All Together Now

How to Hire a Diverse Workforce

Diversity is good for the bottom line.

By Su Byron February 6, 2017 Published in the January-February 2017 issue of Sarasota Magazine

Shutterstock 388811194 k7nxae

When people of different backgrounds come together, workplaces are more productive.

Diversity is good for the bottom line. A two-year study of more than 450 global companies completed in 2015 by the HR research firm Bersin by Deloitte shows that companies with tangible diversity policies outperform those without them on a variety of measures, including cash flow, profitability, innovation and growth.

Most Americans agree that workplace diversity is a good idea, but what exactly does that mean today? The concept began as a response to discrimination. Race, color, religion and national origin were the original groups protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Subsequent legislation added age, gender, veteran status, disability and other categories. Discrimination against any of these groups is a violation of federal law and grounds for a lawsuit.

Businesses began to diversify their staffing to avoid legal troubles, but what began as a compliance issue is now a cultural value. It also turned out to be smart business.

Saying you want diversity in your company, however, is easier than achieving it. Here are five tips to get you started.

1. Diversity Starts at the Top

Business leaders, especially CEOs and company owners, send a powerful message when their support for diversity and inclusion is more than just talk.

“A culture of inclusion doesn’t happen all by itself or because someone set theoretical goals,” says Patricia Mathews, principal consultant at Workplace Experts, LLC in Sarasota. “It happens when someone’s responsible for making it happen.”

Joe Gonzalez, CEO of Venice’s ArtisTree Landscape Maintenance & Design, takes diversity personally. Gonzalez grew up in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen, the son of a Cuban father and a Croatian mother. Today he’s the owner of one of Florida’s leading landscaping companies. “I don’t care who you are or where you came from,” he says. “All I care about is what you can do.”

Gonzalez hires employees from a rainbow of backgrounds; 67 percent of his workforce includes individuals from diverse ethnicities.

His company’s handbook lists the core values: “Lead by example and do the right thing. Listen and communicate. Watch out for one another no matter the circumstances. Give everyone an opportunity to grow, not just a few. Create a diverse, caring culture where employees feel a part of something bigger than themselves.”

These values aren’t random, Gonzalez says: “Our employees created these at a company retreat where they were asked to offer their perspective on what makes ArtisTree unique. These reflect everyone’s philosophy here, not just mine.”

To make it clear that you, like Gonzalez, have a culture of inclusion, discuss what you expect with your employees and new hires. You can also create a diversity statement for your organization and publish it in your marketing and advertising. Make it part of your brand image for customers and the public. And remember, diversity is more than race and gender. It encompasses age, disability status, veteran status, religion, national origin, pregnancy, citizenship, sexual orientation and cultural values.

2. Make Somebody Responsible

Many major companies have chief diversity officers. These high-level managers achieve workforce diversity through a wide range of programs, including diversity training, recruiting policies, support for the advancement of diverse workers and initiatives targeting diverse vendors and customers. Other companies have diversity committees, and some small businesses hire diversity consultants.

Attorney Jaimmé A. Collins is the diversity chair and a partner at Adams and Reese, a multidisciplinary law firm with offices throughout the Southeast, in Washington, D.C., and in Sarasota. The firm’s decision to create a committee that is accountable for achieving diversity benchmarks has helped make it a national leader.

Law magazine has named Adams and Reese one of the top 100 law firms in the country for diversity; Women 3.0 magazine recognized the firm as one of the top 100 for women, and 941CEO awarded Adams and Reese the Legal Unity Award in 2012. “Good intentions don’t create significant change on their own,” Collins says.

“You need a companywide strategic diversity plan that is result-oriented and based on measurable outcomes.”

3. Recruit Widely

Workforce diversity begins with the search for diverse talent. But before you search you need to establish what you’re searching for. Sarasota’s DeWanda Smith-Soeder, founder and president of the Black Business Professional Network, advises companies to start by assessing what kind of talent the company wants to attract. Then build a strategy that ensures sustainability. “The primary focus is to increase the pipeline of women, minorities and other identified challenged diversity dimensions within the organization,” she says.

Companies need to recruit in communities of diversity and use a variety of resources. Hold job fairs in minority neighborhoods and advertise for employees in media that reach groups you’re after. Use referrals via personal networks, online job listings, social networks, printed job postings and community events.

Find ways to make your application process as user-friendly as possible, especially for applicants for whom English is a second language or who may not have access to IT resources or the internet. Smith-Soeder reminds employers to reach out to area colleges and universities, including historically black colleges and universities.

Make sure your interviewers reflect diversity and conduct fair, impartial interviews. Provide job-specific behavioral interview questions and a structured interview process so all candidates are evaluated equally.

4. Training: The Make-Or-Break Factor

A diverse workforce provides financial dividends, but that doesn’t mean employees automatically work well together. Employees from wide-ranging backgrounds may experience conflict and misunderstanding if they don’t know how to communicate with each other. Fortunately, communication is a skill that can be taught. Employees must be trained to communicate with those who are different from them.

Mathews advocates regular training programs, especially for managers and supervisors who are responsible for hiring decisions. “This training should be required,” she says. “Its focus should be on creating organizational awareness of unconscious or hidden biases.” Instituting mentor programs and career development programs targeted at your diverse employees will help retain them.

Christine Clyne, director of human resources at Village On The Isle and president of the Sarasota-Manatee HR Association, says training opens dialogue, breaking down barriers and helping diverse employees find their commonalities.

“At Village On The Isle, we recently hosted an employee training on senior sensitivity and age diversity,” says Clyne. “The discussion among the employees was as valuable as the training material. As the employees talked with each other, they realized that, despite their diverse backgrounds, cultures, beliefs and so on, they all have the same worries, concerns, responsibilities and, sometimes, even the same interests. Having our employees reach these observations is powerful and priceless.”

5. Measure Your Efforts

Companies need to measure progress against goals. This includes measuring goals such as the number of diversity candidates sourced, number of diversity candidates hired, number of diversity employees promoted to higher levels and number retained.

Look at the numbers and analyze how you reached new hires broken down by protected class. Mathews says companies need to monitor staff turnover by gender, orientation, age and background. Are you losing a disproportionate number of diversity employees? Are your promotion processes fair to all classifications of workers? Are you experiencing discrimination claims, lawsuits or hearing complaints from employees?

“Ask employees to report on their activities under the strategic diversity plan,” says Clyne. “Revise your goals if you need to, either to move to the next step if you achieved the goal or to simplify the goal if it was too ambitious to achieve.”

Finally, reward managers for achieving diversity goals and objectives, says Mathews. Large companies sometimes make hiring and retaining diversity candidates a small part of a large bonus plan, but small businesses might recognize a manager in a meaningful way that is not monetary. “The real goal for every company is to create a work environment where everyone feels welcome,” she says. 

Diversity 3.0: The Next Generation

Younger workers learned about multiculturalism at school. At home, they turned their TVs on and saw starships, police stations and hospitals staffed with a rainbow of identities. When they went away to college, many received sensitivity training sessions.

Gen Y and millennials strongly believe in workplace diversity. Their concept of inclusion is, well, more inclusive. It’s more about valuing people from a wide range of origins and attitudes, and less about a checklist of demographic markers. This new concept of inclusion is defined by the person inside, not his outward characteristics. This attitude will make an impact. By 2025, millennials will make up almost 75 percent of the workforce.

“Gen Y and millennials expect to be part of a diverse team,” says Chistine Clyne, director of human resources at Village On the Isle and president of the Sarasota-Manatee HR Association. “Fairness is important to younger workers. They want to see an inclusive work environment that represents the diverse backgrounds of their friends and families. It’s unusual for them to be or work in a group of people who look or act exactly as they do.”

Assunta Swier, CEO of Sarasota-based Hub, a startup incubator, is surrounded by millennials. Older workers often struggle with technology so there’s impatience, she says. But there’s also respect.

Both Swier and Clyne suggest that, without diversity and tolerance, many young people will work for somebody else.

Filed under
Show Comments