Fact or Myth: We Can’t Find Diverse Candidates For Our Team

By Dr. Sandra Upton, Vice President of Educational Initiatives

If you are the CEO or hiring manager and your employees or teams aren’t diverse, it’s your fault. At least, that’s what the CEO of a small technology education company believes and wrote about in a recent blog in Fast Company Magazine. I tend to agree. This isn’t to suggest that good intentions aren’t there. But we all know that intentions alone rarely, if ever, produce real and measurable results.

Like many organizations, this CEO’s company was pretty homogeneous. It was filled with people who looked like him. In his case, mostly white males. But when he challenged himself to re-evaluate his level of commitment to diversity and rethink his recruitment and hiring strategies, he began to see different results. It didn’t happen overnight but change did eventually happen. The notion that it’s impossible or difficult to find high quality job candidates, particularly those from underrepresented groups, was dismantled. So what did he do? And if your organization or institution is facing this dilemma, what can you do?

Here are four culturally intelligent strategies for recruiting a more diverse team:

1. Go To Them
There’s this exercise that we use in our Unconscious Bias training called “The Trusted 10.” You may be familiar with it. Participants are challenged to reflect on their relationships, particularly those top ten individuals who are part of their inner circle. They reflect on questions like: What are the diversity characteristics (i.e., ethnicity, religion, gender, etc.) of those closest to you? What patterns and themes do you see? Is there diversity or do they pretty much look, think, and act like you and share the same values? It’s a great way to reflect on our relationships and how diverse they are. One of the things the CEO of the technology education company did was step outside of his normal circle and environment and intentionally engaged more with other cultures beyond work. He went to them. For example, he started getting his hair cut at local barber shop in the African American community. It was a simple act that allowed him to begin building personal and quality relationships within this community. That eventually developed into networking opportunities within that community and ultimately created a great opportunity to hire a person of color. A similar mindset and approach can be used to attract those from a different generation, a different gender identity, someone differently abled, etc. I know it seems simple and you’ve likely heard it as a strategy. However, to do it right requires a significant time commitment, nontraditional strategies, and, most importantly, it needs to be authentic and done so in culturally intelligent ways.

2. Be Patient
A few years back we were looking to fill a position in our organization. The first round of candidates were all qualified to do the job. However, there was little visible diversity among them. We also considered the cognitive diversity of the candidates we reviewed. Given our busy schedules and fast-paced work environment it could have been very tempting to just hire one of them and move on. But we knew that doing so would cause us to lose out on the numerous benefits of a more diverse team. We also understood how that one hiring decision could further widen the gap, making it more difficult to recover from and create the diverse and inclusive work environment we claimed to value. So what did we do? We started over. It required commitment and patience. And it was worth it. Today our team feels and looks like a mini-United Nations. We plan to keep it that way. Make this your organization’s goal as well. Getting there requires patience and paying copious attention to the data, which can reveal if diversity is really a priority.

3. Question Everything
To position your organization to attract and recruit diverse teams, every phase and part of the hiring process needs to be assessed. I was recently talking with a colleague from Australia. She was sharing how often she has seen Chinese job applicants not make it past the application screening process. Comments such as “We won’t interview this person, I can’t even pronounce their name!” or, “They probably don’t speak English very well, they won’t be a good fit here” are commonplace in many Australian companies and institutions. Vetting hiring processes and practices for conscious and unconscious bias decision-making is critical. Question it all—how you access an applicant’s background and experiences, the kind of interview questions you ask, how you shortlist, and who is involved in the interview process. Require anyone involved in the interview and hiring process to undergo unconscious bias training. And create and enforce policies and practices, such as requiring those who hire team members to defend their decision for hiring or not hiring someone. The bottom line: question and be willing to change anything in the hiring process that serves as a barrier to attracting and hiring a diverse team.

4. Make Inclusion the Top Priority
Once you’ve hired a more diverse team, you need to keep them. The best way to do that is by creating an organizational culture where everyone feels a sense of belonging and is thriving. How do you do this? By using the same mindset, approach, and strategies as in the hiring process. Ask yourself key and telling questions: is top leadership modeling the way with diverse representation? Are you ensuring practices and policies for promotion and development are fair and equitable? Are you monitoring and managing potential micro-aggressions (subtle words and acts that devalue others) that may occur on a day-to-day basis across different cultural groups within the organization or on teams?

If I were paid a dollar for every time I heard someone say, “We just can’t find qualified people to diversify our team,” I could probably retire early and I’m a ways off from the standard retirement age. Ok, so maybe I’m exaggerating a bit. But you get the point. It’s a common excuse. I’m not suggesting that it’s always easy. But it’s far from impossible. The CQ strategies highlighted above are a good starting point.

CQ is an ongoing education

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