I’ve hired over 100 people in my career. Of that number, the majority were female; about 20% were foreign-born; around 40% were straight out of college or graduate school; and less than 20% were Caucasian males. If you’re quantifying hiring diversity, all of those numbers are pretty great.
But numbers, while important, miss the point when discussing diversity and hiring for a diverse workforce. Many people get caught up in diversity numbers and statistics, while the real power of diversity lies in inclusion.
Did each of those 100 or more hires that I’ve made throughout my career feel included once they arrived?
Here, the math goes out the window and we’re left with a qualitative problem that has a much more nuanced answer. In some companies, yes. My hires entered into a highly inclusive environment and were able to work efficiently with their colleagues, unleashing their potential. In other companies, hires who were minority groups within the context of that organization had a much harder time assimilating due almost exclusively to problems of inclusion.
Those latter companies simply lacked a global mindset that was open to change and to different perspectives—despite, in some instances, the best of intentions from every member of the organization.
The irony, of course, is that hiring is one of the key change-makers when trying to create a more inclusive workplace. The more you hire for diversity and for inclusive mindsets, the better your team will perform (as long as you’re also reinforcing that mindset within your existing workforce).
In terms of hiring, university settings present their own unique challenges, since colleges (especially in the U.S.) are already struggling to meet their own diversity targets from an admissions standpoint despite receiving criticism from all sides for their efforts. Additional challenges include the fact that, at least on the face of it, some careers tend to skew more toward one group than another. Software developers, we’re told, are typically white males. This is something of a self-fulfilling stereotype.
Speaking of stereotypes, I once had a recruiter tell me that hiring a female salesperson is harder than a male salesperson because ‘sales are aggressive, and men are aggressive.’ This was in response to me asking him why all of the candidates were male.
My reaction to stereotypes like these is usually the same, and it’s also a way you can make hiring for diversity easier: Find another source.
I dropped that recruiter and brought in another. Diversity problem solved. It’s really that easy. If you’re constantly finding that a recruiter is bringing you the same types of people, then get another recruiter if you want a change. Maybe that recruiter has a strong network with a particular community and that’s altering the talent pool, or maybe that recruiter is particularly skilled at communicating with some groups over others, also skewing the talent pool. If so, then get another recruiter who better suits your individual needs at that point in time.
The same is true for recruiting from colleges. No college can be all things for all employers. Specific types of people gravitate to individual colleges for a variety of cultural and historical reasons that sometimes neither the college students nor the colleges themselves realize. Your job as a recruiter is to notice when one group keeps showing up more often than others. Instead of accepting false statements like, ‘Oh, it’s because all engineering students are white males,’ it’s up to you to find another college or program to recruit from (in the case of engineering, I found that programs like General Assembly get you excellent talent from more diverse groups).
And, changing your sources of recruitment more often can send out a signal to your organization, telling them that you’re looking for diversity (not just of race or gender, but also of life experiences and thought, which are even harder to quantify). Once that message is sent, your employees will take notice and they will start to be more inclusive of others.
Remember, whether you’re in Human Resources or managing your own team, on issues like inclusion, the best leadership often is to lead by example. Once you make a ‘diverse’ hire (an individual who doesn’t match the average background of your workforce), make sure that person feels included and understands how to be heard and acknowledged in the context of your organization.