It’s no secret that diversity fosters a stronger workforce and workplace culture. It’s well documented that diverse companies are more likely to experience a host of benefits, from increased creativity to innovation to improved productivity. But it’s not enough for companies to want a diverse workforce—they must build it.
I believe that the process of building diversity starts with creating a culture that mirrors the community that you serve. If you’re a global company like ours, you need a global workforce. If you’re looking to recruit from underrepresented populations, you need to search in different or unexpected places. For example, if you’re seeking African American talent, look beyond Howard University to lesser known HBCUs or state schools surrounding more diverse population centers. Or if you’re looking for female leaders, consider recruiting at business schools with a higher female enrollment such as College of Charleston (67% female) vs. University of Texas (36%). To ensure diversity of thought within your engineering team, consider sourcing leads through certificate programs or coding bootcamps, both of which have experienced rapid growth. Don’t be afraid to get creative in your recruiting efforts to hire people who ultimately reflect your customers.
At Siteimprove, one of our biggest goals is to make the digital experience more inclusive, including those with physical and intellectual disabilities. For example, someone who has trouble seeing should be able to access a website in a way that works best for them. With that in mind, some of our employees have disabilities and play a big role in informing our work. In fact, one of our most skilled computer programmers is blind and acts as a consultant to our UX/design teams to ensure that we keep the needs of the people who are blind or have low vision top-of-mind as we optimize the user experience for all.
Unfortunately, creating a diverse workforce doesn’t always follow a straight line. Many times, companies need to think differently to achieve their goals, and even color outside the lines to do so. Based on my experiences building diverse and inclusive cultures, consider these ideas:
Prioritize values and culture over a college degree
One way to increase diversity and to open up more possibilities in the labor market is to stop requiring a college degree for all jobs. With the exception of professions like an attorney or CPA where special licenses or certifications are necessary, removing the college requirement for other jobs can widen the aperture on the talent pool by up to 64% and increase opportunities for companies and employees. Google, Ernst and Young, Apple, and IBM are among a growing list of companies that no longer mandate a traditional college education for some of their top jobs, according to a Glassdoor report.
Instead of requiring a four-year higher education degree, think about looking for talent based on how well their values align with your company’s values and whether the candidate would be a strong cultural fit. I like to think of building diverse teams based on the idea that commonality brings people together, but it’s their differences that round out the team’s strengths. When companies screen for synchronicity of values and culture instead of higher education status, they are much more likely to identify diverse and qualified candidates.
Manage talent like a casting director
Being a valued member of the team boils down to adaptability. The more willing you are to learn and adapt to what’s being asked of you, the more likely you are to succeed. In fact, adaptability was rated as one of the most important skills for employees by LinkedIn.
But before leaders decide someone is unwilling to adapt, it’s critical to ensure that they’ve been cast in the right role, much like a casting director does when they’re booking talent for a show. There are many times when you may find great talent, but ultimately their skills aren’t being used in the right way. In these instances, leadership needs to recognize that “re-casting” talent to a new role better suited to their strengths may bring out their star power.
Build a diverse leadership pipeline from within
I believe that leaders are not born, they’re made. And they’re made by good companies with leaders who give people a chance to lead, creating a safe environment where learnings from failure are rewarded and adaptation thrives. Right now, the war for diverse, talented candidates is real. Many companies are struggling to fill key roles and find themselves in an endless cycle of getting outbid by their competition.
Instead of expecting the external labor market to fill the gaps, companies would benefit from building an internal pipeline of diverse leaders. Over-indexing at the lower and middle levels would enable companies to have more homegrown candidates when new roles become available. Promoting from within helps ensure that candidates are aligned with company goals, value and culture, all of which are foundational to business growth and success.
Ensure a path for parenthood
Diverse workforces must include mothers. I truly believe that companies that invest heavily in a plan to integrate parenthood into their hiring and retention plans will be much better equipped to expand their leadership pipeline with strong, talented women.
At Siteimprove, we consider readiness for promotion before someone goes on parental leave and work to factor that in upon their return to keep the development trajectory strong. It is also important to acknowledge how difficult it can be to transition back to work as a new parent. For some, a gradual transition back can have a huge impact: 25% in month one, 50% in month two, 75% in month three and 100% in month four, all phases at full pay. We’ve experienced great successes with these and other flexible approaches, engendering loyalty among many female employees and helping us ensure that motherhood does not stall high potential careers.
Diversity is an integral ingredient of the best workplaces, but it’s not enough on its own. Now more than ever, diversity needs inclusion to flourish. Diversity provides differences, like race, gender, age, physical ability, intellectual ability, and sexual orientation. Inclusion is the environment that allows these differences to thrive. When organizations create a truly diverse and inclusive workplace, employees feel safe, welcomed, valued and heard, all of which help them reach their full potential.
Shane Paladin is the CEO of Siteimprove.