Diversity has come into sharp focus during the past year, but conversations are focused largely on gender, age, or ethnicity. Diversity of thought receives less attention. That’s a missed opportunity if you’re interested in improving employee engagement or unlocking innovation.
This diversity doesn’t happen overnight. You’ll need a strong focus on people, process, and technology. It needs to be a choice, not an afterthought. And you’ll need to do the work.
When bringing new people into your business, there’s a natural bias to hire people who are similar—people who tick the obvious boxes in terms of experience and qualifications. Bringing an ex-Googler in will instantly make your business more digital, right? Wrong.
It’s a quick way to give the impression that your business is evolving without really putting the effort in. But like any quick fix, it isn’t going to change the world. To drive real change, you need to fill your ranks with people from all walks of life, building a broad range of experiences and bringing new ways of thinking to the table.
Are we locked in a talent war?
Ask most executives and they’ll tell you there’s a war for talent. It’s a great soundbite when talking to the media, but does it stand up to scrutiny? I don’t think so. It would be closer to the truth to say many business leaders are hampered by the blinders they’re wearing. They share the mistaken view that replacing like for like is the best way to create a stable workforce. You know what they say about insanity… It is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Modern businesses are facing new problems that need fresh thinking. Hiring the same type of people over and over isn’t going to cut it. The variety of perspectives in diverse teams deliver better products, services, and customer experiences – and obviously, that’s good for business.
ABC recently launched Employable Me, a show about a group of job seekers aiming to prove that having a neurological condition shouldn’t make them unemployable. It goes to the heart of this need to explore new talent pools.
The unemployment rate for people on the autism spectrum was above 30 percent in 2015—more than three times the rate for people with disabilities and almost six times the general population. Yet people with these disorders are often highly intelligent. Some have great attention to detail or an intense commitment to delivering high-quality work. They tend to be lateral thinkers and have immeasurable value to offer.
It’s common to hear about skills shortages in specialist fields like cybersecurity. There’s great value in staying focused while trawling through mountains of information to spot variations in code. These traits are synonymous with some variants of autism. By shutting the door on people without properly exploring possible fit, your business risks missing out on great talent.
What’s in a name?
Researchers from Ryerson University and the University of Toronto sent 13,000 fake resumes in response to more than 3,000 job postings back in 2011. The academics revisited the data six years later and found that people with Indian, Chinese, or Pakistani names were 28 percent less likely to be invited to an interview than the candidates with English names, even when their qualifications were identical.
What does it take to eliminate these unconscious biases? There’s a need to look beyond gender, age, and ethnicity to concentrate on competencies, skills, and values. It requires leadership to understand that you’ve been looking at things the wrong way and adjust your line of sight.
Do an assessment of what your business needs and be more open to finding aligned talent. Don’t base your decision on the fact that candidates have worked for a similar business or were educated at a certain school. Creating a diverse, inclusive, and bias-free culture will improve your business performance. If you want your business to find innovative solutions, it’s time to think differently about people.
For more on workplace diversity, see Why Inclusivity Equals Innovation.