It can’t have escaped your notice that issues surrounding diversity have become a central point of discussion over the last decade or so. In recent years, in particular, there has been a shift in the recognition and support of social movements like Black Lives Matter, Stop AAPI Hate, and LGBTQ+ rights.
As a business owner, you have the power to make a positive impact in the community and your industry by embracing a more diverse employee pool. This isn’t just a matter of ethical responsibility — though that’s certainly a part of it. There’s also the tendency for a diverse workforce to breed innovation through sharing of more varied ideas and cultural perspectives. Not to mention that a recent study found that companies with a more varied range of employee backgrounds were around 19% more profitable. When business owners embrace and support a culturally mixed staff, everyone stands to benefit.
That said, the employment landscape is still very much informed and shaped by a long history of monocultural standards and practices, and as such, it may not always be obvious how to build a more diverse workforce. So, we’re going to review some of the areas you can focus on in order to attract, nurture, and cultivate a richer, more dynamic employee community.
Understand and Address the Challenges
When building a more diverse workforce, you need to first take time to confirm that your business is the type of environment that is positive for all workers. It is likely that you already want to create the perfect employee experience for your staff, but to do so effectively, you need to better understand the challenges that people from traditionally marginalized communities face. This will then allow you to put in place measures that mitigate potential issues and create a more welcoming culture.
This has to begin with researching common elements of discrimination at work. LGBTQ+ workers will often experience significant prejudice. This often begins in hiring and recruitment, not just in refusal to hire people who identify as LGBTQ+, but also with interviewers asking intrusive questions. When hired, they may also find they are paid less than other workers, face harassment from staff, and transgender employees may find they are not accommodated using their correct pronouns or access to the appropriate bathroom facilities.
There then needs to be an audit of the business. Go through each element of operations and culture to determine where roadblocks or behavior that is problematic may present. Where possible, utilize independent consultants that have experience of racial, sexual, gender, and disability rights to assist here, and take their recommendations on board. This may include providing additional training to all staff members to educate them on conscious and unconscious microaggressions they may present to marginalized workers.
Finding the “right” candidate is often placed at the center of any recruitment process. However, the methods and standards that have been developed over the past decades tend to classify this “right” candidate — consciously or unconsciously — as predominantly male, white, and university educated. Even a recent Amazon artificial intelligence-based recruitment tool had to be scrapped because it displayed a bias against women. Therefore, to build a diverse workforce, you need to adjust your recruitment approach accordingly.
Firstly, be more open on the formal qualifications of those you’re hiring. A university education is not accessible to a lot of people — either due to their socio-economic background, cultural biases, or even family circumstances. Yet, you can gain wider talent by being willing to hire based on other factors. Removing the requirement for formal education not only allows you to search for workers with valuable experiences and skills to offer, you’re also likely to receive a more diverse and dynamic range of applicants.
Indeed, part of your recruitment fine-tuning should be directly based on what it is about your company that can attract a wider range of candidates. This tends to be more effective when you adopt a strategy that utilizes a variety of techniques here, as this helps to make sure your commitment to a more varied workforce is communicated wherever your candidates find you. When posting on job boards, make sure to use wording and descriptions that make it clear that your company is an open, supportive environment and you’re actively seeking more diverse talent. Where practical, adjust your branding to more accurately reflect the diverse company culture you’re encouraging. Attend trade shows rather than just traditional college fairs to make sure you have access to a greater selection of talent, and make sure the promotional products you give out during them communicate the values of your company. Add blog posts to your website and recruitment pages about the benefits and perks you offer, particularly those that can support those from marginalized socio-economic backgrounds — comprehensive healthcare, flexible working schedules, paid time off.
Focus on Talent Development
Building a diverse workforce isn’t about focusing on the front end. You need to be able to maintain and perpetuate diversity within your organization at all levels. This means that you need a talent development program that is nurturing to everyone. You should begin by formalizing and advertising the process — make sure that the program is set out in onboarding documentation, and that it is discussed with employees during regular review sessions with management. Make it clear that everyone is welcome to participate, and that their contributions are valued.
You also need to make certain the methods utilized in development are accessible to everyone. Not all your workers will be best suited to traditional classroom environments when undertaking training or certification. Remember to provide options for elearning, and ensure there is support available for those who are experiencing difficulties. Your neurodivergent staff members may find new learning environments or changes of department overwhelming, so put in place systems of transitional support and keep communicating with them about how you can best accommodate their needs.
It’s important, too, to provide relevant mentors to staff members. Connect them with people in the organization who are best suited to their professional goals, but also where possible pair them with leaders who can relate to the obstacles they face and the experiences they’ve had. Representation is important in any field, and staff needs to see that people from their backgrounds can succeed. Don’t just accommodate them, but inspire them to collaborate in your company’s positive growth.
A diverse workforce is more than an ethical responsibility, it’s a significant business advantage. Fine-tuning your recruitment methods to rely less on traditional standards can be helpful. However, it’s important that your efforts are not superficial, but maintained at the core of your company. Make meaningful changes to create an inclusive environment, and design a talent development program that nurtures all staff toward leadership.