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How (And Why) to Increase Organizational Diversity

June 23, 2016

organizational-diversity.jpgIncreasing diversity seems to be a goal shared by most companies these days. The concept of rounding out your workforce by adding more diverse employees is not a new one, but the recent surge in the number of companies claiming to be committed to diversity raises the question of how many of them are truly invested in the cause and how many are promoting the idea, but not taking appropriate steps to become a diverse workforce. Unfortunately, some organizations do fall into the latter category, adding ‘Diversity’ to their list of corporate values, but not taking the right steps to achieve diversity.

These organizations are missing out because there are direct, demonstrable benefits to increasing a workforce’s diversity. There are many companies that genuinely strive to make themselves more diverse, but the process behind this transition is not always clear or obvious. Below are some steps that can help guide the introduction of diversification efforts into a workplace.

Making the short term investment to bring in employees with varied backgrounds, life experiences, cultures, and perspectives has a visible impact on an organization’s bottom line. A more diverse workforce leads to a greater share of the industry’s customer base, as having employees from varied cultures and backgrounds allows you to connect more effectively with customers from those same areas. In a similar vein, diversity leads to a higher quality employee base, as making a point to recruit from a larger base of individuals leads to a higher chance of finding the most qualified applicants.

This translates into lower involuntary turnover, as there isn’t as much of a need to let go of poor performers if there aren’t as many of them in the first place, saving money on costs associated with frequently hiring new candidates. Finally, diversity can impact incumbent productivity levels, as the diffusion of new problem-solving strategies and perspectives that come with having employees from different backgrounds leads to the adoption of those strategies and solutions by others, increasing overall effectiveness. In the context of the bottom line, not following through on diversity efforts translates to leaving money on the table.

When the order comes down to "diversify our workforce" without additional input, the prospect of tackling such an important but poorly defined undertaking can be daunting. Fortunately, there are some basic steps that can help begin the process.

1) Communicate the Reasons for the Initiative

Before beginning any major organizational initiative, it’s critical to explain the reasoning behind it to those that it will affect. This could include the incumbents, department leadership, or other stakeholders. The key is to be transparent and explain how you believe it will benefit the company in the long run. Being honest with them and not trying to keep your cards unnecessarily close to your chest will help gain buy-in and decrease any potential resistance.

2) Determine Appropriate Areas for Focused Efforts

After help getting other internal proponents on board, the next step is to figure out where exactly the best areas for increasing diversity would be. Should you focus on encouraging current employees with diverse backgrounds to share relevant experiences or thoughts on how processes can be improved? Or should you try to revamp aspects of your hiring system to bring more diverse individuals on board? The latter option is a popular choice as hiring is rather constant in most organizations, and slightly tweaking an existing process that already serves one purpose to now serve two can help reduce potential waste of resources.

However, there is a fine line to walk when planning to increase diversity through hiring. Many hiring managers tasked with bringing in more diverse employees can overreach, meaning they may overlook other aspects of an applicant simply because they may be a more diverse candidate. This cannot be allowed to occur, as it can open organizations up to legal risk. To avoid situations such as this, make sure to update all job descriptions you’re currently hiring for with the most current requirements and qualifications.

Ensure that job analyses have been conducted to define the requirements for success on the job. This way, you can align your selection process and decisions around the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to perform the job effectively. Conducting up to date job analyses and creating job descriptions against which to compare a large and diverse applicant pool will help to ensure you bring in candidates who are both diverse and well qualified.

3) Monitor Vigilantly

After you’ve put in place your proposed solution for increasing diversity, be vigilant about overseeing it. Listen to any and all concerns, fix issues in real time where possible, and take note of how the process can be improved for next time. Taking the time to understand all of the pros and cons will show that you’ve done your homework, and give your superiors the confidence needed to allow the solution to be ramped up in terms of scale.

These are just a few general ideas and strategies aimed to get the diversity ball rolling. While absolutely an admirable endeavor, ‘increasing diversity’ can be a somewhat ambiguous task, so using these steps as a jumping off point will help build a solid foundation for a worthwhile organizational initiative.

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Greg Kedenburg Greg Kedenburg is an I/O Psychologist who previously worked for PSI. He is living and working in Chicago, IL.