Recently, I had the honor of moderating a panel of senior executives speaking about diversity and innovation at a leadership conference in New York City. The main thesis of the panel topic was that companies can increase the quality and volume of insights and ideas by increasing their level of diversity, an idea that seems simple at the surface but complex after digging in.

I learned a lot from the panelist over the ninety minutes we had together. It turns out that while increasing diversity does increase innovation--thus making a company more competitive--there are still two big challenges associated with actually changing the makeup of an organization that must be addressed.

The first challenge is that like attracts like. An organization will naturally find and attract people similar to itself. People tend to interact, gravitate, and gel with people like themselves. Without conscious and concerted effort to seek and recruit different, things won't change.

The second one is that the biases that influence diversity in our companies are primarily unconscious, not conscious, so it's not enough to just say to ourselves, don't be biased. Moreover, we've generally moved past the days of overt segregation and discrimination. Therefore the biases we need to grapple with now are the unconscious biases. And by definition, we can't think our way out of this problem. Instead, we need to find outside systems, techniques, processes, and guidelines that structurally prevent or offset these unconscious biases.

Below are five strategies you can use to counteract the natural like attracts like phenomena and unconscious biases we have which will increase the level of diversity in your organization.

1. Increase the diversity of your recruiting team

Because like attracts like, consciously making your recruiting team more diverse will tend to attract candidates who are more diverse. Different members from diverse teams will still tend to seek out people like themselves, but that also perpetuates the diversity. Candidates in turn will feel more engaged and willing to consider a company with a more diverse recruiting team which will also carry on the value of diversity in these teams.

2. Fish in different pools

Einstein was the one who said that doing the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. So if you want different people, you need start by looking in different places. Search for candidate sources that have a high concentration of your target demographic and diversity makeup. When you find them, disproportionately push job openings and attend recruiting events in these new pools.

3. Use objective criteria for evaluation

Develop and weigh interviewing criteria that use objective measures and exclude bias. Don't use questions such as "does it feel like a good fit" or "would you put them on your team?" to evaluate candidates. A better approach is to have one group do the interviews and collect the data, and then another group make the hiring decisions only after being scrubbed of information that contains bias. For example, remove and/or replace names that suggest sex, race, religion, orientation or age.

4. Make hiring decisions as a group

Collective discussion and debate will be more likely to uncover and challenge biases. Because candidates are discussed based on rational discussion, it's less likely that they will be hired on a hunch or a feeling. Train hiring decision makers to bring up bias-thinking traps and how to confront each other constructively.

5. Give extra credit for diverse candidates

Before you scream "quota" or "affirmative action," my point here is that candidates who have been a minority in a given environment and have achieved a high level of success have had to over perform relative to non-minority candidates. Basically, they have to be better than the other to overcome that bias. They also have had the persistence, resilience, and fortitude to not just survive, but excel in their positions. This often means that hiring the minority means you're getting a better candidate.

Changing the diversity profile of your company is not easy, but tackling the challenge using processes and techniques that counter natural tendencies and unconscious biases can begin to make progress. As with many change efforts, slow and steady wins the race.

Published on: Aug 16, 2017