A diverse workplace is not just a tool to impress prospective minority hires. Companies with a wide range of employees enjoy broader skill sets, experiences, and points of view, all of which combine to give diverse companies a powerful advantage over homogenous ones.

Unfortunately, the benefits of diversity remain a mystery to many employers. Last summer's infamous anti-diversity memo by James Damore, a since ousted Google employee, testifies to that fact. As a surprising number of people defended Damore's position -- primarily his argument that women's biology inhibits their abilities as leaders -- it's clear that some companies remain unconvinced about the value of diversity in the office.

The issue goes far beyond gender. People of different races, sexual orientations, and other differentiating factors all bring something unique to the table, but many leaders defend their choice not to diversify by arguing that cognitive diversity (the diversity of each person's unique life experiences) is more important. Unless these leaders can show that minority candidates lack necessary skills their current employees have, however, focusing on cognitive diversity is simply an excuse to maintain the status quo.

The Reality of Workplace Demographics

Statistics released by Information Is Beautiful do not paint a flattering picture of diversity in today's tech industry. While the U.S. population is split about evenly between men and women, the data shows that only a few companies have balanced workforces. Asian-Americans make up just 4 percent of the total U.S. population, yet most tech workforces studied were more than 30 percent Asian. And although Latinos and African-Americans both account for 12 percent of the population, only four of the 23 companies studied had double-digit percentage representation of either demographic.

Why is diversity such a challenge when 85 percent of large global enterprises say it is crucial for innovation? And, if innovation is the biggest differentiating factor in tech, how can tech companies make diversity a priority in practice?

Creative talent marketplace Working Not Working is partnering with Saturday Morning to address the issue through a joint venture called "The Future." Through scholarships and funding, the two organizations will provide opportunities for students of color and those from underserved communities to compete with wealthier students for coveted internships that often lead to more lucrative positions. The Future will launch in early 2018.

Partnerships like this one are a good start, but to address the long-term challenge of diversity, company leaders must change their mindsets about the issue.

How to Increase Diversity and Boost Performance

Don't focus on diversity for diversity's sake. Promote diversity because heterogeneous workforces are better, stronger, and more able to adapt than homogenous ones.
Follow these strategies to create a diverse workforce that will drive innovation and exceed expectations:

1. Develop an equal opportunity policy.

Diversity takes conscious effort to create. Become an equal opportunity employer to show minority candidates that they are welcome. Put together a hiring committee that will ensure the policy is observed, and brainstorm ideas for attracting more diverse candidates. Make diversity part of the company's core values, so everyone within the organization knows that this is not a one-time initiative.

2. Be transparent about hiring criteria.

Some current employees might question whether this new policy is designed to find the best candidates or fill secret quotas. Open up hiring criteria to scrutiny and allow everyone to see that the diversity efforts are not designed to hit some arbitrary target, but to give equally qualified minority candidates a fair chance to secure employment. Provide diversity training to employees to help them understand the reasoning behind the new practices.

3. Improve retention of minority workers.

Bringing minority hires on board is only half the battle. Develop an inclusive workplace where minority candidates feel appreciated and have opportunities to advance. Promote mentorship programs to connect lower-level employees to management chains and create a path for employees to ascend the ranks. When someone does choose to leave, conduct an exit interview to find out why. If minority hires feel uncomfortable or undervalued, identify ways to correct those imbalances so future employees don't leave for the same reasons.

4. Analyze problems and adapt.

Biases can creep into even the most innocuous job postings, interviews, and office relationships. Train managers and HR team members to spot their biases and avoid writing or speaking in ways that unconsciously deter minority candidates. Track demographic data on all hires, to see where along the recruitment pipeline minority candidates tend to fall out.

5. Implement workplace flexibility.

People from different cultures and religions require different things from their workplaces. Don't try to force round pegs into square holes -- write flexible policies with work-from-home options and generous time off, then encourage employees to use that time. When companies offer flexibility in writing but not in practice, employees feel cheated and start looking for new work. Encourage managers to lead by example, taking days off and working remotely on occasion, so employees feel empowered to do the same.

Diversity doesn't mean giving some candidates an unfair advantage over others. Workplace diversity initiatives exist to correct imbalances that are already present in hiring practices and office politics. Follow these steps to build a more diverse workplace, take advantage of a wider pool of candidates, and become a leader in fostering change.

Published on: Dec 4, 2017
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