I had six different conversations about diversity this week. Of all the methods I use to come up with content for this blog, I take the synchronicity rule most seriously—if six different people want help to think through the topic of diversity in one week, it’s time to write a post.
Here are some of the questions that come up in conversations about diversity:
- Is it time for some new blood in our organization?
- What can we do to convince managers not to hire in their own image?
- How could my team better reflect my customers?
- How do we prevent new people from flaming out in their first year?
- Does my team have enough visible minorities and women to avoid a raid by the HR police?
As you can tell, some crave diversity on their teams while others resist (or at best tolerate) the idea that novel thought might contribute to better performance. I’m a big believer in diversity on teams, particularly when the role of the team is to innovate. So, how to go about increasing diversity on your team…
Diversity is diverse
Important efforts to bolster the representation of racial, cultural, gender and other minority groups in organizations has created too narrow a focus on diversity. Yes, you need to think about these variables. You also need to stock your team with broader industry experience, more global experience, and different styles and strengths in terms of personality and perspective. On what dimension is your team too homogeneous and how can you change that?
Cast a wide net
The reason it’s so hard to move the needle on hiring people who think differently is that they are less likely to be in your line of vision (or you in theirs) and therefore less likely to be recruited to your team. Use your precious network to be on the lookout—sending you interesting people to meet even when you don’t have a job for them. Ask your friends to be on the lookout “for someone who might add a valuable perspective to my team.”
Don’t scare them off
Now imagine the irony when you reject these diverse candidates for thinking differently than you! But that’s what happens all the time. “She doesn’t have an MBA.” “He’s never worked in banking.” “He just moved here from Hong Kong and doesn’t know anyone.” Yes. People who are different are different…that’s the point. Don’t let your interview focus on how the person could do what you already do; make it about how the person could help you do things better.
Ensure they implant
Prepare the team for the arrival of someone who thinks differently. Set the expectation that conversations might be a little different and model openness to new ideas through your own questions and reactions. While you’re at it, make sure you’re having private conversations with the new person about how they are experiencing the team and the organization and find ways to respond to any concerns promptly.
Increasing the diversity on your team is a matter of deciding that it’s important, thinking broadly about what diversity means to you, and then systematically finding and attracting people who bring something new to the mix. From there, it’s all about valuing the unique perspective you worked so hard to bring in. If you don’t, you’ll be back to square one.