“60 percent of employers surveyed believe there’s a direct financial impact on the business when an organization is competitive in diversity.”
You know the photo. A group of hands, disembodied from their owners, showing a variety of different skin tones, grouped together, sometimes grasped, sometimes raised excitedly, intended to illustrate “diversity.” It’s supposed to be a positive image, one that repeats all across the internet, and yet, in most organizations, couldn’t be further from the truth. And to overcome that sad reality, we need to take a step back and appraise ourselves of the misconceptions that plague diversity initiatives and hinder progress every step of the way.
Common misconceptions & understanding
The photo is a prime example of diversity taken out of context. Devoid of any actual details, we’re left to imagine that the hands include all people, regardless of biological sex, gender identity, race, national origin, religion, disability or age, at a minimum. In a perfect world, that’s how the scenario would play out, but for too many organizations, corporate diversity gets limited to just two of those factors: race and gender.
We know what caused this mindset, with reasons and rationale tracing back to legislation passed in the 1960s. But what doesn’t add up is why organizations haven’t moved beyond the stock approach. Taking a dictionary definition approach to diversity isn’t changing the situation, and it certainly isn’t helping us innovate or boost the bottom line. Even more mind-blowing is that organizations recognize the correlation, with recent research from HRWins showing that nearly 60 percent of employers surveyed believe there’s a direct financial impact on the business when an organization is competitive in diversity.
So what’s the hang-up? The hiring process, for one, coupled with a pervasive, unspoken fear that going against the way we’ve “always done things” will somehow lead to the organization’s immediate, and for some reason, unstoppable demise. However, this is not an action movie, and no one is under attack. Opening up how we interpret diversity is a first step, one that helps inform our understanding of one another and in turn, how we work together.
Real world hits & misses
Of course, that’s not to say that diversity is so easily attainable. That would be foolish. Even with an expanded definition, there is no magic switch to flip. Lots of organizations have tried to improve their diversity, some have succeeded while others…have not. Those are facts. At the same time, so much of what we know about diversity up until this point comes from the same sources, repeatedly cited (cough, HBR’s “Why Diversity Programs Fail”). That alone is doing our work a considerable disservice, reverberating the same thoughts and increasingly outdated examples around the echo chamber – the opposite of diverse.
Thanks to annual reports and strategic public relations, we’re starting to see more stats from companies like Intel, Verizon, and Marriott, touting increased workforce diversity and award wins. What’s harder to ascertain is exactly how these companies are enhancing their diversity, aside from having the internal resources and budgets needed. Every now and again we learn about diversity mistakes when Amazon scraps a new recruiting tool, or Google admits to bias in something as basic as its email client, as a what not to do. But these examples are usually few and far between, on a scale far above many of our hiring practices.
Diversity done right
That said, achieving diversity is not impossible, but it’s also not just a box you can check. For starters, we know that diversity means more than slapping up a disingenuous photo on a website, alongside an empty promise or two. It doesn’t include quotas or an off the shelf strategy, but rather, should be custom fit and tailored to the needs of an organization and the communities it represents. Because this is how diversity grows and takes shape, through programs that engage current employees, attract new applicants and deepen relationships throughout the organization.
Taking a holistic approach ensures that diversity gets considered at all stages of the talent acquisition lifecycle, from the initial job posting and description to sourcing and selection and up through onboarding and even performance reviews. And yes, there are technologies and solutions available that support this mission, working somewhere in the background to advance our recruiting capabilities and remove bias from the process. With this, we can better align our efforts and enact practical measures that produce quantifiable change.
Because once we refocus the lens, taking a broader, more comprehensive understanding of what diversity really is, in our own framework, and how we interact with it on a daily basis, we’re able to make it a lasting part of who we are – collectively.