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Employers, you need to get rid of these misconceptions about diversity

Trying to build a diverse and inclusive workforce? These beliefs might be limiting your progress.

Employers, you need to get rid of these misconceptions about diversity
[Photo: Alvaro Pinot/Unsplash]

We’ve all heard the support (and statistics) for why diversity is good for business and improves the bottom line. Yet very few businesses are making significant progress. The tech industry, for example, has barely moved the needle in diversity numbers, despite a lot of public efforts.

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To an extent, successes from diversity and inclusion efforts involve some trial and error. But as an employer, you might also be harboring certain misconceptions that are ruining those initiatives. Here are three of the most common ones I see.

1. Hiring for skills is not the same as hiring for diversity

When we use the phrase “hiring for skills,” we should be talking about hiring people based on their ability to do their jobs–not what school they went to or whether they’ve worked at a brand-name company before. Yet this is the marker that a lot of companies use in their application process.

When you expand your horizons beyond screening for credentials, you open up your company to a much broader range of candidates. Companies like Google, Hilton, Apple, and IBM have received the memo and have already begun putting this into practice, by not focusing on degrees and credentials, but rather what work can be performed as demonstrated by experience and talent.

2. Hiring for diversity means “lowering the standard”

Which brings me to my next point–we are still seeing language that implies women and professionals of color are somehow inferior. If companies are not hiring them, it’s because they weren’t qualified in the first place. There is a long-standing belief that great employees get hired, but that belief doesn’t ever take into account personal and socioeconomic circumstances.

It’s the cornerstone of the meritocracy argument–if you’re good at what you do, you’ll always find work. What follows this line of flawed reasoning is the idea that only the unskilled, lazy, and unintelligent among us can’t get a job. The thing is, if we honestly looked at how people rise through their careers and companies, there’s usually more to their journey than merit and hard work alone. Of course, hard work and merit are important, but we also need to think about external factors. Did they know someone in the industry before they started? Did someone influential make a phone call on their behalf?

We need to recognize the limitations of our own experience and acknowledge that the model employee exists outside an Ivy League school. You can find skilled, intelligent, and talented individuals in many additional places–you just need to ask people where to look.

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3. Technical skills are the most important aspect of a job

A three-year study by Leadership IQ revealed that only 10% of new hires failed at their job due to technical skill or functional ability. So why are we spending so much time discussing diversity and skill level? It’s a red herring and an easy way out.

If only 10% of new hires fail because of a lack of skill, what else is holding them back? The answer, according to the research, is an inability to accept feedback, lack of motivation, and not having the suitable temperament for the job.

Some of this is on the candidate, but it’s also on employers to focus on organizational culture. If you don’t promote a culture where employees accept and expect feedback, how do you expect them to thrive? If it seems like only the “few” receive opportunities for promotion, how are the “many” supposed to be motivated enough to work? And if you have so few women, minorities, LGBTQ+ or differently abled employees that they stick out like a sore thumb and don’t see leaders that look like them in the organization–how can you expect them to feel a sense of belonging?

When it comes to building a diverse and inclusive workforce, progress won’t happen overnight. And yes, there are times when you will get it wrong, and you might need to take two steps back to take one step forward. But you’ll see the benefits in the long term. When you focus on recruiting great employees from a broad spectrum of backgrounds, you can create an organizational culture that includes everyone, which can ultimately have a positive impact on your bottom line.


Stacey Gordon is the CEO and founder of Rework Work, a training and consulting organization centered around advancing women and professionals of color while creating unconscious inclusion in organizations.

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