The Top Three Pitfalls of Hiring to Increase Diversity and How to Avoid Them

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Many companies are recognizing the lack of racial, ethnic, and gender diversity within their organizations and committing to increasing representation of women and people of color. It is a noble and well-intentioned commitment, but it is helpful for an organization to reflect on why it lacks diversity, in what ways its company culture encourages or impedes inclusivity, or how people of different races, ethnicities, or genders will be impacted by the current company/team culture.

When considering diversity, equity, and inclusion, the age-old question about what comes first comes to mind. Inclusion and equity are meaningless measurements without diversity, but diversity without inclusion and equity is also a recipe for disaster. Most organizations end up focusing on hiring to increase diversity. If that’s your plan, consider the pitfalls before you launch hiring focused on race, ethnicity, gender, or some other characteristic.

Pitfall #1: Discrimination

Hiring focused on a single race, ethnicity, or gender can become discriminatory. If your organization communicates—externally or internally—that it cannot hire a woman or person of color without applying a preference, it creates an implication that the organization has to alter or lower its standards to hire women and people of color. Organizations might argue that the discrimination is in favor of women and people of color, but the fact is that professionals, regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender, want to be hired based on skill, qualifications, and work ethic, not an innate characteristic.

Avoid this pitfall by recruiting more broadly. Explore previously untapped resources that are likely to bring a diverse subset of candidates. Seek out recruiters with established relationships in more diverse communities. And engage current team members to network more broadly as well and put themselves in more situations where they are not the majority race, ethnicity, or gender in the room.

Pitfall #2: Tokenism

Hiring one woman and one person of color does not make an organization diverse. Organizations that pat themselves on the back for having one person from any or every category have often fallen into the trap of tokenism. It is equivalent to saying “I have a daughter so I cannot be sexist.” or “I have a black friend so you know I am not racist.” Neither statement has any validity and an organization that hires one woman or one person of color is not diverse. Diversity takes time to establish and move through the stages of intentionality into actuality and, eventually, into being ingrained into an organization’s cultural DNA.

Avoid this pitfall by acknowledging where the organization is on the spectrum of diversity. Do not pretend to have arrived at a destination that does not really exist. Organizations are much more likely to gain the trust of employees when leadership is transparent about its struggles with attracting and retaining talent with diverse innate characteristics. If possible, hire in cohorts so that employees can onboard with an experience of diversity from the start. If that is not possible, make sure that leadership is consistently communicating its struggles and successes in building diverse teams.

Pitfall #3: Ignoring Equity and Inclusion

Recruiting and hiring to increase diversity may be an organization’s primary goal, but doing so without considering ways in which the organization can increase equity and inclusion will end up sabotaging its hiring efforts. Bringing someone into a team that is not ready to welcome someone who is different is a cruel and expensive way to end up with a short-term employee.

To avoid this mistake, start by conducting a culture audit to evaluate the team. Get input from current team members when defining the skills and experience necessary for the role. Allow candidates to interview with as many team members as possible. This is best done in groups of two or three so as not to overwhelm a candidate or distract from the interview’s purpose. And, after a candidate is hired and onboarded, have bi-monthly check-ins and ask the candidate questions about team interactions and engagement.

Our office regularly assists clients with culture audits to monitor engagement and detect concerning behavior before it becomes a litigation risk. If you have concerns about your team or organization, contact one of our workplace audit attorneys.