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 min read

Diversity hiring: beyond the hype

Diversity hiring has become a beauty contest for companies, here are the true benefits of a diverse team and how you can achieve it.

November 5, 2021
Yuma Heymans
November 3, 2021
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A couple of weeks ago I saw a post on social media about a team that won an ‘award’ for being the most diverse team. For me that was the perfect example of what has gone wrong with diversity goals of companies.

The diversity hype turned companies into reactive little creatures looking for likes because their team is so extremely diverse. They don't celebrate internally the benefits coming from having a diverse team, but they want to live up to moral standards so they can show their family and friends how much they care.

Diversity is most popular in the context of the workplace.

When Google finishes my...

But unfortunately diversity has become a way for companies to do well in the public eye, driving superficial motifs (‘look how extremely diverse we are’) which have diminished the true meaning and value of it.

The discussion on diversity shouldn’t be about recognition (awarding companies for being diverse), the discussion should be about the necessity for a team and a business to be diverse and the actual benefits it provides.  

What people think diversity is

Because of the hype around diversity, it is looked upon in a very superficial way. People think they need people from diverse ethnic backgrounds for example (enough coloured people in the team) because they like to be perceived as a company that cares about diversity. Colour is a popular diversity factor because it is clearly visible. Same for gender.

Usually companies hiring for diversity are not aware of the actual benefits of having a diverse team and they have no idea on how to achieve it.

Some people also look at diversity as a moral obligation. They feel pressured to do what’s right and therefore they hire people in underrepresented groups. But also this is not leading to any actual benefits of diversity in a team, and when people are hired merely for moral reasons instead of because there is an optimal match between their skills and interests and the job, you're not helping them at all.

You shouldn’t give someone a job offer because they are female, gay or black. Nobody wins if you do so.

What diversity really is

Diversity in essence is being dissimilar (different from each other). In traditional media and on social media diversity is usually presented as a problem of skin colour, sexual orientation and/or gender.

But having a diverse team is about a lot more than that.

A diverse team is one which differentiates in personal identities and therefore covering a variety of qualities, interests, preferences and beliefs.

The true value of diversifying a team is that you create a collective identity that as a whole can signal, analyse and address as many different problems and solutions as possible to get to the best possible outcome.

As a cross functional team (a tech product team for example) you really have a problem when you only have people who can think in a process driven, structured, analytical way (the ‘blue’ personality type) and nobody in the team is expressive and imaginative (the ‘yellow’ personality type).

The problem that is likely to occur in such a team is that everyone gets lost in the data and detail of things and the team is not able to build something unique that is not only based on historical patterns.

Personality is a good example of a differentiating attribute (diversity factor) that is not mentioned regularly in the media. But there are a lot more attributes you can look at in building a diverse team.

Diversity factors other than skin colour, sexual orientation or gender:

  • Personality
  • Skill
  • Cultural background
  • Interests
  • Viewpoints
  • Socioeconomic situation
  • Religion
  • Age

Most of these diversity factors (or identity attributes) are very subjective in nature. People decide for themselves with which personality, viewpoints, religion, etc they identify, but they are also perceived by other people. Other people's perception does not have to be equal to how the the individual perceives themselves.

This is partly why you cannot talk about diversity in a superficial way, diversity factors make up someone's identity (self-identity). And identity is one of the most complex topics in psychology and sociology. 

It's many, many different attributes and different ways of perceiving them. It is, literally speaking, not black and white.

Diversity is about recognizing the benefit of variance in the collective identity, the identity of the whole. 

The value of diversity should not be carried by the discussion in the workplace, it’s a necessity in life. Without gender diversity for example we wouldn’t even have existed; a somewhat equal distribution of males and females means that we can reproduce and continue to exist (in perpetuity hopefully).

We need to be a diverse collective in order to survive and thrive.

The true benefit of diversity

The true benefit of having a diverse team is that you can learn a lot more from each other as opposed to being surrounded by similar people.

You need different people to understand different situations, possible solutions and personas.

Take your customers for example, they most likely also show a variety in backgrounds, characteristics and preferences. In order to understand them and serve them you should have different people who can resonate with the different identities (or personas) within your target group.

Ten Dutch heterosexual balding white men in the forties might be able to give each other great advice on hair loss prevention, but they wouldn't be able to truly sympathize with their diverse customer target group.

That diverse target group exists of, next to balding white men, a range of identities including young adults, Asian people, lesbian women and any combination of different attributes.

Here are some examples on how much more there is to learn in a diverse team:

  • Personality: You have people who can drive crazy ideas and other people who think in a structured and detail oriented way, you need both to build something.
  • Skill: People with different skills can inspire each other and complement each other instead of having to compete with each other.
  • Cultural background: You have different people understanding local behaviours and how to adapt to those behaviours as a business (with different ways of communication as a key differentiator).
  • Interests: You have people who learn about different aspects in life and business and therefore can teach each other something new, instead of having conversations about things they already knew.
  • Viewpoints: People learn that everyone is different in how they perceive the world and can help each other enrich and add nuance to their own viewpoints.
  • Socioeconomic situation: People from different walks of life bring wisdom that can only be derived from personal experience but that can always be shared with others.
  • Religion: Different beliefs bring different principles for life with it, encouraging others to challenge or reassure their own beliefs.
  • Age: Across different generations different life lessons are carried and exchanged to build upon knowledge.

Challenges in diversity hiring

So if diverse teams are a key differentiator for business, why is not everybody doing it?

Because there are some common challenge in creating a truly diverse team.

The most recurring ones are (unconscious) bias, the diversity misunderstanding, the network gap and stereotyping.

Bias

Bias is an inclination or prejudice for or against someone or something. People are naturally biased. Most of the bias is happening unconsciously, you’re not aware that you are prejudiced towards a certain identity (usually one similar to your own). Unconscious bias has been extensively proven in science. For example, fictitious resumes with white-sounding names sent to help-wanted ads were 50% more likely to receive responses for interviews compared to resumes with African-American sounding names. A bias frequently occurring in recruitment is affinity bias, which is the unconscious preference towards people who are like yourself.

Diversity misunderstanding

As described in this blog, a lot of people do not understand what diversity is and how it is beneficial to the team. The consequences of this misunderstanding are that hiring companies give their employees the wrong incentives for diversity hiring, their messaging is off (and sometimes very awkwardly missing the entire point) and the attractiveness of working for the company is not in any sense adapted to a diverse workforce.

The network gap

Teams are partly sourced from the existing network of current employees, whether it's the recruiter or any other team member. If your team is already not divers, there will be a snowball effect in play because your current network primarily exists of people similar to you. Every time you post your open position on social media for example, your similar connections will see it and not those different from you outside of your network.

Stereotyping

Some things are a fact, but possibly for the wrong reasons. Because engineering is a job that is done predominantly by males, it doesn't mean that males are better at engineering. For most people there is a stronger association between males and engineering job than females and engineering jobs, just because there are currently more male engineers. That stronger association results in people being prone to take action on pursuing male engineers. This male engineer stereotype illustrates, at least partly, a self fulfilling prophecy.

Steps for hiring a more diverse team

So how do we cope with these challenges and what are some practical guidelines we can take into consideration in building a diverse team?

From my point of view there are some steps we can take to improve our diversity sourcing efforts.

  1. Go from a perception focussed to a performance focussed mindset. Diversity is a key business differentiator, it’s not a beauty contest.
  2. Stop thinking about diversity from a moral perspective, prioritize the business need to be diverse.
  3. Hire recruiters from diverse backgrounds. If your recruiting team is diverse, you're collective network is more likely to be diverse and biases are reduced or at least diversified and therefore the risk of homogeneity are reduced.
  4. Take all the diversity factors into consideration that are listed above and score them according to how important they are specifically for your team. If you have an international team that works within different cultures, the culture factor is an important one to diversify on.
  5. Source talent proactively. Search people yourself and reach out to them instead of relying on job boards and referrals. Referrals and inbound leads (leads that come from job posts), are inherently less diverse. Referrals are coming from people's networks (see the above described network gap problem). And inbound leads are coming from job boards and algorithms that are in itself biased.
  6. Check your search and selection of profiles for diverse results. Take your most important diversity factors and hold them against your search results. Quantify your search results in terms of diversity factors. Instead of starting your search with for example female names only, you can search based on utility (required experience, skills, etc.) and adjust your search to include a sufficient amount of females so you can correct for bias by search algorithms and sufficiently include underrepresented groups.
  7. Hold structured interviews. Next to in the sourcing process, bias plays a big role in the interviewing and decision making process. Have structured interviews so answers to questions can be compared more objectively.

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Some valuable references on the benefits of diverse teams:
  • 78% of companies say that diversity and inclusion gave them a competitive advantage (Deloitte, Global Human Capital Trends, 2017)
  • Companies in the top 25% for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to see financial returns above the national medians for their industry (McKinsey & Company, 2015)
  • Organizations with diverse management have 19% higher revenue when compared to those who have below-average leadership diversity (BCG, 2018)
  • 89% of HR and hiring professionals say a multi-generational workforce makes a company more successful (LinkedIn, 2020)

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