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Talent Isn't ‘Human Capital’: Why This D&I Recruiter Won't Help You Tick A Box

The past three months have yielded a cascade of pledges from commercial real estate companies to address the industry's glaring whiteness problem.

Now chasing after candidates from diverse backgrounds, some companies will turn to recruiters who specialize in diversity, expecting to get a stack of candidates to vet. Little do they know that if they work with a serious diversity and inclusion recruiter, they should expect to be heavily vetted themselves first.

Hill Street Strategies' Hilliary Turnipseed

"I'm not a diversity expert," D&I recruiter and consultant Hilliary Turnipseed told Bisnow. "I’m a people expert." And keeping people front and center is critical to the recruiting process, she said. If a company or recruiter is focused on diversity more than they are on people, it is a slippery slope to treating diverse candidates like “human capital.”

Founder and principal of Hill Street Strategies out of Washington, D.C., Turnipseed provides talent acquisition, talent management and workplace culture solutions to primarily early stage tech startups, media companies and proptech companies — including MetaProp portfolio company Till.

She said most clients come to her with talent acquisition in mind: building, growing, needing to scale or solving a retention issue. She doesn’t rush out and find the perfect talent for the job — first, she said, she looks at how employees are going to be set up for success. 

“My candidate pool are women, or people of color, or women of color,” she said. “So by default, I’m a candidate advocate.”

“I’m not a staffing agency: I can place whoever you need, but I’m not going to do that until I’m really clear on what your company is, how you operate and the types of humans that can really thrive there," she added. "It’s important to me to understand workplace culture before I place anyone in a role.”

In part, this is about making sure she is not placing a candidate in a toxic work environment. Just as much, she said, it is about saving a company money: For early stage startups, talent is the most valuable — and most expensive — asset, and getting in a “rush to solve bias” with a hasty hire that can’t thrive at the company doesn’t solve anything.

Turnipseed works with companies and hiring managers to first understand what it is they want — and whether that’s different from what they think they want. The first step might be helping a company understand how to define diversity within its workforce. 

“From there, I’m helping companies decide what their needs really are, and making sure people know it’s not just ‘black and white,’ ‘men and women,’ ‘left-handed and right-handed.’ It’s about who you have on your existing team and what will complement that.”

Rather than token diversity, she wants to help her clients build a strategically diverse pipeline. And she has some pointed advice about where that should start. “If you really care about diversity it starts from the top,” she said. “I will give you a diverse candidate in roles that have decision-making power.”

To Turnipseed, recruitment isn’t a transactional process. “I’m not just going to send you a piece of paper with a person’s name on it,” she said. “I’m going to humanize that person,” she said. This is another part of making sure a candidate placement is a win for everyone, from the talent up to the head of the company.

If a candidate doesn’t end up being the right fit, Turnipseed says every step of the interview process is still critical, because companies looking to improve the diversity of their teams should be looking to build relationships.

“Even if you don’t hire someone, that candidate can still be an advocate for you,” Turnipseed said.

Like any in-demand consultant, Turnipseed has some rules of engagement. “I don't work with everyone,” she said. “If your board is 100% white men and they don’t get it but they want to, that’s my favorite kind of client. But I walk away when the leaders perpetuate those stereotypes.”

To clients in the ‘they don’t get it but they want to’ category, Turnipseed might extend an offer for a training or workshop on inclusive interviewing or unconscious bias, but again, companies in a rush to solve bias are on the wrong track.

“It really takes a minimum of three months to see results,” she said of unconscious bias training. “There is no quick fix.”