MLT Blog

Finding Opportunity in a Hiring Freeze: Three Ways to bring DEI into Lateral Recruiting

By: Experienced Talent Network, Advisory Services 

The prospect of layoffs and hiring freezes during a mixed economy can be unsettling. Both pose a potential threat to people of color, their economic trajectory, and mental well-being. During the Coronavirus pandemic in 2020, nearly 80 million Americans lost their jobs. Black, Hispanic/Latine, and Native American workers experienced the most layoffs. In April 2020, unemployment hit a high in the US for Black workers at 16.3%.

In 2021, employers and recruiters returned to the job boards, promoting a surge of new roles with flexible working options and open commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). The tech industry in particular saw a hiring boom, offering jobs to a diverse group of candidates. Black women specifically coined, then popularized, the hashtag #BlackWomeninTech during this time due to new opportunities within the industry.

Job markets ebb and flow, but recruiting experienced talent never ends. Hiring slowdowns actually give recruiting teams the runway to get it right, especially when it comes to diverse talent.” – Erica Van Steen, Senior Director of Advisory Services and Experienced Talent Network

Now, in 2023, a number of companies have circled back to yet another pause on hiring, with some in their second or third round of layoffs. So the question emerges: What should hiring managers and recruiters do when faced with hiring freezes and reduced headcount, but know there will be a need to hire again in the future?

Here are the effective practices that MLT’s Experienced Talent Network (ETN) team has developed. These lateral recruiting practices can help organizations take immediate, meaningful action to attract top-tier Black, Hispanic/Latine, and Native American talent to their organization– even when there are currently no jobs to fill. 

1. Proactively build a diverse pipeline of candidates, even when there are no open roles.

Document key skills for each line of business and evergreen roles. Then build a pipeline of candidates who align with the profile criteria. This requires a shift in approach where you engage the talent pipeline ahead of specific hiring needs. Focus on marketing your employer value proposition to top underrepresented talent and building meaningful relationships with aligned candidates. When headcount opens, you can immediately transition aligned candidates to an active hiring process rather than scrambling to build your pipelines. These individuals will be excited about working with you and have more trust that the job opportunity aligns with their career goals.

2. Create touchpoints for qualified talent to meet people at the organization ahead of the hiring process. 

Identify opportunities for sourced candidates in your ‘warm pipeline’ to meet hiring managers, business leaders, and members of your organization’s Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) before they apply to specific roles. Consider informal touchpoints like networking events, coffee chats, or informational one-on-ones. This relational approach builds a referral network for recruiters and hiring managers, and provides prospective candidates with a deep and personal understanding of the organization. When headcount opens, the people influencing or making hiring decisions will have a more diverse network to reach out to. Sourced candidates will feel like referrals because they will now know multiple people at the organization, people who are excited to have them join the team.  

3. Take this pause in hiring to review and assess candidate evaluation processes with the goal of removing bias.

Calibrate existing candidate criteria to include only the skills necessary for performing the job. The criteria should not contain things that are ‘nice to have’ but are not required. Think carefully about skills that can be taught, trained, or learned on the job. Provide examples of how candidates demonstrate they meet the criteria to help future interviewers provide more consistent and equitable assessments. This exercise is best done as a collaboration between recruiters and hiring managers.

Today’s economic uncertainty presents organizations with a unique opportunity to prepare for more equitable future growth and talent acquisition. Rather than wait for economic stability, companies that begin implementing recruitment strategies with a focus on improving the diversity of talent pipelines can better drive racial equity practices across all internal teams. Furthermore, these organizations can demonstrate their commitment as allies of BLNA talent and establish trusted relationships. 

Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT) has worked with more than 65 companies to help them adopt more effective recruiting practices. For further information about how to best engage with MLT’s Experienced Talent Network for your recruiting initiatives, please contact