Demands of Diversity Blog Post Cover Image

So you want to be more diverse…

Do you have what it takes to increase the diversity of your team in healthy, supportive ways? True diversity is a tall order that typically requires some uncomfortable conversations. You can’t just say, “we want to be more diverse.” In her research on leadership, Dr. Brené Brown identified avoiding tough conversations as one of the biggest behaviors that gets in the way of organizational progress.

Adam Pisoni, founder of Abl, highlighted his use of reflective listening exercises in his journey to create a diverse team in an interview on the Clever blog.

So first, ask yourselves: do we have the tools to have these conversations?

“Daring leaders who live into their values are never silent about hard things.” – Dr. Brené Brown

(Consequently, when we work with organizations that lack the skills to have these tough conversations, they also tend to struggle with a desire to engage in illegal, discriminatory practices, such as only interviewing one type of candidate based on a protected class.)

Let’s have some uncomfortable conversations!

Clear some time, set some ground rules, bring all your communication tools, and ask yourselves:

  1. Why do we want to be more diverse? Are we just responding to investor and social pressures? Do we truly believe that diversity creates stronger and more innovative organizations? Are we ready to embrace DEI even if we cannot measure the business case for it? Can we draw strong connections between DEI and our company’s core values? Do we want our products/services to be shaped by the same diversity we see in our market?
    Whatever you do, don’t gloss over this question. It requires some deep examination and discomfort, but is essential to the success of any other efforts.
    If you engage in this work just to check a box and appease someone else, you will quickly undermine your overall brand. And candidates will know. At HireEducation, we have had the unfortunate experience of presenting diverse candidates to hiring managers only to have those candidates report back that the interview process felt dismissive and the company culture was suspicious of those who did not look like the senior leadership. Leaders usually do not know this is happening, but are also not asking the hard questions that would reveal these discrepancies between desired and actual employee experiences.
  2. What are we doing to make our team an inclusive place for diverse employees and how are we measuring inclusivity? If we increase diversity, will those new team members feel included by and equal to other team members? How will we know how they truly feel? To measure your culture around DEI, consider engaging in regular feedback via a channel like CultureAmp.
  3. If we find that diverse members do NOT feel included and equal, what mechanisms will trigger to alert us and how will we hold each other accountable? What will you do if surveys reveal feelings of disconnection and discrimination? Feedback can feel very hard because it often highlights a general inability to be vulnerable. If this feels like a major sticking point, consider diving in even further here by doing a group read of Dare to Lead by Brené Brown or Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni.
  4. Are we ready to put money behind this? Yes, there are many free things that can be done, but a concerted DEI initiative should not be buried in the HR budget. Providing a dedicated DEI line item in the budget sets a clear priority and helps ensure DEI is not just another HR trend.
  5. Can we examine our biases? Yes, Ivy League colleges and multiple internships can be good indicators of a strong employee, but due to the fact that racism, sexism, xenophobia, etc. are present in our society, there are fewer diverse candidates that check these boxes. (Hence the term “underrepresented.”) Look at your hiring trends. Does your team seem to have a bias towards a certain candidate attribute that is typically only accessible to candidates with privileged identities? Are there other ways you could assess core skills?

Final Thoughts:  Acknowledge the discomfort along the way. These are difficult, lifelong questions that all leaders must wrestle with, but they are worth it.

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