You may have first-hand experience with the business benefits and strategic advantages that accompany a culturally or racially diverse workforce.
You may even recognize that a diverse employee population where everyone feels included and their voice is heard is the simply right thing to do.
But, like me, you may not know where and how to start your DEI journey.
The challenges of diversity recruitment
This is particularly apparent in some industries including manufacturing (with which I have considerable experience), where 22.4% of respondents to Workable’s recent DEI survey indicated that they want to invest in DEI but don’t know where to start.
This challenge can be compounded where geography and demographics make it difficult to recruit diverse candidates and build diverse teams.
There may also be some discomfort that comes with pursuing a diversity strategy. After all, if you don’t already come from a diverse background or environment, engaging with others who are different from you can at first feel intimidating and uncertain.
To build and lead diverse teams, the approach I believe works best is to start by following your curiosity.
The staples of a diversity recruiting strategy
Growing up in a small town in Newfoundland, Canada, in the eighties was a very homogenous experience for me. With only one or two visible minority families in my town of 3,500, and probably less than 100 in the province at that time, diversity had yet to flourish in this flung part of the world.
But that didn’t mean that diversity didn’t exist.
For example, I remember one boy with whom I was friends being the cultural anomaly in my community as he was the only Pakistani kid in town. His name was Jesse and although we went to different schools, we played together and hung out during 5th and 6th grade.
For me, it was fascinating to be around him and his family. They spoke English with an accent, had different customs and beliefs, and ate the most amazing food. I was curious about his culture and did what any kid would do when they want to learn more: I asked a lot of questions and was continually inspired to learn more.
There are a few important lessons here that have since guided my curiosity about diversity:
- A spark is often needed to light the flame of curiosity. I love to eat so, naturally, my spark was food!
- It’s OK to ask questions about other peoples’ cultures and experiences respectfully.
- By being curious and continually learning about other people’s lives and unique experiences, you can add value to your life – and theirs.
Why is a diverse recruitment strategy important?
Apply that spark to your business: why does it matter to establish a diversity recruiting strategy in your workplace?
There are two prevailing arguments about why leaders should implement DEI policies within their organization: it’s good for business (21.7% according to the aforementioned DEI at work survey) and it’s the right thing to do (50.6%).
I’ve been fortunate in my career to be a part of many different types of teams, from homogenous teams that look and sound exactly like me, to teams with an incredible diversity of thought, opinion, and idea, with people from different cultural, disability, socioeconomic, religious, and political backgrounds.
I’m my experience building and leading diverse teams, here’s what I’ve found:
- Diverse teams strike a good balance between speed and quality when solving problems. They develop more innovative solutions in less time, which leads to more profitable solutions.
- Diverse teams have a functionally reserved professionalism that’s engendered through mutual trust and respect. I’ve always found this hard to put my finger on, but this fabric of professionalism keeps cliques, clubbiness, and groupthink at bay and is unique to diverse teams. When harnessed and employed toward common goals, this professionalism leads to better results.
- Diverse teams are more resilient. Much like in nature, a disturbance to a diverse ecosystem (for example, the stress created with a new project) is hardly noticeable, while a disturbance to a homogenous ecosystem can be disastrous (think homogeneity and the end of the dinosaurs).
Now that you know the top “whys” of diversity recruiting, you must define your own purpose if diversity is to become an integral and sustainable part of your business. Once you do, here are a few steps to help you build and lead diverse teams.
How can you diversify your recruiting process?
Pursue your curiosity. The process of building a diverse team starts with you as the leader and your curiosity about diversity. It can be hard to know where to start, so here’s one option: Identify someone in your network whose background is different than yours who you’re curious about and with whom you can engage. Invite them for a coffee or a virtual get-to-know-you lunch. Let them know why you’re curious and start by sharing something about yourself. Don’t feel as though you need to pepper the conversation with diversity-based questions; just get to know them and you’ll each share your experiences naturally.
Seek new sources of talent where diverse candidates are located. This might be particularly relevant if your local talent pool is not diverse and your recruiting methods have traditionally returned a great deal of homogeneity in your candidates. Check out the diversity Working site as one potential source for your diversity recruiting strategy.
Hire ‘anonymously’. For the next position for which you hire, use anonymized screening tools when reviewing resumes and behavioral assessments to minimize ever-present unconscious biases. This means identifying the skills, knowledge, and abilities of the person you need upfront, in addition to their behavior style.
How can you lead a diverse team?
- Know yourself. Determine your behavioral style (using a DISC method or similar) to understand better how you will lead collaboration and constructive conflict on your behaviorally diverse team.
- Actively promote diversity with inclusivity. As gung-ho as you may be to build more diverse teams, the reality is that it’s not going to stick or be sustainable if you’re missing the inclusion piece. Take the pulse of your employees with a survey – do they feel like you’re listening to them? There’s a good chance it’s not as good as you think. For your employees, being able to voice their concerns, contribute new ideas, and provide feedback is important. To be truly inclusive as a leader, you need to start by listening.
- Celebrate the differences of your diverse team, using this as an opportunity to add depth to the relationship between team members. Start with something casual like a culturally focused potluck where everyone on the team brings their favorite dish or a lunch and learn event where your team has the opportunity to learn and ask questions about someone else’s culture. In my experience, one of the most effective ways to break down barriers is through the shared enjoyment of eating together. Be sure to celebrate the differences equally – check out these 10 ideas to celebrate diversity.
We’re all in this together
If you’re feeling stuck in building a diversity recruitment strategy because of a lack of a diverse personal background, you’re not alone.
It can be hard to know where to start to build a diverse team, and that’s why I recommend you start with your own curiosity. Getting started in diversity recruiting can be innate and within your control, and doesn’t involve a big initial investment.
Let your diversity grow, nurture it in others, and you’ll be amazed at how exciting it can be to build diverse teams and realize the outsized results they can generate.
Luke Sheppard is an executive, manager, and engineer from the heavy equipment industry turned coach, consultant, and speaker. He’s the author of the new book Driving Great Results: Master The Tools You Need To Run A Great Business. Learn more at consultsheppard.com.