Recruiting, Hiring, and Thriving by Focusing on Diversity

Larry SpringStartup Toolkit

Dr. Laurence T. Spring has served as an educator for 30 years, including 15 as a superintendent. He is a consultant to organizations and schools, specializing in change management and equity issues. He writes about the obstacles that prevent effective change management and how organizations can overcome them.


Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) has become an unignorable a priority for the US private sector, with companies spending hundreds of millions of dollars collectively on DE&I initiatives, implementing programs to attract diverse talent and create a culture that supports employees of different backgrounds. Lots of startups are discussing their desires to find and hire diverse candidates — but not all organizations are able to live up to these goals.

The foundational element to wrap your head around is that diversity in hiring is not about creating equity of access for candidates who might be different from you. Diversity in hiring is about creating excellence in your staffing. Homogeneous staffing produces homogenous cultures and groupthink. A 2018 McKinsey report found that organizations that are more diverse outperform their homogeneous counterparts by 35%.

Many organizations have seen these numbers and have come to realize that diversifying their workforce is easier said than done. It helps to think about the process in three phases of a cycle: Recruiting, hiring, and supporting.

To have a diverse workforce, you will need a diverse candidate pool. Recruiting diverse candidates into a work-culture that was created for those that came before them will only make them feel like guest workers, and no one stays as a guest for very long. Recruiters need to go to places they have not traditionally recruited and highlight how their work culture will be supportive, inclusive, and comfortable for all.

One important step is identifying what your workforce is lacking. What populations of people are under-represented, and if they were more present would make your company stronger? Being clear with yourself and setting realistic goals will help recruiters target their efforts and will provide you with helpful feedback about where you need to improve your organizational culture.

Embracing diverse hiring because it strengthens organizations

The hiring process is typically stacked against all applicants, except those that fit the current cultural norms of the organization. Changing this process takes a great deal of effort and can often make existing staff uncomfortable. One traditional hurdle in these hiring processes is the creation of a “blind” process. Hiring professionals will often create a system that they claim keeps them from “seeing” race and ensuring that the “best” candidate is hired.

There are two problems with this approach. The first is that there is no such thing as not seeing race. Race is a core element of everyone’s identity, and trying to not see it is impossible and somewhat inane. Second, researchers have found, again and again, that despite attempts to make the process “blind,” Black and Latino candidates were still less likely to be interviewed and ultimately hired.

Instead, embrace the fact that diversity in your hiring will boost your bottom line and specifically look for those characteristics in your hiring process. Need more color in your programming house? Say so and prioritize programmers of color in the application and interview process. Need more representation from the LGBTQ+ community in the c-suite? State that as a value in the recruiting materials. Make it known that you value diversity because it makes the organization stronger, not just that you want everyone to have an equal chance.

Do your own homework

Last, once you have candidates on board, be mindful that they did not necessarily sign up to be the ambassador for everyone that shares that particular identity. They signed up to be a programmer, or marketing manager, or a process engineer. This means don’t punt all issues related to their identity to them. You still have the leadership role and if you don’t know what you need to know, you can probably ask them. But don’t be surprised if instead of telling you an answer they direct you somewhere else. They are really telling you to do your own homework. If you're not sure why your Friday snack policy doesn’t fly so well during Ramadan, do some reading before you ask someone else for a tutorial. Sometimes asking a person to explain why a practice is harmful or wrong can elicit past traumas for them. Be sensitive and put in your own effort — don’t ask them to do it for you.

Create affinity groups for your new hires

It’s also important to recognize that until your organizational culture reaches a self-sustaining state of inclusivity and support, some of your new hires may feel alone and ill at ease. Be supportive by creating affinity groups that give them an opportunity to connect with others who may be experiencing the same difficulties. Make time for them to meet and make it easy for the group to give you feedback and ideas on how to improve these cultural goals.

Diversity is not simply about giving everyone an equal shot at joining an organization that was built for some people. Diversity is about improving the value of the organization by ensuring the organization is as multifaceted as the rest of the world.

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