Author: John Ryan

Simply stated: I believe that pursuing diversity makes better business sense than recruiting a homogenous team. A diverse team is more likely to embrace and value innovation and to interpret market changes and disruption. Diverse teams will make more informed decisions than homogenous teams, because they are informed by a greater array of perspectives. If you’re looking to reach a broad audience, as most businesses are, and the brains of your organization is comprised of only American men, Japanese women, Millennial men, Boomer women, etc., then you’re simply going to miss things.

The more diverse your team, the more clients and customers you stand to reach. A wider audience will see themselves reflected in your messaging. The more people you know, the more people you interact with and feel comfortable with, the more people will feel comfortable doing business with you. Diversity has many facets: generational, ethnic, gender, societal, educational, even cognitive.

Inclusion, the integration of each person into your culture, fosters comfort and fluency that flows out from your corporate culture into your external communications and relationships. That’s one key reason that diversity and inclusion is a competitive advantage.

Shedding generational bias

My dad’s generation retired in the 90s. For the most part, that generation didn’t promote women into executive and leadership roles. However, I’ve grown up with the idea that women should have an equal shot at of these roles. As a managing director for an international executive recruiting firm, this awareness is central to the work that I do. At my firm, we welcome, champion and promote women, encouraging them to embrace CXO roles. Frankly, the industry wants them and we wish we had more female candidates with STEM credentials ready to step into these roles; I could easily place them.

While many in my generation, Generation X, have the same mindset as me when it comes to extending equal opportunities to women, I observe that there are pockets of difference. It’s my understanding that female candidates have different experiences based the region and industry in which they are seeking work, plus other factors.

I observe that there are some men who were taught by parents in my dad’s generation, that women aren’t leaders and thus they won’t be effective in leadership roles. Now, as adults, these men don’t want to give women a shot at the executive table because they carry a two-generation old misconception that women are not leadership material. This is how they justify not extending executive-level interview opportunities to female candidates. “I feel it in my gut, female candidates just don’t have that ‘certain something’ that makes a leader.” They explain.

This robs worthy candidate of opportunities they deserve, plus it does a massive disservice to the business.

Owning your bad self

This is how biases get shaped-they get hardwired into our understanding of the world before we’re even verbal. We all have biases like this. We don’t choose them, we absorb them. I have my own biases as a man, as the son of a Japanese immigrant, as a Boston native residing in Chicago, as a University of Chicago graduate. My biases filter my existence. I have to own it that I’m seeing the world through this filter, because sometimes my biases filter too rigidly. I may not even be choosing that. Some of the biases that are a part of my perception just came in through the environment in which I was raised. Consider these prompts, which show us where our biases might be:

  • Wholesome people do this each week
  • Intelligent people would never do this
  • Successful people always do that
  • Guilty people act this way
  • Criminals look like this

Biases don’t make us understand each other better; in fact, they make us understand each other less. They aren’t shortcuts. They are roadblocks. They are harmful assumptions. We are responsible for owing and challenging them. They can be hard to unlearn, but doing so is important for our own personal ethics and especially for our hiring ethics.  

Training wheels

To reach their full potential, businesses need diversity and inclusion. How do we achieve that? Affirmative action gets a negative reputation, because it can be problematic in application. But the idea behind it is that it’s an entry point for diversity, a stepping stone. It’s like training wheels, it gets companies to think differently about hiring and to start their diversity and inclusion work. If you get out a chance check out the 30% Club, it’s a nine-year-old campaign to increase female board member numbers to 30%, and it’s working.

Even though legislated diversity is not ideal, it may just be necessary in this moment to drive change, until we get better at doing this without a push.

Reinforcements are coming

Gen Zers, born after 1997, comprise more than a quarter of the American population. “[T]he ‘post-Millennial’ generation is already the most racially and ethnically diverse generation,” reports Pew Research Center. Like their Millennial counterparts, Gen Zers embrace diversity. “Majorities among Gen Z and the Millennial generation say increasing racial and ethnic diversity in the U.S. is a good thing for society” explains Pew Research Center.

Diversity matters in two ways to this young constituency. First, many of them are minorities, and our diversity initiates need to evolve to accommodate the scores of young candidates who are applying for work. Secondly, diversity matters to them, and it should matter to us too.

Preparing our future workforce:

These are some concrete actions that parents and employers can take to build diverse teams and tool budding professionals.

Professionals:

  • Highlight opportunity for diverse staff to work their way up in STEM industries, these are in need of diverse staff and leaders.
  • Highlight minority and female professionals who are standout leaders-this inspires the next generation. If young people don’t feel like they have a good shot at those opportunities, they won’t step up and credential for them. Show them their role models.
  • Explore key questions across disciplines-like how do we get more women engineers?

Parents:

  • Encourage your kids to aim high: go to college. Pursue an engineering degree. Get an MBA.
  • Look for opportunities for our young men and women-What career path am I promoting for my kids? What are we telling them to focus on? What are we telling the kids to do?
  • Make sure girls know: You are leadership material.
  • Keep checking our own biases to make sure we’re not pushing them onto our kids.

We’ve got this

My generation is farther along in achieving equity than my father’s generation. My sons’ generation will come a greater distance than mine. Let’s make this our priority and close these gaps. It makes us better professionals, better Americans, better humans. We can do this.

 

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