DIVERSITY: So Hot Right Now. But We’re Totally Over It.
Okay, here’s the deal; leaders everywhere have been reading about “the business case for diversity” for years now — there is decades worth of research demonstrating conclusively that diverse teams drive better business outcomes in financial performance, innovation, market share, team collaboration, and more. And The Darkest Horse is thankful that this recognition has advanced DEI initiatives, and paved ways for future progress BUT, we caution leaders not to get distracted with the “D” word.
The problem is when leaders start with diversity, they narrowly focus on vanity metrics. Leaders become obsessed with getting the demographic numbers right, and immediately turn to recruiting as the solution to the “diversity problem.” Too often, we see companies superficially look to their talent pipeline as the singular path to success. Unsurprisingly, when they take inventory of through their applicant pool, they end up with a sea of people who mostly match the demographics of their existing workforce and their implicit bias enables them to form assumptions. From that vantage point, it seems to be a “pipeline problem,” and attracting “diverse talent” appears beyond your control.
Now there is truth that marginalization and inequity of access to jobs opportunities does go all the way back to childhood (or in the case of Black Americans, before birth due to generations of oppression and unfair disadvantage) there is no denying that reality. That said, there are scores of blow-your-mind talented folks of all demographics and identities ready to join your company right now.
However, focusing on recruiting alone is not going to get them in the door or automatically make them successful at your organization, and here’s why…
Diversity Is A Lagging Metric.
Before we go into our diatribe, let’s level-set and review some key definitions to make sure we’re all working with the same conceptual understanding:
- Diversity is a numbers game — pursuing diversity means examining and questioning the makeup of a group to ensure that multiple perspectives are represented.
- Inclusion is an intentional, ongoing effort to ensure that diverse individuals are valued and fully participate. If diversity is having a range of folks in the room, inclusion is making sure those folks know that they don’t need to assimilate to match a norm, but rather are celebrated for the unique qualities they bring. Where inclusion is the action, a sense of belonging is the outcome.
- Equity is the fair and just treatment of all members of a group. Note that this is not the same as equality — where equality is giving everyone the same thing, equity is about giving each individual what they need to be successful, recognizing that different needs are not special accommodations, they’re just different accommodations.
- Accessibility is giving equitable opportunity to everyone along the continuum of human ability and experience, making space for the characteristics and skillsets that each person brings.
When we help organizations think about these challenges, we flip the order. We start with accessibility. If the full range of potential team members cannot access you, it’s a non-starter. There are several types of accessibilities scenarios, below is a short list to consider:
- Physical accessibility – If you do nothing else, make sure that your office space is at least ADA compliant
- Cognitive, Learning and Neurological – Are you taking into consideration how well people process and comprehend the information you provide? Are your written materials long and verbose? Does your website have distracting animations or obnoxiously loud audio?
- Geographic accessibility – Does your geographic location keep attracting a certain type of employee demographic? Do employees need to own a car or pay for an Uber/Lyft every day to get to your office? Is your office accessible via public transit?
- Digital accessibility – Does your organization promote asynchronous collaboration? Can everyone access your technology? Regardless of whether they can manipulate a mouse — have you indexed for how much vision they have, how many colors they can see, how much they can hear, or how they process information?
- Time accessibility – Is that critical daily huddle scheduled at the same time working parents need to get their kids logged into Zoom or dropped off to daycare? Are you scheduling meetings that are inconvenient for your teammates who live in a different time zone?
We hate to be the bearers of bad news, BUT if you haven’t taken the time to get accessibility right, there isn’t a headhunter in the world or some awesome company perk that will magically convince “diverse” talent to line up outside your door. The good news is: our shortlisted examples are low-hanging fruit that doesn’t cost a lot of time or money to actually address, so start making those adjustments ASAP!
Up next, we turn to equity and inclusion. Once a wide range of diverse people can actually access you, they need to know they’ll be treated (and compensated) fairly, and that their identities will not just be accepted or tolerated, but celebrated and supported. This is where retention comes in. Believing that rewards will be commensurate with effort helps drive employee engagement, commitment, and productivity. This sense of equity, plus the sense of belonging results from effective inclusion practices, creates a cultural belief that employees can have a bright future at your company and makes them want to stay and claim it.
Success on these efforts leads to diversity as a consequence. If you focus on creating a work environment where the very best talent can thrive — where your organization is accessible, equitable, and inclusive across demographic and identity spectra — you will start to attract and retain the best talent. We recognize that the best talent looks, sounds, and thinks a lot of different ways and we want leaders to start noticing this too.
The Future Of Work Demands That You Figure This Out
As more and more roles are shifting to a virtual/remote context, organizations have the opportunity to compete for a literal world of talent! In short: if you don’t figure out how to create the accessibility, inclusion, equity that will draw folks in, and a culture that helps you keep that awesomely diverse talent, your competitors will. The limitations of your organizational culture and make up of your workforce will directly inform your ability to thrive in the current marketplace and ultimately prepare for the future of work.