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Hire Like a Diversity Expert: 5 Key Qualities of Inclusive Employees Hiring diverse and inclusive talent is not as easy as you think.

By Nika White Edited by Frances Dodds

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Delmaine Donson | Getty Images

Hiring diverse and inclusive talent is not as easy as you think. As a diversity consultant with over a decade of experience, I've hired my fair share of employees. I've hired assistants, managers, HR professionals, graphic designers and more.

But sometimes hiring diverse candidates can be like walking on a tightrope. You want to hire more women, people of color, folks with disabilities and beyond, but you may be walking a thin line between tokenization and appreciation.

While a workforce with good demographic representation is necessary, it is equally important to staff the organization with people who already value diversity and inclusion.

The work of inclusion begins at the personal level. Institutions are made up of people. People are the ones in the organizations coming up with policies, procedures, practices, systems and ultimately, shaping culture.

If you want an inclusive work environment where everyone feels a sense of belonging, hire people who value inclusion in deed and in practice.

Otherwise, you risk losing talent from having a problematic company culture and by hiring candidates who were never a great choice to uphold the value of inclusion.

Over the years of consulting and hiring diverse candidates, I have found five outstanding qualities that demonstrate inclusion, diversity and equity at its core.

These key qualities give rise to candidates that will not only succeed in an increasingly diverse workplace, but ones who also have a solid moral compass and voice.

Here are the five qualities that you should look for in new hires — from the perspective of a diversity expert.

Candidates who fiercely negotiate

In my experience, candidates who negotiate their terms and salary with strength and perseverance turn out to be powerful new hires.

Candidates who negotiate their salary and terms are showing you their self-worth. These candidates have high levels of confidence and can yield great influence in your company if they stay long-term.

In other words, they are leaders in the making. Here's how I know that.

In 2020, my consultancy business has grown. To keep up with demand, I decided to hire a new manager. There were multiple reasons why I fought for her to join my team, but the one that stood out the most was her prowess in the negotiation process.

This candidate laid out her qualifications, value add, specialties and salary requirements. She was firm, open and straightforward about her needs. And, I was immediately impressed.

In a world where women too often ask for less than what they're worth and feel timid in the negotiation process, it was a breath of fresh air to see a female candidate ask for her fair share and ultimately, receive it.

As a diversity expert, I value hiring candidates that know their worth. They're less likely to conform to the dominant culture (especially if it's oppressive or undermines their value) and will stand confidently in their unique offering, skillset and authenticity.

This is the kind of candidate that has the confidence and vision to take your company to great places in the long run.

Related: How to Drive Concrete Change in a World Where Unequal Pay Is Still the Norm

Candidates who are self-aware

When I think of hiring new employees, a key quality I look for is their innate sense of awareness. In the interview process, I ask myself:

  • How aware is this candidate of their presence in the workplace?
  • Are they aware of how much space they take up or give up in meetings and other company functions?

These may seem like trivial questions but you'd be amazed at how many people show up to interviews with an air of self-awareness but join the team with lack thereof.

Self-aware candidates take note of their personal privilege and standing in the company, and use that to help mitigate bias in the workplace.

For example, if a candidate knows they're a white male in a male-dominated work culture, when asked about their personal experiences with diversity, they may share scenarios where they allowed female coworkers to speak first in meetings or encouraged people of color to pursue leadership roles on special projects.

In essence, a self-aware candidate may exercise more compassion, restraint, empathy, and encouragement for female and minority coworkers in the company.

Without self-awareness, unchecked bias and privilege can have a huge impact on your company's inclusivity culture and can ultimately scare diverse and more culturally competent candidates away in the future.

Make hiring a self-aware candidate a top-priority.

Candidates who choose courage over comfort

The act of courage in the workplace cannot be understated. When I'm hiring, I ask interview strategic questions that demonstrate how a candidate might choose courage over comfort.

For example, I ask the candidate questions like:

  • Name a time when you practiced courageous communication in the workplace?
  • When was the last time you shared a vulnerable experience in the office?

These strategic questions enable me to understand if this candidate can choose the path that's right over the path that's common or safe.

This is important because unconscious bias happens in the workplace and if no one feels courageous enough to speak out, it persists.

It's important to have employees that notice when staffers of color, women and other minorities are receiving unfair treatment in the workplace.

You want to hire candidates who will respectfully and concisely inform management of inequities. Without courageous voices in the workplace, companies like yours may allow unconscious biases to run rampant and never notice.

The long-term consequence is a work culture that feels uncomfortable, inequitable and inhospitable to minorities, people of color and other groups.

Courage is a huge part of inclusion and hiring candidates that embrace this value will add tremendously to your company's DEI efforts.

Related: How Do You Give a Boost To Your Workplace Culture?

Candidates who are culture adds not culture fits

One major mistake companies make is they hire candidates that already "fit." By fit, I mean candidates who emulate an existing attitude, persona, or identity of other people in the company.

The danger of hiring for culture fit is that you risk losing diverse voices and ideas that give your company a competitive edge.

That's why hiring a culture add is so important to DEI work. A culture add is someone who offers a missing puzzle piece in your company culture. They add a unique voice, new ideas, solutions, and angles to your company's most complex problems.

But, let's not confuse culture adds with diversity quotas. We don't want you to add more women and people of color just because they're missing in your company's roster.

A culture add goes beyond identity, and becomes someone who offers a unique cultural perspective that can promote progress, inclusion, and growth in your company.

While you consider who would be a good culture add, do a deep analysis on what your company values are at the core. Ask yourself:

  • What gaps in knowledge and experience can this candidate fill to benefit our organizational processes and offerings?
  • Could this employee challenge our way of thinking and suggest improvements in how we operate?
  • Does this candidate represent a voice or viewpoint for our customers that we're missing?

Once you identify that a potential candidate can truly offer something unique and needed in your organization, you'll reap the benefits of hiring a culture add.

Candidates who demonstrate authentic curiosity

Curiosity and a desire to learn are not qualities that everyone has. Many candidates are willing to join your team with existing knowledge but turn out to be unteachable or difficult to develop later on.

One of the things I look for when taking on new consultancy clients is how teachable is this client? How curious is this client to learn and grow? If the answer is, this client wants something done for them without much effort, it's a red-flag.

You should apply the same mentality to your new hires. Curious and teachable candidates should see diversity and inclusion as strengths with plenty of opportunities to learn and grow.

People who are genuinely curious aren't afraid to make mistakes and see what sticks. These candidates offer new, revolutionary ideas in meetings, raise concerns to your leadership team, and encourage cultural competence in the workplace.

These candidates can expand your network and seek out diversity of thought as a way to practice effective collaboration.

Candidates who are authentic and curious come from a place of positive intent, a genuine interest to listen, learn, understand and lead.

These are the candidates that will grow and support a positive company culture that's diverse and equitable.

Related: 4 Ways to Cultivate Inclusion and Compassion in the Workplace

I'm happy to say I've hired a few employees this year that have demonstrated all five of these key qualities.

My new hires are all-hands-on-deck and support the growth, expansion, thought-leadership and development of my consultancy.

These new hires have taught me so much already just because they embody the natural qualities of fantastic leaders.

Your company, too, can benefit from diverse and inclusive hires. And it all starts with these 5 qualities.

Nika White

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

President & CEO

Dr. Nika White is a national authority and fearless advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion. As an award-winning management and leadership consultant, keynote speaker, published author and executive practitioner for DEI efforts across business, government, non-profit and education.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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