How to Hire for Diversity and Reap the Benefits

Hiring struggles endure as companies try to employ and retain the talent needed to grow their businesses. The Great Resignation (or Great Reshuffle) continues in many industries as people consider new post-pandemic options. While nearly 4.3 million people in the U.S. quit their jobs in January (2022), there were also 11.3 million job openings, according to the latest report from the U.S. Department of Labor. What does this mean for hiring?

In my last blog post, I wrote about how to lead with empathy in hiring and recruitment practices. Part of leading with empathy is to make sure our workplaces are representative of the society we live in by implementing effective diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) hiring practices. This post will explore how companies and hiring managers can help make an impact, even when talent may be scarce.

There is much lip service given to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and some companies are making strides, but many companies are not. This quote resonated with me as a goal for DEI initiatives:

“As a society, if we begin to shape our practices around how we treat people, how our work environments are structured, the Great Reshuffle will end,” states Gina Ganesh, VP of People and Culture at Florence Healthcare. Treating all people well is the right thing to do. And hiring diverse candidates drives real progress, including bottom-line business results.

Diversity Drives Business Results

It has been proven that ethnically diverse companies perform 36% better than companies that are not. We’ll dive into that stat in a minute, but first, some important definitions and distinctions when thinking about a DEI recruiting strategy.

  • Diversity is the range of differences that make people unique, both seen and unseen. (Be mindful that diversity includes not only race and gender, but age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, physical disabilities, and neurodiversity).
  • Inclusion is an environment that engages multiple perspectives, different ideas, and individuals to define organizational policy and culture.

Remember, when you hire for diversity, you get the benefits of inclusion.

An important point according to Janet Stovall, Executive Communications Manager at UPS, in her TED talk. “Let’s be clear: diversity and inclusion are not the same things. Diversity is a numbers game. Inclusion is about impact. Companies can mandate diversity, but they have to cultivate inclusion.”  Stovall is also clear that businesses can be a key force to dismantle racism.

McKinsey has done a series of studies on the topic of DEI and the latest study encompasses 15 countries and more than 1,000 large companies. This latest report, titled Diversity Wins shows that the relationship between diversity on executive teams and the likelihood of financial outperformance has strengthened over time.

See original source for all chart footnotes.

McKinsey explored how different approaches to inclusion and diversity could have shaped the trajectories of the companies in their data set and found two critical factors: a systematic business-led approach to inclusion and diversity, and bold action on inclusion.

One Leader’s Story on Building a Diverse Organization

The business case for DEI is there, but it’s not always easy. I’d like to (anonymously) share the story of a friend of mine who was trying to increase diverse hiring his organization.

He was the head of AI software for products at a Fortune 500 company and specifically set out to hire more female engineers. He met with his managers and discussed ideas. He challenged his staff to look through LinkedIn for candidates. He spent one morning combing through LinkedIn and personally wrote 100 cold/semi-cold emails to prospects.

I think it’s important to note that he didn’t delegate it out. From this initial outreach, he received 35 responses, and he reached out personally to all.  Then he interviewed and hired several of these women.  After a period of one year, 20% of his team were women – from less than 5% – and the percentages were still climbing.  

A couple of things had to happen to make this work. He told his staff that they needed to get involved and invest in their networks – both college alumni networks and other networks of friends and past colleagues.  He made it clear that hiring for diversity is key in jobs at every level. He also made sure that candidates met a diverse group of people within the company during interviews.  His staff was taught to follow up with every candidate personally.  These may seem like small things, but they were game changers for both the new employees and the organization’s depth.

Unfortunately, there is bad news here. Two years after this initiative, there was a full reorganization and my friend parted ways with this company. The commitment to hiring for diversity was not sustained, the DEI focus faded within the organization, and progress was lost. I believe that the moral of this story is that enabling real change takes both time and commitment, and awareness is only the first step.

Beyond the Rooney Rule

The “Rooney Rule” – a diversity initiative started by the National Football League that calls for interviewing minority candidates for top jobs – has been adopted by corporate America, but experts believe it hasn’t made much of an impact.

As companies release detailed information about the diversity of their workforces, the data shows that women and people of color are well-represented in the lowest rungs of many company workforces, but there’s often little representation in leadership roles and board positions. When companies adopt a Rooney Rule, they’re pledging to add at least one candidate to their interview pool to increase gender and racial diversity, but that’s usually not enough to foster real change.

To make a meaningful impact, hiring managers should aim to interview a slate of candidates that’s 30% diverse, according to Alina Polonskaia, global leader of the D&I practice at executive recruiter Korn Ferry. Companies could also set a standard of having their executive ranks mirror the gender and race breakdown of the usually much-more-diverse entry-level workforce. In addition, employers should also use the same diversity standards they are applying for new hires to people being considered for promotions.

How Diversity can be Your Superpower

Let’s take a look at a study focused on hiring for B2B sales roles. This study by Forrester, commissioned by Outreach, confirms it is time for us all to commit to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Since sellers are the first point of contact for a company, sales reps must represent the world around them, and organizations must commit to DEI or risk losing revenue and talent.

Sales leaders understand the need for diverse teams; 67% of respondents say it’s important for their team to represent the world around them. However, although sales respondents in North America say DEI is important, they are not ranking DEI efforts over other priorities. Respondents ranked almost every other sales leadership skill before DEI. Yet, customers are demanding diversity now.

A separate Forrester Study on Diversity Drives Sales Success, reports the following metrics:

  • 60% of respondents stated that diversity within their sales team has contributed to their teams’ success.
  • 82% predict that the racial or ethnic diversity of their sales team will be equally or more important in the next two years.
  • 72% believe that DEI will play an equally important or more important role in business decisions in the next two years.

They conclude that companies with strong DEI practices have better-performing sales teams, including higher forecasts, higher conversion rates, and higher sales attainment.

How to Walk the Walk

The Inclusion Solution blog points out, “it’s not just about introducing shiny new initiatives and hiring the first head of DEIBJ (diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and justice) — it’s about displaying a real, sustainable commitment to these efforts through financial and human resources deployed over time… not just when the cameras are rolling and the topic is trending.” 

To that end, here are some strategies and ideas on how to walk the walk and incorporated diversity in your hiring to reap the benefits of inclusivity. Some are tactical tips, others are broader, more strategic initiatives gathered from the reports, experts, and sources mentioned in this blog.

  • Focus on developing an equitable talent process, purposely create diverse and inclusive teams, and create development programs for under-represented groups. (Korn Ferry)
  • When conducting campus recruiting, think beyond Ivy League schools and schools you may be personally connected to, and consider Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) (Excelencia in Education)
  • A “work from anywhere” environment can foster diversity hires. In an all-virtual environment, there are very few limitations in terms of where to find talent. (Bloomberg)
  • Challenge your definitions of “professionalism” and “leadership” within your organization – and then hire and promote diverse leaders. (Mac’s List)
  • Broaden your lens on DE&I, including embracing neurodiversity. One big benefit of an inclusive work culture is that it fosters diversity of thought, different approaches to work, innovation, and creativity. (Deloitte)
  • Provide education around and try to use inclusive language. (Mac’s List)
  • Training is a good start, but mature organizations do more. Leaders need to model inclusive behavior, and the organization as a whole needs to value and measure progress toward DEI goals. (Forrester)
  • Strengthen leadership accountability and capabilities for inclusion and diversity (I&D). Companies should place their core-business leaders and managers at the heart of the I&D effort—beyond the HR function or employee resource-group leaders. (McKinsey)
  • Enable equality of opportunity through fairness and transparency. Deploy analytics tools to show that promotions, pay processes, and the criteria behind them, are transparent and fair. (McKinsey)
  • If companies want to do a better job of retaining diverse talent, they can’t go back to “business as usual.” It’s time to make work more equitable, and while flexibility is not the panacea, it is a step in the right direction. (Harvard Business Review)
  • Workers overall want to feel like their boss cares about them. Gen Z wants a culture built on mental health and wellness. (LinkedIn)
  • Flexibility is increasingly prized, particularly by underrepresented groups. Leaders who hope to retain top talent and maintain diversity must act swiftly and deliberately to counter the forces of proximity bias. (i.e., if managers spend most of their time working in the office, that is likely to lead to a double standard of valuing employees who also come into the office). (Future Forum)
  • Continue pushing the conversation forward, even if you don’t have all the answers. DEI strategy is an essential element of building a strong business that is able to attract and retain great talent and connect with a diverse customer base. (Forrester)

As you search out new talent, there are a lot of nuances that you need to consider. Your HR team may have guidelines, and you may want to “go with your gut” in terms of what is right, but there are many factors and issues involved. Educate yourself and become an agent for change, dedicating the time and commitment necessary to foster inclusivity for all.

MIT delta v Founder’s Talks Culminate with Hayley Sudbury of WERKIN

Hayley Sudbury – photo courtesy of MIT delta v

This summer, MIT’s delta v accelerator program for student entrepreneurs was adapted as a virtual experience. Although this called for a flexibility and creativity all around, one of the benefits was that we were able to virtually connect with some amazing speakers.

Our Founder’s Talk Series let us hear about journeys of successful entrepreneurs, the challenges they’ve had to face, and their advice for our students. This year, we were lucky enough to hear from: Eleanor Carey, an Australian adventurer who gave an inspiring talk relating to the realities of entrepreneurship; George Petrovas, a serial entrepreneur who shared his founder journey; John Belizaire, CEO of Soluna, who spoke about leadership; Perry Cohen, Founder and Executive Director of The Venture Out Project who spoke about his journey; and Ed Baker, Investor, Entrepreneur, and Growth Specialist, previously with Uber and Facebook, who talked to students on scaling their businesses.

We concluded the series by speaking with Hayley Sudbury, founder and CEO of WERKIN, a company that raises the visibility of underrepresented talent. What Hayley and her team are doing at WERKIN is extremely important because although people talk about diversity and inclusion in companies, they don’t always know what to do about it. Here’s a short recap of what we learned from Hayley during her Founder’s Talk.

Overlapping Boundaries between Work and Life

Hayley commented that the boundaries between work and life have formally collapsed since March 2020 when the pandemic hit, and we all went remote. But also, there’s a bit of a trend toward moving back to our true humanity of who we are as people and the businesses we want to build to create change.

As an Aussie Brit, openly gay, tech, female CEO, Hayley jokes that she seems to tick a few boxes around “different.” She comments that getting a more diverse mix of founders will help create change in the world.

Driving Forces for Founding WERKIN

From her job at large bank managing a £ 50 billion balance sheet, Hayley notes she looked around and realized, there were no women above her, and there were certainly no gay women.

Even for the most extroverted types, it’s important to be able to see the version of yourself in life, as you look to create an aspirational pathway for your career or the businesses that you’re building. For Hayley, this was a real motivation to kind of get out and do something different.

Creating Inclusivity and Belonging at Scale for Business

WERKIN is very much focused on helping companies create inclusion and belonging at scale. The name comes from “We Are Kin” – and is dedicated to building a kinship and community within a workplace, helping employees feel visible and supported every day.

With the death of George Floyd earlier this year, there is a greater global awareness that we’re operating in a world where not all is equal. Race is a very important conversation that’s being had right now. This has opened up a broader conversation around consumers demanding more from companies – both companies we work for, and companies that we want to purchase from. Whoever we are, and whatever our lived experience or background is, how we choose to spend our money creates power.

Millennials, particularly, make decisions around wanting to work for a purpose-led organization. They expect more. They expect organizations to not only talk about being equal and fair and transparent, they demand that they are. And they’re looking for the data to kind of back that up as well.

WERKIN has been on a mission for quite a long time around helping organizations create this and inclusion and belonging. But now it feels like there’s much more of a sense of urgency and importance. CEOs are realizing if you really want a different result, you must do different things, and this year has really tipped the balance.

It Started with Mentoring

The seed for WERKIN starting with mentoring and sponsorship, which essentially go hand-in-hand. It’s the stuff that people do for you. It’s the doors that get opened. It’s the connection that someone makes for you to a colleague. It’s those small actions.

So, we looked at ways to democratize this idea of access to the right people, so that you’re visible, and the traditional “having beers in the pub” is not the only way to build rapport. WERKIN was created help that accessibility be open and available to more people.

We then leveraged technology to manage and measure these programs and demonstrate ROI. For us, it is very much a data play, as we create this digital standard for inclusion and belonging.

Love Your Customers, Not Your Product.

Falling in love with your product is a very easy thing to happen. You can see the pain point, for example, but if you fall into the trap of being product-first, not customer-first, it’s very easy to miss the real opportunity to create change.

At WERKIN, we think about how we want to change someone’s journey inside an organization so that they are seen, they are heard, they are visible to a larger percentage of the population. But not only that, they have a clear pathway to accelerate through to the highest levels that are, obviously, economically beneficial for that individual, but also allow them to influence the outcome of the organization.

Embrace the Most Exciting Time in our Lifetimes

While it may look terrifying from an economic outlook, if you’re in the business of building new ways to do things, this is probably the most exciting time in our lifetimes. Both from a change in civil rights, equality, and the move towards shutting down this very separate life we had between work and life, and actually coming back to our humanity. This means businesses that are purpose-driven, sustainability-focused, forward-looking, tech-enabled and changing the way we work, are all presented with massive opportunities right now.

The entrepreneurial journey is certainly a roller coaster ride – enjoy it!

For further insights about Hayley and her founder’s journey, watch her TEDx talk, read the WeAreTechWomen Inspirational Woman profile and the Forbes article on How to Create Change for the Transgender and LGBTQ+ Community in the Workplace.

To see what delta v has been up to this summer, register for our September 17 Demo Day live webcast.