Diversity is a Process, Not a Word

Diversity is a Process, Not a Word

Here’s the scene: a conference room full of hiring managers and HR professionals, all intently listening to a presentation, taking notes, and earnestly nodding. The topic? Fostering diversity in the workplace. Everyone present solemnly agrees that they should, in fact, seek out diverse candidates for open positions. Somebody makes a note to let the talent acquisition team know, and then the room breaks for lunch, congratulating themselves on their collective resolve to Make the World a Better Place(™).

I don’t want to rain on anybody’s parade, but it’s a much more involved process than simply telling the talent acquisition team to seek out diverse candidates. Plus, I’ll let you in on a secret: any decent talent acquisition professional is already actively seeking out diverse candidates. Why? Because we’ve known for a long time that diversity is frequently a missing piece inside any organization. A diverse workforce is a creative, hard-working, group that represents America in its totality. Furthermore, a diverse workforce ensures that your organization doesn’t exist in an “echo chamber” – missing both potential problems and opportunities for growth, including markets critical to the company’s success.

Hiring for diversity is the last step in the process, not the first. Therefore, every organization’s commitment to diversity must be more than skin-deep. Here are some tips to help you build a diverse culture from the inside out . . . and make my job a lot easier finding great candidates for you.

1) Encourage Advocacy

It’s easy to find plenty of literature surrounding the mentor/mentee relationship. And it should be! The relationship is an undeniably important one. But, the mentor/mentee relationship puts responsibility on the mentee: to seek out a mentor, to ask the right questions, and to put the work into developing the relationship. Being an advocate, however, is different.

Advocates look out for other employees (often those new to the work force or company), anticipate potential challenges they will face, and do what they can to ease the employee into the culture of the organization. Minority employees, who encounter unique and isolating problems in the workplace, particularly benefit from advocates at the office. Encourage your employees to advocate for one another, and you’ll create a welcoming environment that fosters communication, problem-solving, and community. Diversity will naturally follow.

2) Mitigate the Effects of “Impostor Experience”

Defined as a feeling of unworthiness or feeling like a fraud, the “impostor experience” as Harvard social science professor Amy Cuddy calls it — because it’s neither a disorder nor a syndrome — is real, and it’s a problem. It’s been estimated that 70% of workers have experienced it at least once in their careers, often regularly. According to current literature, it is particularly an issue for women and minorities. Although this phenomenon manifests in all aspects of professional life, job announcements are great provocations.

How? Take that lengthy list of qualifications for one. Some candidates will look at the requirements, meet 4 out of 10 and decide not to go for the job; others will satisfy the same 4 and go for it. Who’s the better candidate? I won’t ever know because I won’t ever have the chance to talk to the candidate who rules him or herself out.

Often qualification lists are a wish list, but very few organizations say that. Don’t you think it might be time to explicitly state the facts, by breaking the list into must-haves and maybes? Bottom line: Don’t let arbitrary “must-haves” disproportionately eliminate candidates from one specific demographic. Also, talent acquisition people, what would it take for you to be a “rule-in” vs. “rule-out” recruiter?

3) Diversity Begets Diversity

Your diverse employees are just that: employees. They aren’t trophies to display to the public, or spokespeople for their entire demographic. This point was driven home to me by this extraordinary LinkedIn post written by Joah Spearman. In it, Spearman, calls to task his white colleagues who sent him the “manifesto”, correctly identifying the gesture as an attempt at shifting the responsibility of finding a “solution” to the very communities most impacted by institutional discrimination.

Recently, my progressive church with the motto, “All are welcome. No Exceptions.” had a discussion about handling our February program in honor of Black History Month differently.  Instead of inviting our African American Director of Education to lead the planning efforts, what if some of the white members took charge and asked her for her guidance on what should be included? Makes sense, right? We’re HONORING her and other people of color in the congregation. Why would we ask someone we’re honoring to plan their own party?

Do this, and you will take major strides towards establishing a workplace where minority employees feel empowered to share their opinions, secure in the knowledge that their perspectives are valued and respected. New candidates will see employees, from a wide variety of backgrounds, making meaningful contributions to the team, and will be excited at the idea of coming on board. Word will spread, and you’ll begin to see more diverse applications, because diversity always grows more diversity.

4) Respect Your Employee’s Backgrounds

When your workforce is made up of individuals from diverse backgrounds, you’ll encounter employees with a wide variety of demands on their time. You might find that employees from certain demographics have a much harder time finding a work-life balance that works for them while they are part of your organization. It’s tempting to make this your employee’s problem, but that’s a short-sighted approach to problem solving.

Instead, really evaluate your company’s culture, and decide if your company’s expectations are based on the realities of a very specific subset of employee, resulting in an unsustainable work-life balance for anyone outside that mold. Really consider what changes you can make that will allow your employees to fulfill all their professional and personal obligations. This might be a challenge, but it will be well worth it when employees realize that your company cultures allows candidates from a wide variety of backgrounds to thrive within the organization. After all, only a very narrow type of candidate is able to make work their top (read: only) responsibility. If that’s the demand you’re making, than be prepared for a very homogeneous workforce.

5) Harassment is Wrong. Always.

I just…..can’t quite believe that I have to spell this out in 2018, yet here I am. First of all, most harassment is obvious. Oh sure, there are subtleties, but most of the behavior we’ve been reading about lately is pretty cut and dried and it’s very bad.

Any organization that professes to be committed to diversity will have a well-established workplace harassment policy in place. But it’s important to avoid complacency. Reevaluate your policy regularly. Figure out what is working, what isn’t, and make the changes necessary to ensure that your harassment policy reflects the current environment.  More importantly, if an employee reports harassment, it’s your responsibility to take it seriously the first time — REALLY. Investigate, research, and deal with it right away. Back up your words (#metoo #timesup) with deeds in an active and meaningful way.

It’s clear the path to developing a diverse and inclusive workplace has many moving parts and it isn’t just recruiting . What tips do you have for organizations looking to foster diversity? Do you have a great method to encourage your employees’ involvement? Let’s hear it! This is a team effort, and I’m all ears.

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