The business case for diversity hiring should be the magic bullet

 But it isn’t.  What is it about the business case for diversity hiring that makes us resist? Is the answer our own discomfort?

As anyone involved in gender balanced and diversity hiring will tell you, most organisations insist on hard data to convince them how selecting candidates from a broader and diverse talent pool will impact their bottom line. This is before they will even start to consider any proposal. Research from international companies and bodies is compelling in favour of  both gender balance and diversity. There is evidence based on hard data to suggest that overall ROI including the war on talent, innovation, team effectiveness, market share and overall financial performance.  Yet the needle barely moves.

Unlearning and learning

Building diverse teams requires a significant commitment to change, and involves to quote Yoda:

  “You must unlearn what you have learned”

None of us like to do that. Diversity hiring is part of a major transformation processes for most businesses. Change management, especially one that involves changing ourselves is never comfortable. It’s also hard to manage for all concerned, as Euan Semple commented on the start-up stage at the recent UNLEASH London conference. “Organisations don’t want transformation, they just want tweaking.” 

Homogeneous teams based on “cultural fit” are always easier to manage. Personalities which will disrupt the status quo, bringing alternative approaches to shake things up are hired less frequently. What everyone is looking for is new hires who will onboard easily and make an early contribution to the balance sheet. This is short-term thinking. Many of us have wondered how the plethora of recent marketing campaigns such as the recent Heineken ad “Sometimes Lighter is Better” made it through the many layers of corporate approval. Pulled almost as soon as it was released under accusations of racism, the actual cost of such a faux pas must have been significant, not to mention the negative brand impact.

Set against the data from the Association of National Advertisers, only 3%  of the top jobs are held by African-Americans  in the US, so it’s easy to understand how homogeneous group-think  can endanger yet another important brand.  It’s imperative that companies understand the business significance of failing to create an open environment where input comes from a diverse range of sources. Yet, we continue ignore the business case for diversity, without thinking through the consequences. What organisations are unable to do is to provide metrics, the opportunity cost, of not pursuing diverse hiring initiatives to build teams with a broader base.

The role of HR

HR should be a key player in any  key transformation. Yet as a function it can be frequently here that change initiatives are stymied and people ask why they don’t do more. Kristen Pressner, Global Head of HR for Roche Diagnostics in her keynote at the same UNLEASH conference, focused on individual responses to change. She paid particular attention to how our own brains and unconscious biases interfere with our objective decision-making.  HR leadership she says, should be more proactive as the “disruptors that drive strategic change” rather than slipping into a default role of offering safe, tried and tested options. She cites an example of a waitress or waiter might offer a diner “red or white wine, sparkling or still water?”

Pressner shares in her TedX talk her personal “eureka” moment. Despite being a female leader and an advocate for professional women, she still had gender coded expectations.  She saw women as carers and home makers and men as revenue generators, even though she is the principle wage earner in her family of 6 and her husband is a stay-at home-dad. She cautioned that our own biases can frequently hold us back as individuals and therefore our organisations. Overcoming our own biases and the way we have always done things, is going to be key in finding innovative solutions to talent management challenges and improving our diversity hiring ratios.

Getting comfortable with discomfort

It’s clear that inclusion can be achieved with homogeneous teams, but to be really effective it has to be based on diversity. This can come with friction. We don’t like that and most of us try to avoid it, which is why we continue to ignore the compelling business case for diversity hiring. Inclusion is a feeling and diversity is a fact, with many elements clearly measurable and visible. It is more difficult to quantify our invisible biases such as neuro-diversity, communication and learning styles and personality types and relate those factors to tangible financial outcomes. So leaders have to get beyond the business case for building diverse and gender balanced teams. They have to embrace the long-term process, because it is the right thing to do for an organisation.

Euan Semple was asked at UNLEASH what he would do if management, don’t or won’t change to address managerial and cultural assumptions as part of “digital transformation.  He responded unequivocally “senior management has to take responsibility and move, or remove, people.” This is about making individual managers accountable for change and rewarding them accordingly.

Remember Yoda also said “awaken the greatness within.

Check out the 3Plus gender balanced and diversity hiring services

Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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