Everyone talks about diversity. After all, building a diverse work force is not just the right thing to do. Companies with diverse work forces are 45% more likely to report that their firm's market share grew over the previous year, and 70% more likely to report that their company captured a new market.

But how do you actually build a diverse work force?

The following is from Suresh Khanna, chief revenue officer and head of diversity for AdRoll, a leading performance marketing platform with over 30,000 clients worldwide.

Here's Suresh:

Employee referrals are the lifeblood of Silicon Valley recruiting -- but they don't always produce the diverse work forces that can drive companies to outperform. We recently learned this firsthand when we discovered our own unconscious recruiting bias.

I've never believed that companies would become diverse just for diversity's sake. There needs to be a genuine business case for it, and there is: Diverse work forces -- with a range of perspectives and life experiences to draw from -- solve problems faster, make better decisions, and build superior products.

Unlike fake news, diversity forces teams to challenge each other's assumptions instead of creating an echo chamber for similar ideas. And it shows in the numbers: Ethnically diverse companies are 35 percent more likely to financially outperform their industry medians.

So it naturally came as a shock when I learned that we had bias in my own company's recruiting process that was keeping us from hiring the very best talent.

It's been almost two years since we recognized our unconscious bias, but we tackled it full force and have started to move the needle. We've increased our hiring rate of women in leadership roles by 67 percent since setting diversity recruiting goals. Our hiring rate of underrepresented minorities has improved by 18 percent.

We've also boosted our hiring rate of women in technical roles, such as engineering and product management, by 36 percent.

Here are some of the steps we took -- and lessons others can follow -- to combat bias and embrace a diverse work force.

1. Follow the data.

As a technology company, we wanted to be as data driven as possible with our diversity and inclusion initiatives. How do you know what your close rate is on underrepresented minorities, for example, unless you're constantly measuring it and tracking it?

Benchmarking our progress has been crucial to our success so far. We used Culture Amp to create a survey, compare ourselves against other, similar-size tech companies, and promote dialogue between our employees. We also worked with McKinsey & Company, whose survey on women in the workplace illuminates why companies don't have more women in leadership roles.

These measures ensure that our diversity goals are achievable and that we're held accountable to them.

2. Set specific diversity goals.

We've embodied one of AdRoll's core values -- transparency -- by setting clear and trackable goals for our recruiting team. After much debate, we decided to prioritize hiring women in technical roles and leadership roles and hiring underrepresented minorities such as African Americans, Native Americans, and Latinos in technical roles.

Although we've long had grassroots diversity initiatives, setting these goals openly and outright has given our employees -- from our CEO to me and all the way down -- a platform to share our aspirations of becoming a more diverse and inclusive company. We kicked off our diversity initiative by announcing our goals internally and creating a task force to pursue them.

We recognize that diversity is going to mean something different to every organization, so we've tried to define what it means to us and how we want to measure the progress of our initiative.

3. Encourage concrete feedback.

We have always required feedback from every interviewer on every interviewee. And we found this phrase that kept popping up in the submissions: "great culture fit."

But let's face it, what does that actually mean? So we defined what it means for AdRoll: Having a growth mindset, being a lifelong learner, or having a positive outlook and presence at work is all part of our organization's DNA.

Being a great drinking buddy, on the other hand, is less important to our decision making.

And then we pushed our employees to give as detailed feedback as possible. Restricting employees' vague feedback and encouraging them to be as specific as possible has given our recruiters new insights into the candidates they bring in for interviews. You won't find phrases like "great culture fit" on our evaluations anymore, because we've banned them.

4. Find your identity.

At the root of our diversity initiative is a question: What kind of company do we want to be? To find this out, you need more than data.

We've hosted town hall discussions in all of our offices with our executive team so employees could let us know what they thought of working at AdRoll.

I'd be lying if I said it was easy -- there were many moments of awkward silence in those forums before some brave soul stepped forward to share a thought. But over time we became more comfortable talking about these things out in the open.

We also set up Slack channels to facilitate conversations about our diversity push with one another and take ownership of our progress. And we reached out to other tech companies on the bleeding edge of diversity recruiting to learn their best practices and any tactics we could emulate.

Creating a diverse work force is harder than it may appear and takes time. We still have a ways to go to reach the goals we've set for ourselves. By discovering and addressing our own biases, we've opened ourselves up to people who might never have worked here.

That's not just the right thing to do -- it sets us up for success for years to come.

Published on: Mar 22, 2017
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