Diversity is one of those challenging topics that everyone seems to agree on but not many of us know how to tackle. I don’t think I’ve met an engineer in my lifetime that said they would mind if their field was less saturated with men. The same goes for those in the construction, aerospace, and information technology industries. The thing to keep in mind here is that diversity doesn’t just end with skin color, age, or gender. It encompasses a wide range of characteristics that make each one of us unique. Just to ensure were all talking about the same flavor of diversity, I am going to throw SHRM’s definition at you.
Diversity refers to the similarities and differences among individuals accounting for all aspects of their personality and individual identity. This includes (but is not limited to) age, disability, ethnicity, family status, sex, gender, generation, language, life experiences, neurodiversity, organization function/level, physical characteristics, race/color, religion, sexual orientation, and veteran status.
So why is diversity so darn important?
It Starts from the Top
Aside from opening your company up to a wider talent pool, diversity can lead to higher profits, increased productivity, greater innovation, and a reduction in turnover. These gains are most widely seen when upper management and lower management are equally diverse. It is common to see organizations focus most of their diversity efforts on entry level positions. A good example of this is where a company states that ~30% of new positions must be filled by underrepresented groups. While this is a good start, the most effective strategy is to have equal representation throughout the entire organization.
There are some good arguments to this multi-level approach. Diversity leads people to consider multiple perspectives and develop better, more complex approaches. At the higher levels of the organization this leads to greater creativity, innovation, and flexibility in strategy formation. At the lower levels of the organization this means increased collaboration, better problem-solving skills, and more new ideas. The other thing to consider about equal representation across the company is ourselves. We identify with people who are like us. This makes interactions and the exchange of information significantly easier with people we assimilate with. It’s difficult to make this happen when your C-suite, VP, and Director levels are entirely uniform while your lower levels are receiving all the attention.
In a study completed by the Academy of Management, researchers found something that is interesting but not surprising. Firms that are more racially diverse in upper management than lower management out-produced firms that are more racially diverse in lower management than upper management. If you were about to reread that last sentence, let me make it clearer. Your company will see better results if your diversity efforts start from the top. The sample for this study started out as high-tech firms and soon expanded to Fortune 500 companies. The results did not change as the study grew.
Where do I Start?
There are plenty of ways to get started, but there is no silver bullet. Building a more diverse workforce requires a complete overhaul of the ways you source new talent, the ways that you promote your employees, how you train your employees, and how your organization reviews its talent. Here are a couple of things to consider getting started.
1. Ask for feedback
To accurately gauge your performance, you need to know where you are starting. Pulse surveys are an excellent way to capture and track anonymized information. Using anonymity means that respondents are more likely to disclose sensitive or stigmatizing information as compared to other methods. Higher response rates mean your data will be more accurate.
2. Widen your talent pool
The most common way that I am seeing this happen in 2021 is through remote working. Your talent pool will increase from the geographical area directly surrounding your office to cities that are thousands of miles away. The other way to increase your talent pool is by reevaluating your job requirements. Does the applicant really need a bachelor’s degree? Do they really need 3-5 years of experience in the field? Could we offset some of these requirements with a month or two of on-the-job training? Another great option is to post your jobs on niche job boards such as Diversity.com, Black Career Network, and iHispano.
3. Include diverse members in the interview process
More diverse panels have been proven to increase a candidate’s experience and perception of the company that they are being interviewed by. If you don’t have a diverse talent acquisition team, consider inviting someone from another department to assist with the interview process. In the past, I have been interviewed by accountants, customer service managers, and marketing directors though they were not direct reports or even in the business unit I was applying for. If you are putting your company out there as a diverse and forward-thinking company, the interview process needs to reflect that.
4. Set equal hiring metrics for entry level, lower management, and upper management levels
This one is self-explanatory but cannot be overlooked. Referring to the article from earlier, researchers attempted to quantify the overall increase in productivity they saw in racially diverse companies and here is what they found:
5. Weave diversity into your talent management framework
In a study by Deloitte on the use of talent management software in the United States, roughly 60% of all mid-sized companies (50 – 250 employees) using some form of talent management software, use it to their advantage. Good talent management platforms should be able to track demographics within your organization, build succession plans that align to diversity goals, and can incorporate training resources to elevate the diversity conversation within your company.
Diversity is the next large-scale workplace transformation that we will see in the United States. Some of the largest companies in the world are already on board and are setting hiring goals as they have realized there is a real cost associated with inaction. I encourage you to look inside of your organization to see how you stack up against other companies – both inside and outside of your industry and social network. There is no denying that a diverse workplace is necessary. Now, the data supports that, not only is it necessary, but it makes good business sense.
Jordan Kennedy is a Senior Account Executive at TalentQuest. He graduated from Western Michigan University with a degree in Aviation Business Administration. Jordan has spent the last five years in the automotive and IT industries with a focus on sales training, employee recognition, talent management, and learning management solutions.