How to invite people to dance: Diversity at work


Leaders have long recognized that a diverse workforce gives a competitive edge, that diversity results in the most innovative ideas. So how do you get a diverse workforce? In other words, how do you recruit diverse talents and how do you keep the diverse talents once they are onboard? Before tackling each question separately, there is an answer to both questions: you need to have an inclusive culture. Otherwise, even if you’re able to recruit them, you won’t be able to keep them or that they will be scared to speak up and you lose your diversity. I’ve already talked about how to cultivate an inclusive culture in a previous post, so I won’t repeat it here.

Now, let’s talk about recruiting. A lot of companies say that they’re hiring for diversity these days, but are they? Let’s think through this a bit. How do companies do hiring? 

  1. It’s mainly through networks, isn’t it? Remember the referral bonus that your HR department advertises that encourages employee referrals? Which means they are looking for candidates from the existing employees’ networks. By definition, that’s not too diverse. Why? Think about the people in your network. They are there probably because they have gone to the same school as you did, or they have a similar level of education as you have, or they like similar things like you do, or they think like you, etc. So, you’re limiting your candidates to be like your existing employees. That is quite homogeneous.
  2. HR sources candidates from job descriptions, right? But let me ask you, are you trying to hire people to solve problems or are you hiring problem solvers? If you ask executives, they want problem solvers. Job descriptions allow you to hire people to solve a specific problem with a specific job description. Problem solvers solve problems wherever the problem may be, i.e. the “job” changes. So, this is a question of hiring people with specific skills as top priority or hiring people with the aptitude and capability for problem solving as a priority. If you want problem solvers, how would you interview them? Would you ask the same type of questions as you normally do? If not, how would you change them?

Let’s discuss how to keep the diverse talents once they are on-board. I already mentioned having an inclusive culture is a prerequisite. However, I noticed that even though the companies hire for diversity, most of them manage for sameness. That means, the diverse talents would eventually become mini-me’s. This is a question for leadership. The processes and practices around promotions, rewards, development and management would either force the talents to conform or allow the talents to grow in their own way.

As leaders, we need to be self aware. Do we realize our own biases? Do we know how our biases influence the way we interact with others? What can we do to combat our own biases? What biases are you aware of in your teams? Share with me below your experiences, questions and comments. I’d love to hear from you.

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