The most successful companies know that having a diverse workforce, especially in their leadership teams, strengthens their organizations. They know that a diverse staff strengthens company culture, improves decision making and problem solving, and gives them access to a wider, more diverse customer base—who increasingly want to work with diverse and inclusive organizations.
That’s the good news. The bad news is there are just as many, or more, companies that don’t understand the benefits of having a diverse workforce, and haven't historically made that a priority. If you work for a firm like this, here are three ways to encourage your company to do better.
1. Encourage your organization to work with a diversity coach or consultant (or speak with one yourself).
Working with a coach or consultant who’s actively supporting, discussing, and practicing anti-racist efforts is an effective way to bring company blind spots to light. A coach or consultant will look at your firm’s workforce and make an honest assessment of where it stands in terms of the number of people of color currently employed and in which positions.
That’s only part of it. The next step is for the coach or consultant to assess the extent to which your company is making people of color who are already employed feel included and appreciated for their differences, not in spite of them.
It’s important to keep in mind that we all need to be willing to question our unconscious beliefs and biases and be open to the fact that we’re all probably missing something. We all have blind spots, and the important thing is to realize that a band-aid can’t be slapped on a problem like unexamined racial bias if there’s a deeper core issue within the organization.
For example, many organizations may want to simply ask their current employees of color if they feel valued and included. This is a huge mistake. While this might seem like a great idea, do organizations really want the truth? Or are they just seeking comfort and validation from the people they’re putting on the spot?
Further, realistically, do you think all people of color would feel comfortable telling their employers, managers, and peers about their deeply personal disappointments or fears at work? Consider how rarely employee feedback is truly 100 percent candid when asked for by the higher ups. Few employees are willing to risk their jobs by giving management negative feedback, and can you blame them?
This is only one example of a way that a blind spot could be missed; there are many others. This is also why engaging third-party experts and getting them to dive deep into your company’s culture can go a long way toward fighting unconscious racist tendencies and re-educating your company.
2. Ask leadership to prioritize hiring “culture adds” instead of “culture fits.”
The most successful organizations value having as many different points of view as possible. And that means stressing the hiring of culture adds, as opposed to culture fits. An easy way to explain the difference between the two is to consider two different types of soup: One that has a single consistency, like carrot ginger soup, and another that’s different throughout, like a hearty stew. The carrot ginger has the same texture and flavor in every spoonful. You know exactly what to expect because each mouthful is exactly the same as the last. On the other hand, the hearty stew—with meat, potatoes, onions, leeks, celery, carrots, and peas—is different throughout, different in every bite.
Now imagine approaching building a team like cooking a great stew, in which each new team member brings a new element of texture and flavor and “adds” to the culture. vs. simply “fits” in as more of the same. That’s the difference between a culture add and a culture fit.
Now imagine the impact that having a culture add perspective has on leadership, marketing, sales, human resources, product development, business development, operations, customer service, etc. How might an organization’s marketing materials look different with a culture add on the team? How might this lead to a wider customer base? How might potential and existing customers feel more comfortable doing business with a culture add as part of the team? How might high quality candidates feel more comfortable applying for a role at the organization? The benefits are endless and can have a profound ripple effect.
3. Start where you are now, with one email.
When it comes to wanting their organizations to do better, many people are afraid to get it wrong, not sure how to start or what to say. Well, reading this article is a start, and taking an active interest in solving the issue is your first step to change. In order to start having courageous conversations, there’s a sense of confidence that comes from exploring resources such as White Fragility, for example. But overall, it’s more important to fumble forward, rather than wait until you can “get it exactly right.”
Emailing leadership and HR, expressing what you’d like your company to embrace is a great first step anyone can take. For example, a great start might look like imperfectly writing an email that begins with one of these three sentences: “I’d like our company to be more diverse and consider more culture adds,” “I’d like to help in prioritizing inclusivity and racial equality," or “I’ve been thinking about inclusivity and racial equality and see some areas of improvement that could be made."
Remember that words are powerful. And it’s where your words are coming from—your intention—when you write them that matters, not that you search high and low for the exact, perfect words to use. Also remember just sending a single email can be a huge step towards change. It’s a courageous thing to do. And if more people take small steps like this within organizations where many people are staying quiet, imagine what will start to happen.
When there’s work to be done and you don’t say anything, it can make you feel uncomfortable. Sending an email can also feel uncomfortable, but at least it moves towards change. So, it’s your choice: feeling uncomfortable staying quiet, or feeling uncomfortable taking a small, courageous step toward a big, important change.
Natalie Fisher is best known for helping professionals land their dream jobs and achieve explosive salary growth (even with little experience). If you’d like to learn more about her and her continuing efforts to encourage more diverse hiring practices across all organizations, please visit her at her website www.nataliefisher.ca/getstarted.
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