Workplace diversity is a big trending topic these days, for good reason. Conversations about diversity and inclusivity are long overdue. Though we live in an era where women, visible minorities, LGBTQ, people with disabilities, and other minority groups have a stronger voice than ever, there’s still a lot of room for progress. But change is happening. It’s up to all of us to do our part to move the needle and keep moving forward.
Though there’s an element of corporate responsibility involved in ensuring workplaces are inclusive for all, there’s also a strong business case for diversity. Studies have shown diverse workplaces are better for companies from a bottom-line perspective, too. Diverse companies are more innovative and position themselves to attract stronger talent. They also grow faster and have an easier time reaching new markets.
With the many documented benefits to diversity, you should be asking: what can I do to promote diversity? Here are some dos and don’ts to ensure your hiring process is inclusive as possible and incorporates a variety of perspectives from people hailing from all walks of life.
do: train employees on bias and diversity
As the old saying goes: knowing is half the battle. That’s true when it comes to workplace bias, as well. As Canadians, we often think that we have no biases because we live or grew up in an environment where multiculturalism and inclusivity are often celebrated, sometimes to the point of mocking. Exhibit A: Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau’s much-maligned comment about changing 'mankind' to 'peoplekind.' However, everyone has biases, whether we like it or not. Providing employees with training on how to be aware of their biases and providing them with tools to mitigate them is important. You can’t fix what you don’t recognize. Beyond minimizing the impact of biases, diversity training should also include how to interact with people from all backgrounds and circumstances with respect.
don’t: let accents, appearance or age factor into hiring
This should seem fairly obvious, but we’re going to say it anyway. How a person looks or sounds has nothing to do with their suitability for a job. Ruling out a candidate based on their accent or the way they look is perpetuating stereotypes, and worse, may even run afoul of the law. Rejecting a candidate based solely on visible differences goes against anti-discrimination laws. Just don’t do it. Appearance is only skin deep. An accent tells you nothing about a candidate other than that they speak another language. In many professional circles being bilingual is an asset, and allows you to tap into insights and skills a monolingual candidate may not have. It takes intelligence and dedication to learn and speak multiple languages. That’s what you should be thinking about when you hear an accent.
do: focus on skills
When making hiring decisions, we’re used to considering work history and experience to determine if someone is qualified for a job. However, putting emphasis on skills levels the playing field and ensures that everyone, no matter their background, is given a fair shot. Historically, minorities have less access to opportunities that look good on paper. If we put emphasis on past experiences, we’ll keep hiring the same people who already have access and ignore people who are different. This perpetuates the cycle of locking minorities out of opportunities to advance. So, instead of focusing on experience, emphasize job skills. Ask questions that speak to behaviour and skills that are needed for the role. Finding a good fit has little to do with what someone has done in the past. Instead, try to understand what they’re capable of doing in the future.
don’t: use the ‘beer test’
The beer test involves asking yourself: ‘would I want to have a beer with this person?’ as a means of judging whether they’re a good ‘cultural fit.’ There are a lot of things that are problematic with this. First: whether you judge someone worthy of having a beer with you has absolutely no correlation to their professional qualifications. Second: you should not be hiring a person based on how they conduct their social life. Maybe they don’t drink. Maybe they have family obligations that prevent them from going out after work. Whatever the case, chatting with you over a beer will not be a part of their job. Third: the beer test flies in the face of diversity. It typically leads to hiring people who are very similar to the people already working for your organization because they ‘fit’ better. Instead, focus on hiring people with a unique perspective, who may not quite match the mold that already exists.
do: be aware of confirmation bias
The average person forms an opinion about someone within the first few seconds of meeting them. Confirmation bias says this initial impression lays the foundation for all future interactions, and that most people seek to confirm their already held beliefs. From the initial meeting onward, all interactions serve to reinforce what we already believe, because it’s easier than changing our opinion. Basically confirmation bias is a really intense version of ‘first impressions matter.’
As you can imagine, this is problematic in an interview setting. If you’re hiring someone, your opinion shouldn’t be based on what they look or sound like – which, let’s be honest, is all you can deduce within seconds of meeting someone – instead your opinions should be based on what they have to say. Ask questions and allow the candidate to change your mind if something they say doesn’t mesh with what you already know or think. Keep an open mind, and try not to form opinions until you’ve given the person a chance to speak. Avoid using phrases like ‘you probably’ or ‘you should’ which indicate you’re making assumptions based on your own experiences or beliefs.
don’t: rule out candidates because of body language
If you’ve ever read job interview advice, you’ve probably heard a thing or two about how using the right body language is important. Sit up straight, smile often, give a firm handshake, and so on. Forget that advice. Body language is a poor way to judge a person’s job qualifications. Judging someone’s body language asks you to make assumptions. We’ve been told to assume that a person slouching in their seat doesn’t care, or that a person with a floppy handshake isn’t confident. But those aren’t quantifiable facts. Maybe they have a medical condition, maybe they’re unaware of cultural norms, or maybe they’re just nervous. In the end, none of these things should matter. Instead of judging body language someone can’t help, focus on the things they say.
do: use blind screening
Blind screening involves hiding the names on resumes or job applications and considering only the information within. This is supposed to limit your biases based on gendered or ethnic-sounding names and force you to consider only the person’s qualifications. Blind screening isn’t perfect – it still allows you to see whether the candidate's experience is local or international, and the names of companies the person has worked for, which can lead to unfair assumptions – however, it’s a step in the right direction. The more impartial you can make your hiring process, the better.
don’t: discount foreign education or experience
Some employers prefer local education or experience. The thinking goes: this person knows how we do things here, so they’re going to be more qualified; they know the local language and cultural norms, so they will fit in better. You might have noticed a theme by now: to make unbiased, diverse hiring decisions, we need to shed assumptions and approach every candidate with an open mind. Is it possible a foreign candidate is less qualified than a local one? Perhaps. However, it’s also possible they’re perfect for the job. You won’t know until you talk to them. Every candidate deserves a fair shake. Never rule out a candidate solely because of the name of their alma mater, or where they’ve lived in the past. If they are otherwise qualified, they deserve a chance to prove themselves just like any other candidate.
do: make your application process accessible
Many companies have a terrible application funnel. Some application processes are treated like an interrogation, crafted to find even the smallest infraction, which is then used as an excuse to eliminate candidates from consideration. You might think you’re being clever narrowing the field by including a 30-minute quiz on personality and intelligence in your application process, but what you’re really doing is putting up a barrier. Make your application funnel as straight-forward and accessible as possible. It shouldn’t be a labyrinth that only people with Mensa-level IQ are capable of passing. A person with an intellectual or physical disability may not be capable of passing a test. That doesn’t mean they’re not a good fit for the job. It just means they’re not good at tests. Being good at tests is not a prerequisite for any career, as far as we know.
don’t: make hires based on likeability
Likeability is not a quantifiable factor. It’s based on your gut feelings about a person and is personal and subjective. What you think makes someone likable, another person may find intolerable. Some people prefer outgoing people with big personalities, while others like quiet, reflective types. Neither is inherently good or bad. Companies need to hire candidates who are courteous and professional, and that’s it. Collaboration and teamwork are inevitable in most jobs, so everyone needs to get along and work well together. However, there’s no reason candidates should have to be ‘likeable’ to meet those criteria. Instead of considering whether or not you like a potential candidate, consider how they fit in with your team dynamics. Do they bring a different perspective or background that will make your team more effective? Do they fill a skill gap?
Hiring a diverse and inclusive workforce seems like it should be simple. But putting inclusive hiring processes into action requires us to break down traditional ways of thinking. Taking some of these steps is a step in the right direction. Let’s work together to make workplaces a more welcoming place no matter who you are or what you look like.