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Federal Rule on Diversity Data Draws Criticism

January 31, 2006
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A new rule affecting online recruiting by federal contractors has sparked criticism and could catch many companies unprepared.

The regulation, which covers the way companies serving the U.S. government must collect diversity data about Internet applicants, goes into effect February 6. But it already is generating controversy among hiring experts, including the claim that the rule runs counter to the best recruiting practices.

The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs rule fails to account for the way leading organizations like Google seek out the best talent without having particular jobs for them, Martin Snyder, president of recruiting software firm Main Sequence Technologies, argued in his blog in mid-January. "Every part of this rule assumes that every recruiter has a specific job description in mind, and then goes out to find people to fit it," Snyder wrote. "That’s wrong, period."

The rule attempts to clarify which data federal contractors must collect in the Internet era in order for the OFCCP to enforce nondiscrimination laws. For example, employers must try to gather gender, race and ethnicity information from Internet applicants. The rule defines an "Internet applicant" as someone meeting four criteria. Among these are that the individual "submits an expression of interest in employment through the Internet or related electronic data technologies" and the "expression of interest indicates the individual possesses the basic qualifications for the position."

In addition, the rule says that when contractors use an external résumé database--like that at Monster.com--to consider individuals for particular positions, they have to keep specific records. They must note "the substantive search criteria used, the date of the search and the résumés of job seekers who met the basic qualifications for the particular position who are considered."

Strictly speaking, the rule would not apply to a Monster.com search without a particular position in mind. But if a contractor searched for chemical engineering doctorates, and later used those results to staff a specific position in petrochemical engineering, it would need to have records including the original search criteria, says Charles James, who heads the OFCCP.

Should a contractor not keep records, claiming that it hires without reference to particular jobs, it takes a risk, according to James. If its workforce ends up quite different demographically from the available labor pool, OFCCP could question the employer’s stated practice. "It’s got to pass the straight-face test," James says.

It seems likely that many federal contractors won’t be up to snuff come February 6. In a recent survey of nearly 1,000 companies conducted by recruiting software company Peopleclick, 71 percent of respondents said they were not prepared for the deadline.

Applicant tracking software systems can help companies abide by the new rule, but not all products in the market are fully compliant, says Gerry Crispin, co-founder of consulting firm Career­Xroads. Though it may cause head­aches, Crispin says the rule should lead to smarter recruiting: "World-class recruiters have already installed the tracking and analytic tools that the OFCCP is asking for."

--Ed Frauenheim

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