Diversity, Vital but Difficult


Increasing diversity at work is extremely difficult. There are all sorts of unconscious biases in the work place, including the words we use to describe jobs. Language that appeals to mostly guys could be a serious turn off to females. Calling people “Hackers” like in the Fast Company linked above, not only turns off females, it turns of men too. It has a connotation of a specific type of work ethos that doesn’t necessarily mesh with the type of environment a lot of people want to work in. While it’s awesome for fresh out of college graduates, for many experienced employees it sends the wrong message.

Diversity is a worthy goal, but it also needs to be tied to performance improvements in the organization. Not because you want to make a decision to turn it off or not, but because you need to know how successful it is and how it’s impacting the organization. If you’re hiring more women, how do you think that’s going to impact your company? Is it going to increase the number of releases, the number of novel features, make the product more appealing to women in general? The answers to these questions are incredibly important because the results should shape where your organization is going over time. Diversity isn’t going to just impact the team, it’s going to move the company. As a leader you should expect a similar result from the African-American and Latino communities as well.

Sociology research has indicated that diversity in backgrounds, even something like living abroad or knowing another language, dramatically increases the number of good ideas that come out of a group. Developing a clear plan with metrics will help leaders, that may not have bought into the plan, to understand the true value.

Unfortunately, this means that there is a group of workers that are going to either actually be negatively impacted or will feel like they are being unfairly called out. Scott Adams of Dilbert wrote about this just a few days ago as it has actually impacted his career. He had to leave two careers over diversity pushes, but he knew as a white male engineer that he’d be able to find work in other industries because he was a white male engineer. Other groups do not have that luxury. The Scott Adams of this world aren’t the problem, it is the people that feel that this is the wrong thing to do are being attacked by these initiatives. This is something that needs to be addressed immediately as it can seriously poison the culture of the company. It will make the diversity hires feel like they were only hired because they were a diversity candidates not because they bring something to the table. My wife has told me she has directly been told that before, which is unfair to her because she’s an amazingly brilliant woman.

There are a few ways to deal with recalcitrant people. One is the help them leave through a comfortable severance package. Obviously this would need to be handled carefully to avoid any potential lawsuits. Secondly, it needs to be clear that there is a place in the organization for white males in some fashion. Help them help with the diversification of the organization. For the highly experienced have them mentor some of the candidates so they can support those new employee’s career growth, they know the organization best and know where it needs help the most. Enable talent to move to the best places for them in the organization through mentoring. Provide mentoring to this cohort of employee by both minorities and others that have already bought into increasing diversity.

Increasing diversity is difficult because it’s painful. It means a great deal of change for everyone involved. The incumbent employees will have to adapt to a new work culture, while the diversity candidates might feel aggression towards them. It’s important for leaders to create the right type of environment where everyone can succeed and grow.

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