If you’re looking around the office and wondering why it doesn’t reflect the diverse makeup of the community where it resides, your team members are probably doing the exact same thing. Despite all your best efforts in recruitment, diversity-focused training, and maybe even hiring a coach whose specific task is to diversify your talent base, your staff may look like you’re making a carbon copy of the same person. The fact is that legally mandated diversity training, safe talking points, and controlled environments free of unsettling communication about diversity and inclusion are not enough to establish you as a diverse employer in today’s job market. That is the baseline, and your team members will not think that you’ve taken steps toward a diverse culture.
Efforts to demonize and politicize this work have taken place since it started. Change is hard. Examining and rectifying mistakes is even harder. It is not easy to take a hard look at your hiring practices and decide that you’ve exhibited unconscious bias. It will certainly make some people uncomfortable. The question you must ask yourself as an organization is this: If asking these questions is making hiring managers uncomfortable, how do team members feel about it? What is the cost of staying silent about our company’s commitment to diversity?
We already know that a team member’s sense of belonging is the strongest driver of employee engagement. The way your company approaches building diverse talent will directly impact how happy they are to be there. Diversity efforts will help not only engage your employees but also retain them. Well-executed and sustainable diversity efforts will have a lasting positive impact on your organization’s culture and team building.
This effort can also have a profound impact on your bottom line. Studies have shown that companies with a diverse and inclusive workforce are 35% more likely to financially outperform their competitors. They are more innovative and have higher innovation revenues. Even more beneficial is a diversified leadership team, a structure that is 45% more likely to report above-average profitability.
The benefits of representation are exponential. Once an organization starts to embrace a diverse power structure, stereotypes disappear from the organizational language. Teams become more unified. Underrepresented team members become inspired that they can grow into leaders themselves. Not to mention, your public perception improves.
There is a multitude of big and small changes companies can make to get them moving in the right direction. The stakes are high, as a surface-level overhaul can have disastrous effects. This effort needs to be well planned, well executed, and well maintained to cause the necessary trust and buy-in to make it truly impactful. Many, many companies have tried and failed in their efforts. So let’s dive into actionable ways to make this change happen.
Skills Over Resumes
One of the best tools against unconscious bias is to shift our evaluation process. Candidates from diverse backgrounds are often overlooked because of their educational background or past employment, instead of their actual skill set or technical acumen. If this is to be changed, potential candidates should be evaluated closely by leadership, understanding the flow through the process, and ultimately where and why the decision was made to hire them or go with a different candidate. Their assessment should be based on the skills necessary to do the job and less on being a “culture fit.” Conventional thinking that candidates should be friends with team members so that they don’t “rock the boat” is antiquated. Interviews and the ultimate decision should include underrepresented groups on the panel. Finally, the interview should involve simulation-based evaluations that truly assess whether a candidate will excel in the position.
The only way to succeed in corporate diversity efforts is a full cultural shift. Anything less will be seen as hollow or worse, superficial. This will not be simple or easy. There is an incredible amount of nuance and complexity involved in embracing diversity. Everyone needs to adopt a growth mindset and get ready to listen. Trust will be needed in order to build and foster a culture of learning. Leaders need to speak about how important diversity is and commit to initiatives that focus on it as an organization, highlighting them as one of their core values. Team members should be encouraged to not only embrace it but also collaborate on their own initiatives to shift toward a more diverse culture.
Make it Voluntary
There are a lot of politics involved with this issue, which raises the level of difficulty involved in succeeding, but also heightens the expectations around proper execution. Not everyone will onboard in right away and participation should not be forced. Impactful grassroots efforts are adapted and delivered by people on the ground who are bought in, not just because of their own involvement and impact, but because they can choose it and make it part of their own identity as well. Mandatory does not equal important, and the true buy-in from those involved in the effort is not something that can be manufactured.
Diversity is all around us. There are a number of ways you can engage the community which your organization serves including student engagement, charitable outreach, and office open houses. The relationships built during these efforts can be leveraged toward gaining team member buy-in, and community awareness and ultimately lead to hiring diverse candidates. Being aware of the community, and the community be aware of you.
Shift Your Power Structure
In an age where workers on the ground are expected to create increasingly complex products, leaders are required to move into servant-leader roles. They need to trust their people to be autonomous and make important decisions that leaders no longer have the visibility to make. Micro-managers have always been ineffective at building trustful relationships, but now they decrease employee satisfaction, investment, and shared experience with the larger organization. This also shifts our thinking around who we promote and hire as leaders. Empowered workers become empowered leaders. Representation matters in an organization. If you’ve struggled to promote diverse candidates, maybe it’s time to rethink what we value in leaders.
Why all this effort toward equity? What does this do for your organization? Good organizations evolve. A healthy, self-organizing, agile team has enough varied viewpoints to problem-solve inventively, hold one another accountable and collaborate respectfully. Frankly, evolving through a rapidly changing marketplace is impossible without it.