Dear Leaders: Stop Making These Excuses About the Lack of Diversity If you want to build a culture of inclusion where people feel like they belong, it starts with questioning assumptions.
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The workplace is changing quickly. As with any change, leaders fear what they don't understand. Diversity, equity and inclusion can be polarizing topics for today's leaders, especially those in the majority. With that fear, there is resistance to change or denial that a problem truly exists.
Just because the workplace works for the majority group doesn't mean it works for everyone.
Very few workplaces are as diverse and inclusive as they would like to be. In fact, the majority of folks do not feel a sense of belonging at work. According to Great Place to Work, a sense of belonging is one of the top three most important reasons employees give for leaving their job. Belonging has real tangible benefits, with belonging people are:
- Three times more likely to feel people look forward to coming to work
- Three times more likely to say their workplace is fun
- Nine times more likely to believe people are treated fairly regardless of their race
- Five times more likely to want to stay at their company a long time
Instead of resisting diversity and inclusion, leaders need to embrace it as a competitive advantage — yet all too often, they are apathetic statements and actions in direct resistance to this necessary change.
In the eight years of leading diversity equity and inclusion training and consulting inside Fortune 500 companies, I often hear, "we can't find diverse candidates," "folks with diverse backgrounds don't stay" or "our industry is not diverse." While these statements might feel true, they often are not based on real data or experiences.
Excuse #1: We can't find diverse candidates
If you were fishing and not catching fish, would you blame the fish? Similarly, if you were gardening and your plants weren't doing well, would you blame the plants? Why are we blaming diverse talents for our inability to find them? The world is incredibly diverse and with access to a hybrid work environment, there is an increased ability to attract diverse talent. This could be caregivers, folks with disabilities and people in different parts of the world. Diverse talent has never been so accessible.
Diversity means doing things differently. If you're struggling to find diverse candidates, you likely need to look at how you're recruiting for diversity. Are you going to historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs)? Or posting on global job websites and approaching folks in marginalized communities? Veterans and persons with disabilities are very underemployed and are ripe for recruitment.
Excuse #2: Folks with diverse backgrounds don't stay
Diversity doesn't work without inclusion. As you are building a diverse pipeline of candidates, it is important to ensure that the workplace environment is inclusive so that they will stay. There's no point in hiring a talent if you risk losing them in the short term. Turnover is costly, estimated at 1.5 to 2 times the person's salary and can reinforce a self-fulfilling narrative that diversity is too much work.
Make sure that your onboarding process is inclusive. Consider buddying up people from marginalized groups with other folks and marginalized groups and get them involved in employee resource groups so they have a safe haven to share their experiences. Check in regularly with diverse groups to ensure that they're having an inclusive experience. Stay interview data is far more actionable and proactive than exit interview data where people have little incentive to be honest.
Excuse #3: Our industry is not diverse
No industry is diverse. Even nonprofits are largely run by white men. There is no industry that's dominated by women or people of color, especially as you go up in leadership rank in the organization. Front lines are often filled with diversity, yet that precipitously diminishes at the top of organizations.
Why not try to be an industry leader in diversity? One of my clients in tech did just that with their female founder. My client intentionally built a diverse and inclusive company in an extremely white male-dominated industry. She models flexibility and embraces a culture of trust where people can bring their weirdness. She also does regular diversity and inclusion training to make sure people understand it's embedded in the culture. They have over 50% women in their organization and mirror representation of communities of color as a result.
Strategies to overcome excuses
Tired of hearing these excuses? Try using Kristen Pressner's Flip It to Test It framework. The strategy flips the dimension of difference, i.e., race or gender, to help playfully yet directly question the person that made the excuse. Ask, does that still make sense if we are referring to the majority group? Or, if we were talking about the majority group, would you still say that? This helps stop excuses at the moment they happen and normalizes a culture where we call people in to be more inclusive.
Leaders struggle to find the words at the moment to combat these excuses. Consider adding these talk tracks to your back pocket when confronting a diversity excuse.
- That's not true. In fact…
- What makes you say that?
- I used to think that as well, but have come to realize that…
- Did you know that…
- My perspective is different…
- Let's dig into that assumption more…
- Help me understand why you said that…
- Let's dig into the data before making that assumption…
If you want to build a culture of inclusion where people feel like they belong, it starts with questioning assumptions. Letting excuses go unchecked leads to self-limiting beliefs that prevent inclusion from working. Practice debunking the myths of diversity and model it for others around you. Your culture just might become more inclusive.