Published in the Washington Business Journal here on July 3, 2020.
A devastating economic crisis spurred by a global pandemic. A historic Supreme Court ruling that offers equal stature for the LGBTQ community in the workplace. The demand for racial justice, diversity and economic inclusiveness prompted by the killing of yet another Black man at the hands of police.
This is the first half of 2020, a tumultuous six months that is already having a transformational impact on businesses and their employees.
Since March, the Washington Business Journal has painstakingly covered the impact of Covid-19, from the financial tsunami and staggering number of layoffs to the shift to home offices and the unprecedented changes to physical workspaces.
This week, we turn our focus to the social justice issues that have the potential to transform our workplaces in even more profound ways.
The biggest opportunity we can offer anyone is, arguably, a job. And yet, people of color have historically faced disadvantages in the employment realm. Three local recruiters, each focused on increasing diversity, talk about what it takes to not only aim for better representation, but also accomplish and cultivate it. Read their advice, edited here for space and clarity, and you’ll likely see some patterns.
Founder and CEO, Alignstaffing
What are the first things an employer must do once it has an opening? When an employer is ready to hire, it’s important to commit to a company policy and process that reflects the job duties, core values and its community responsibilities. In this age of hyperautomation, the hiring process is sometimes disconnected from the mission and values of the company. An employer needs to ask, “Does our company have clearly identified core values and a culture that can be communicated?” Assuming an appropriate candidate funnel and skill set are identified, personality and personal chemistry should become less of a deciding factor. This is where we start to focus on the higher priority ethos of the business and our common values (inside-out) versus approaching diversity as an afterthought (outside-in).
A lot of employers will talk about the difficulty of finding more diverse candidates. Where are the best places to go or steps to take to find them? It is difficult to find diverse candidates because our communities are relatively isolated. Often employers live and socialize in different communities than the minorities they want to employ. We all feel comfortable in familiar surroundings with similar physical, social and cultural characteristics. To find diverse candidates, employers need to get out of their community — and comfort zone.
It seems easy theoretically, but it’s hard emotionally. Employers will be challenged, stretched and uncomfortable. The internet is a powerful tool, but job posting alone won’t increase a job opportunity funnel for a diverse population. Employers must put in the work to actively research and tap into diverse community groups and encourage their leadership and hiring managers to get affiliated with diverse nonprofits, boards, local and national industry groups, schools and vendors.
What are the biggest mistakes employers make when it comes to recruiting of diverse staff? Not being mission- and value-driven. It can become difficult for diverse candidates to connect with a company if there is no central mission or clear purpose. Often employers do not focus on connecting with people who share the company’s values and mission during the recruiting process. Instead, the focus is connecting with individuals similar to themselves. There is an illusion that if you look and talk like me, you understand me. If an employer is outwardly focused, then there will always be problems with recruiting a diverse staff. Employers should recognize that both shared values and developed skills are important.
Experts talk about setting specific goals for diversity in recruiting and hiring. What goals would you suggest? In accounting, there’s a concept known as “substance over form.” This means that the economic substance of transactions and events must be recorded in the financial statements rather than just their legal form in order to present a true and fair view of the affairs of the company. As an organization, employers may want to look like there is a commitment, but that doesn’t mean that it’s authentic.
Unfortunately, specific goals are a political response to cultural isolation. I imagine some would argue that diversity goals and numbers should reflect the diversity of the nation, while others believe these numbers should be evaluated at a local level. Others are more equipped to answer that question; however, whatever goals there are, I would focus on how to integrate people of various backgrounds. My hope is that society would no longer need quotas and employers would value employing members of minority communities.
During the interviewing process, there’s always the danger of unconscious bias. What are specific things employers must be mindful of or change to avoid that from creeping in? When a leader awakens to the realities of racism in their company, there needs to be a conversation throughout the organization. Actually, the number and types of biases are finite. For example, a hiring manager could assess a cultural hairstyle in an interview or read an unusual name on a resume and form an unconscious bias. The key is to make those biases conscious. Saying the bias out loud allows you to listen to the absurdity of the bias. List every bias you have, and challenge them.
A bias is just part of a larger story played in your mind. We must control our own stories in our heads. Don’t fight it. Instead, acknowledge it, put it out there and talk through it. Employers should provide this space for honest discussion.
Some employers turn to diversity training and mechanical processes, which work if they are genuine and intentional. Instead of always leading the conversation, employers can try to have their team create their own presentations on biases. It’s ugly, but it’s necessary. If people are able to share these in a larger group setting, barriers can break down much quicker. Everyone can go on the journey together. I believe strongly in positive peer pressure. If employers get more people doing the right thing, their organization will be better.
Once a person of diverse background or ethnicity is hired. Then what? How do you ensure the most successful onboarding and retention for that person? First, employers need to realize that they are going to make some mistakes, but be intentional and keep trying. In the simplest form, just treat the new hire like a person. Be accountable. Let them know they can trust leadership and HR, and if there is an issue, they will be respected and heard.
Keep in mind, minorities had to assimilate, in some way, to survive and excel. Minorities must learn and embrace a duality of cultures, sometimes suppressing their own. It can be hard for minorities to feel welcome in casual settings.
The hit movie, “Get Out,” is a great example of cultural differences based on experience with differences of race. The movie’s director, Jordan Peele, discussed how white audiences and black audiences viewed the movie differently. Neither view is wrong. If everyone can bring their examples to the table, and they are embraced, that’s a good thing. It’s about the effort.
What are the biggest mistakes employers make when it comes to retention of diverse staff? The biggest mistake employers make when it comes to retention is not recognizing bias behavior, which prevents everyone from being heard, not providing equal access to leadership, and inconsistent treatment of staff. Even in the downtime, or on breaks, minorities have to work twice as hard to get to know people who are not like them. That can be hard. People who are alike want to associate with each other. It’s easier to have water cooler talk with people who have the same perceived interests and culture. During this time of COVID-19, the virtual environment has created an equal footing.
Employers need to refocus on the company’s mission. Even though people come from different places, employers can find people who have similar values. Employers need to focus on the things they have in common, not the differences.
People will talk about the difference between diversity and inclusion — what does that difference mean to you, and how do employers make both work well? Those two words are tricky. If the original intention is to not treat people equally or fairly or to treat minority involvement as an academic exercise, then employers need to deal with diversity and inclusion problems. If employers are doubling down on the company’s mission, and inviting more people into their hiring funnel, they will see that diversity and inclusion will follow.
Employers need to embrace the fact that different people come with different strengths and different solutions, and it must occur at all levels of an organization.
Any other advice to ensure more diversity in executive ranks? Employers need to ask themselves, “Do we want to be diverse or look diverse?” Just because a diverse employee has a seat at the table does not mean they have influence at the table. Employers need to be intentional and to listen to the people they are pulling up a seat for.