One of the reasons companies struggle with diversity in the workplace has to do with the definition itself. What does diversity in the workplace actually mean? Depending on whom you ask, the answers could be wildly different. That’s because everyone has a different starting point.
Take the tech industry. For all the advancements companies like Apple, Google and Facebook are known for, diversity hasn’t exactly been one of them. It’s an industry that has been dominated by white men and, despite efforts, it continues to be. For a male-dominated industry like tech or transportation, diversity is still very much about gender.
Sandi Hoff, chief of staff for the Greater Nashville Technology Council and executive director of the NTC Foundation, says diversity often is seen as a black-and-white issue, but it extends beyond race. The reason that diversity is important on any team is that you’re looking to achieve diversity of thought and background,” Hoff says. “That means diversity of age, experience, sexual orientation, gender, where you come from geographically, how you learned your skills—all of it is important because all of it contributes to a worker’s perspective and beliefs.”
Hoff points to an Employee Resource Group at Dell called “True Ability,” which is specifically for team members impacted by disabilities or special needs and supporters.
Diversity in the workplace is not about any one gender, race or background. It’s much broader than that. A recent survey by Deloitte and the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative found that this is the way millennial leaders view diversity, too. When defining diversity, millennials are 35 percent more likely to focus on unique experiences, whereas 21 percent of non-millennials are more likely to focus on representation.
“Decades of research and programming have focused on assimilating individuals of different genders, races, ethnicities, religions, and sexual orientations in our organizations, and the baby boomers and Generation X-ers should be given credit from getting us from Point A to Point B in the inclusion discussion,” the survey authors explain. “Millennials, however, are ready for Point C. … They are much more concerned with cognitive diversity, or diversity of thoughts, ideas, and philosophies, and in solving business problems through a culture of collaboration.”
Changing your strategy for diversity in the workplace
Companies can begin to achieve this larger definition of diversity by being intentional. It sounds simple enough, but don’t underestimate the variety of unconscious factors at play that can thwart even the best of intentions.
“A lot of the frustration around increasing diversity can come from companies doing the same things but expecting different results,” Hoff says. “Our first Diversity and Inclusion Committee Chair often said: ‘If you want to catch different fish, you need to fish in different ponds.’”
In other words, expand your talent pipeline channels. Don’t just recruit from your alma mater. Branch out and make connections at the career services department of a wider range of colleges, universities and technical schools. Also make sure all of your local chambers know about your job opportunities. For example, Nashville is home to the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Black Chamber of Commerce, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and LGBT Chamber. Attend events hosted by these and other organizations to get in front of diverse candidates or people who know them.
Hiring based on referrals is another way companies inadvertently can undermine their diversity efforts, thanks to the power of affinity bias, which makes us gravitate toward similar people, whether in appearance, beliefs or background experience. (Here’s looking at you, good ol’ boy network!) Giving this up is a mixed bag, though, because referral hiring is popular—and for good reason. It’s a low-cost way to find employees who are more likely to be engaged. This Harvard Business Review article outlines the conundrum of employee referrals and offers a few tips for improving the process.
Setting and hitting diversity in the workplace goals
Since the NTC seeks to represent the Nashville area tech community, it serves to reason that the demographics of its team should represent what the Nashville area really looks like. “For the past three years, we have been very intentional in growing the diversity of our team and our Board of Directors,” Hoff says. “We haven’t achieved that balance yet, but we’re moving in the right direction.”
But she cautions that there is no quick fix. And celebrating success without acknowledging the work ahead is one of the biggest mistakes a company can make when goals for diversity in the workplace. The reality is, achieving diversity is a long game; creating an inclusive workplace is an even longer one.
“Verna Myers said it best,” Hoff says. “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.”