The tech startup that I was working for had gone out of business, and my mom had passed away. It was 2003 and I was trying to figure out what to do next with my career.

Someone suggested that I give recruiting and executive search a try for a year. I was told: “You’ll either love it or you’ll find something else you want to do.”

So I began working as a research analyst at a boutique firm, where, rather than talking directly to candidates, I would find and recommend them to the recruiter to make the pitch. But I loved it.

Specifically, I enjoyed the problem-solving aspect of recruiting. If a company had a problem, it was my responsibility to find the solution, or the missing puzzle piece as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Being a recruiter at that time was difficult, though. There were no websites like LinkedIn. Of course, the internet existed, but recruiting information wasn’t so readily available. To contact someone, I had to call and ask for them, and I found getting past the gatekeepers a little fun.

Kyle Samuels (pictured) entered the world of recruiting in 2003, after the tech company that he was working for went out of business. Kyle Samuels

However, checking someone’s identity could be difficult, and because remote working was not prominent, people were sometimes asked to move long distances—across countries, even—for great opportunities, which could make my job tough.

Among all those challenges, the biggest I faced was that almost everyone looked the same. And I realized that was because recruiters weren’t using data to inform who they wanted to hire.

Even in 2023, this is still happening. For example, if Nike is looking for its next CFO, they will typically look for candidates at Under Armour, Adidas, Reebok—all the usual suspects—but often fail to examine the actual performance of the people at those companies.

Recruiting was, and still sometimes is, an “old boys’ club.” Often recruiters and CEOs think: “Well, we know Bob; he’s good.” Whereas candidates who are women or people of color—those who may be strangers but are working at successful companies—will frequently be overlooked. Recruiters won’t find or hire these people because they don’t really know them.

I also realized that this industry is filled with backdoor references, where companies and people will hire a candidate based on who they’ve previously worked with or what other people have to say about them.

There’s a problem with that: The people they’re asking for these references are typically a homogeneous bunch, and they often have the same perspective.

Let’s say a candidate worked at a company for five years, and in that five-year period someone giving a backdoor reference had only two casual—but either neutral or negative—interactions with them. The candidate might be labeled as “a little closed off.”

And that can ultimately cost someone a job if the recruiter is thinking: “This is a Hispanic woman, and we’re already a little wary in general of hiring someone we don’t know. The interactions this reference mentioned make us realize that this candidate isn’t the one. Still, we tried to hire a person of color.”

In those ways, recruiting is still a very exclusive and insular club. People are wary of differences. If they don’t know you, if you don’t look like them, or if they can’t immediately relate to you, they are more likely to choose somebody who went to the same college as them, or who worked in the same sphere as them. It’s a lot easier to pursue candidates whom you feel you understand, or who look like you.

While there was a short blip, a little signal of possible change in recruitment during the era of the George Floyd protests at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, the industry is now returning to how it used to be.

As a Black man, I know what it’s like to be tokenized—and that’s something I was hopeful we might be leaving in the past. But it seems like in this current moment, some three years after those nationwide protests and that time of reckoning, the recruiting world is distancing itself from focusing on diversity in hiring.

I’ve talked to women and people of color and have asked them: “Do you get the feeling sometimes companies are coming to you to check a box so they could say they spoke to a woman-owned company or a Black-owned company, but they went with the people they wanted to go with anyway?”

Their responses are often a resounding yes, sadly. As with most things, it’s obvious when someone is asking a question to really investigate whether they want to work with you compared to when they are asking you a question for the sake of ticking a box.

That’s why I started my own recruiting business in 2016—not only because I really enjoy executive search but because I’m a firm believer in our common humanity.

Whether you see me in a full suit and tie or a T-shirt or jeans, I am still human. And I don’t feel like people need to look a certain way, go to the same school, or act the same to have access to the best jobs.

I’m very proud that our staff is made up of people from different races, genders, and educational backgrounds. I believe that diversity always makes a company stronger.

For example, a woman or an Asian man will have different viewpoints and ideas than I do, and those perspectives are vital to an organization’s success because they broaden our worldview and inform the decisions we make.

If we want to create an industry truly rooted in fairness and equity, we have to change the way we approach our work. We have to be transparent about all our processes from pricing to how we find candidates. We have to be willing to try new things to change the industry for the next generation.

And I’m proud to say at Creative Talent Endeavors, that’s what we’re doing. Our team works to provide everyone with an equitable level of access to opportunities. In our searches, we prioritize the best candidates regardless of background or circumstance.

I hope the rest of my industry can follow suit. Try their own big ideas. Leave their preconceived notions about candidates at the door. Then we can all work to change the game in recruiting and executive search.

Kyle Samuels is the founder and CEO of Creative Talent Endeavors based in Charlotte, North Carolina.

All views expressed in this article are the author’s own.

As told to Newsweek’s associate editor, Carine Harb.

Do you have a unique experience or personal story to share? Email the My Turn team at myturn@newsweek.com.

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