Diversity Gone Wrong

The single biggest challenge employers face with diversity in the workplace is that they are looking for the wrong thing.

Somewhere along the way the concept of corporate diversity, or “inclusion” as it is now known, got cheapened. It got boiled down to a marketing effort where every website and annual report features a smattering of just the “right” amount of male and female, old and young, black and white… you get the idea. Some large companies even have special “leadership” programs for select groups, sidebars in talent review sessions, and quota-based hiring processes to ensure “everyone” is represented. Such efforts are well-intentioned, but they just don’t work. Worse they actually contradict what advocates hope to accomplish.

What employers should be looking for in hiring, promotion, team composition, project leadership, and succession planning (beyond actual skills and experience of course) is diversity of THOUGHT i.e. how you approach the work and what you, as an INDIVIDUAL, bring to the role. The assumption that for example a young, white, female brings a different point of view simply because she is young, white and female is itself a stereotyped, biased view that flies in the face of diversity.

Employers need to stop hyper-focusing on the external qualities and spend the time, money, and energy to look past their assumptions and strive to understand a person’s actual experience, abilities, and soft skills such as decision-making, communication, and conflict management. There are a variety of unbiased pre and post hire assessment tools that can help them do it. Training on behavior-based interviewing can also help them uncover these strengths and development areas.

The ultimate answer to diversity is individuality. It’s more relevant than culture, more revealing than sex or age, and more meaningful than any other label. In the end you are hiring a person not a representative of any group.

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