Diversity in your workforce is more than a compliance issue – it could become your strategic advantage. Are you overlooking the opportunities?

The Cloning Problem

When interviewing and making your hiring decisions, as you assess several candidates’ experience and skill set you might feel automatically drawn toward one. It’s very possible that the person who sticks out first in your mind is a person to whom you can relate – someone who reminds you of yourself.

It might be that your forerunner candidate went to the same college that you did – and they still tailgate at all of the football games just like you do. Maybe this candidate grew up in the same neighborhood that you did, or at least in the same city. Maybe he or she is the same age range that you are. You know the same music and saw the same current events unfold during your formative years. You feel comfortable because of all of these similarities.  Even if this forerunner candidate is far younger than you are, if he or she enjoys the same hobbies you feel a connection, a rapport, which causes you to view them favorably.

There is a problem in this approach to hiring – we’ll call it the cloning approach. You hire this person and they integrate into your company easily. They do so because they share your same perspectives on the world. They think like you do. And while that might feel comfortable for you, when you hire a clone of yourself that new employee also shares your blind spots.  And in business blind spots can be dangerous. You need diversity in your business for the different perspectives, the different experiences, the different habits of thought that come from people who are not the same as one another. Diversity gives problem solving a broader variety of potential solutions.

The Customer Connection

Who is your ideal customer? Chances are that you chose your target market because its members have something in common.  But what about the customers who are profitable, but not like the others? How are your clients different from one another? If a plus-sized (average) woman only sees your company’s garments on rail-thin models, do you think they will believe they belong in your brand? How do you know what a person of color wants if nobody on your team is a person of color?

The customer connection as stated in the examples above relates to business-to-consumer companies, but even b-to-b companies have to have ways of building rapport with clients.(Remember at the beginning of this when we described how you felt instantly comfortable with someone you perceived as being similar to you in some way?) Sure, training can help salespersons be effective in a variety of situations, but what assumptions are your sales staff making about their prospective customers without even realizing it?

Discomfort in Difference

The problem with diversity revolves around assumptions and generalizations.  Assumptions and generalizations objectify groups without looking at the characteristics of individuals. When viewed up close the generalizations are typically proven inaccurate and the assumptions revealed as shallow. The path to leveraging diversity starts with a willingness to be uncomfortable for a little while, and it’s supported by an openness to discover the unique qualities of individuals.

Commitment to Diversity as Strategic Advantage

When you decide that for your business greater diversity is a priority, when you look at two applicants of equal credentials and comparable work experience you choose FOR diversity. You take a look at the rituals in your company’s culture that could exclude, and you modify them to be more inclusive. You invite “new and different” folks into the informal groups where they would not presume that they are welcome. You do not tolerate behavior that is demeaning or rude based upon differences. And you talk about the inevitable bumps in the emerging relationships as they occur, before misunderstandings have the opportunity to grow.

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