Reaching Out & Recruiting Indigenous Talent: Q&A with Krystal Abotossaway

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Krystal Abotossaway shares insights on connecting with the Indigenous community and how reaching out to different communities can help you find fresh talent.

Krystal Abotossaway, diversity recruiting specialist

Image: Glenn Lowson

Krystal Abotossaway is a strategic sourcing partner at TD focused on visible minorities and people with disabilities. She has also served as a diversity sourcing specialist at RBC, co-president of the Aboriginal Professional Association of Canada, youth board member at Miziwe Biik Aboriginal Employment, youth director at the Native Women’s Resource Centre of Toronto, and national advisory cabinet member for the MaRS Discovery District. We spoke on the phone about recruiting Indigenous talent and how community outreach helps employers connect with new talent.

“Have an open dialogue and try to gain a deeper understanding of peoples’ journeys and histories.”

What does diversity sourcing look like, in practice?

Diversity sourcing embodies subject-matter expertise within diversity, as well as sourcing capabilities to identify and attract diverse talent. We use a combination of web-based and social media techniques to engage with prospective candidates but we also use more familiar approaches to talent sourcing, like career fairs and networking events.

For instance, at RBC, every year we held a networking event with the Aboriginal Professional Association of Canada. Also every year, as part of our Aboriginal Summer Internship Program, we hired Aboriginal post-secondary school students from across Canada to take part in a comprehensive paid training program in banking. The program commits to hiring students for up to three consecutive summers, giving them opportunities to learn different positions within retail banking.

We also executed social media recruiting campaigns and used trends in the market to tell RBC’s diversity and inclusion story. For example, on June 21st, which is National Aboriginal Day we celebrated Aboriginal RBCers and asked them to share their career stories.

What – who – is the Indigenous community? What makes it unique, and what do employers need to know?

The Indigenous community in Canada falls into three groups: First Nations, Métis, and Inuit. In my opinion, what makes us unique is how diverse we all are within our own nations and groups. It’s interesting to learn where we each come from and where we are today. A common theme between all the Indigenous groups is the search for community, wherever you find yourself.

Employers need to recognize the diversity and differences in every group. Traditions and ways of life are very different between communities across the country. The best practice is to have an open dialogue and try to gain a deeper understanding of peoples’ journeys and histories.

When you’re reaching out to a specific community that is itself diverse, how do you make sure you’re being as inclusive as possible, without stereotyping or making inappropriate generalizations?

Addressing unconscious bias is one way. Unconscious bias refers to bias we’re not aware of, and that happens outside of our control.

It’s perfectly natural to have unconscious biases. As humans, we automatically make quick judgment and assessments of people which are influenced by our own background, culture, environments, and personal experiences. However, we need to question our judgments and decision-making to address why we’ve made these judgments. For example, when we’re hiring someone we can ask: what was the diversity of my shortlist? Why did I choose to hire that individual?

Are there unique challenges or barriers Indigenous people face when job seeking or in the workplace?

For millennials, one challenge is career exploration. Being Indigenous myself, I found it very difficult to understand the different career options available to me. I wish I’d had access to more Indigenous professionals from different industries and businesses, to talk about options and career paths. Career role-modeling is a newer concept, but I hope in the future we can make stronger connections between Indigenous students and successful Indigenous professionals – in all industries. We need to be better at sharing examples and telling our stories.

“We need to question our judgments and decision-making to address why we’ve made these judgments.”

Are there common mistakes or incorrect assumptions employers make about the Indigenous community, and how to reach out to its members?

I can’t speak for all employers, but what I can bring to life is how engaged the next generation of Indigenous talent is.

The Indigenous community and its members are open to making partnerships with employers and corporations. They understand the importance of job eligibility for their youth. So reaching out to members of the Indigenous community is important, but having open discussions and relationship management are key to building a successful partnership.

Understanding the culture is also crucial. Employers need to make the time to engage this demographic and sustain strong ties. And if they do make this commitment, they will see amazing results.

What’s a first step employers can take to start connecting with more Indigenous talent?

Start making connections with Indigenous communities and professional associations. And when you’re doing the initial reach out, share success stories from within your company.

You also source talent in the LGBTQ community. When reaching out to different communities, what are the differences and similarities?

Every community is different in the sense that they have their own unique challenges within the workforce. An example within the LGBTQ community could be: how to come out at work to peers or managers. For the Indigenous community, it might be that they need to request several days off to attend a spiritual ceremony.

The specific challenges are the differences. The commonalities? The sense of community within each group.

Thirty percent of Canadian and U.S. employers report difficulty filling jobs – a talent shortage – according to ManpowerGroup’s Annual Talent Shortage Survey 2015. Are there one or two things employers could do to start bridging the gap between the skilled roles they need to fill, and communities of people they aren’t tapping into?

Employers need to be speaking to communities and youth sooner in the process. Young people deciding what post-secondary school to attend are not guided by reading The Economist. It’s based primarily on the traditions of their family’s careers. If you come from a family who did not have access to certain types of education or work, then you might not become familiar with what’s out there, and employers will miss out on parts of the talent pool.

“What makes us unique is how diverse we all are within our own nations and groups.”

What can employers do to make sure their workplaces are inclusive and allow hires from all different backgrounds and communities to excel?

There’s a lot I think employers can do to ensure their workplace is inclusive. RBC does a number of things to ensure the workplace is inclusive. For example, we hosted workshops on unconscious bias for hiring managers and recruiters, and provide learning programs such as “Addressing Unconscious Bias,” “Understanding Unconscious Bias,” and “Unconscious Bias in Resume Screening.”

We also cultivated diversity champions within the workplace, monitored short-listed candidates, set goals for diversity, worked hard to ensure we were achieving our goals, and set up employee resource groups accessible to all employees.

Connect with Krystal on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Christian De Pape, Recruiting Social’s Head of Marketing and Content
About the author

Christian De Pape is the head of brand experience at Recruiting Social. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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