play. And investors are looking for businesses that have a role to play.”

  • Diversity Drives Success

“The more diverse a workplace, the more successful that workplace will be...When you make diversity a priority, you’re telling people to bring their whole selves to work. The more of yourself one brings, the more successful you’ll be in thinking outside the box and problem solving.”

  • Diversity Can Improve Results

“When you allow people to perform better by showcasing diverse talents, your business is able to perform better and drive results.”

  • Representation

“All of our customer bases are increasingly diverse. In order to serve those in the best way possible, you don’t want a completely uniform group of decision makers. You want at the table a representative group that can do things in a different way.”

How can a company take the first steps in enacting D&I change?

Sam gave great insight into how businesses without an existing D&I initiative can begin the process of creating a D&I plan unique to their company and growth strategy. He detailed how technology can be used to assist in planning and execution by tracking existing metrics and analyzing data for future growth opportunities. He also mentioned three initial steps, including:

  • Create Transparency - 

“If we really want to create a landscape that’s equitable, we need to be honest. I do a lot of interviewing as a part of my job, and almost every applicant asks about how we’re taking steps to move the needle toward diversity. Tell them your plan, and if you don’t have one, explain how you’re moving forward to set one in place.”

  • Recruit Differently - 

“Identify the impact of your recruiting strategy. Are you only recruiting from these Ivy Schools in New England that are predominantly white? Is that really going to achieve the best, diverse workplace? What if you tried establishing a relationship with, say, a historically black college and attended their job fairs? [Recruiting strategies] are a part of the long game that you need to play in order to build a broader pipeline.”

  • Be Committed - 

“It’s not enough anymore to only show your support for the gay community in June or the black community in February. You need to show a deep commitment throughout the year. It shouldn’t be emphasized in just one month at a time.”

How can professionals use technology to find gaps in their diversity hiring?

Technology in hiring has seemingly limitless potential when it comes to diversity in the workplace. Sam stressed the importance of utilizing technology to identify pitfalls in an organization’s D&I strategy. Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to assess unknown biases and uncover where a business is placing their values.

Technology can also be used to:

  • Identify Biases - 

“If you ask someone if they’re biased in their decision making, 100% of people will say ‘no.’ And we know that’s not true. Metrics can be put in place to not choose a person to interview based on how their name sounds.”

  • Identify Current Data - 

“If you want to increase the applicant pool for a certain group of people, you have to start with where you’re at. You can mine the data to answer where your current situation is, how you’re doing compared to competitors, and how you can improve.”

  • Understand Reasons for Rejection - 

“Ask, ‘what is leading us to reject certain candidates in those people groups?’ Maybe there are certain buzzwords interviewers are looking for that they’re not getting from diverse candidates. Technology can be used to train people to look past biases and base judgements off of potential.” 

In what ways can professionals optimize technology to grow D&I initiatives?

For those wishing to optimize their technology use, Sam gave great hope. He encouraged listeners to do a simple Google search on diversity technology to understand the scope of AI potential. Alongside a simple Google search, Sam recommended starting with your applicant pool, resumes, and interviewing processes. 

  • Applicant Pool

“You need to know your applicant pool. There are services out there that will broaden your pool of applicants by how the ads are being targeted. You can look for ways to expand the demographic reach of a post and try looking outside of your initial metropolitan area. That can be a great opportunity to use AI to increase your applicant pool.”

  • Resumes

“There are services available that will review your resumes and remove personal biases from the process. It’s natural for us to want to talk to people like ourselves. I’m from Minneapolis and could be interested in talking with an applicant that has my same background. But that’s not a real reason to base a decision. Software can be really helpful at looking at things in a black and white, neutral way.”

  • Interviewing

“I think videoing interviews is useful. There are AI services that can review video for all sorts of things like if their facial features indicate they’re answering a question honestly or what their body language is really saying. These services have a lot of potential because they can take out whatever commonality there is between the interviewer and interviewee and stay more on an objective basis.”

In conclusion:

For more insight from Seyfarth Shaw’s Sam Schwartz-Fenwick, watch the entirety of this HR at the Table webinar here!  To be a part of our next discussion with an HR and TA professional, register for an upcoming HR at the Table webinar. Next month, we’ll host Chesapeake Regional Healthcare’s VP of HR, Debbie Rosenburg, in a chat on defining agility for HR and TA professionals.

About Verified First
Verified First is known for delivering streamlined background screening backed by the best client support, and for developing the easiest, fastest HR system integrations, for free. Our client support team is U.S.-based, answers calls in seconds, resulting in hundreds of positive testimonials and a 96% customer satisfaction. Verified First's patent-pending, award-winning integrations include over 100 applicant tracking systems, and provide clients a turn-key experience.

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