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We’ve all heard it, read it, and may have even said it: Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) is good for business. Companies made up of employees that reflect a greater range of genders, ethnicities and ages (to name a few) regularly outperform their peers. And, while most of us know the business case for diversity, more likely than not the organization we work for is underperforming in this area. According to a 2017 Deloitte study, 71% of companies want to have inclusive cultures; however, only 12% truly meet that goal.

Professional services firms have long been leaders in certain diversity practices. Fifteen out of the 100 companies included in the 2018 Best Workplaces for Diversity list were professional services firms with only two industries – financial services and information technology – ranking higher with more companies.

Why diversity efforts fall short of expectations

Many organizations view D&I as a recruitment strategy and silo the effort within HR because they do not want to invest the resources into making it a company-wide initiative. For those who do have a strategy in place, most may not see the outcomes they expected. According to a new study by GQR Global, 52% of respondents reported no measurable results since implementing a D&I strategy.

Such poor results may exist if an organization:

  1. Focuses on diversity and not enough on inclusion
  2. Has systems that do not effectively collect or analyze data around D&I efforts
  3. Implements strategies that are too narrow in scope because of limited D&I expertise
  4. Holds a belief that the status quo has generated positive results to date
  5. Lacks strong leadership or leadership alignment and commitment to D&I

Diversity is how your workforce is comprised based on gender, race, age, background and more. Inclusion is ensuring all team members have a seat at the table and an opportunity to contribute. People who feel they belong are comfortable sharing ideas, voicing their opinions, and being a part of a team because their input is valued. A culture of inclusion leads to higher retention rates and makes it easier to recruit new diverse talent.

An effective D&I strategy depends on several success factors, but let’s focus on just two for now. First, the CEO must publicly support the strategy and work to incorporate it throughout the organization, particularly within the core business areas. The message from the top should be that D&I is business critical. Second, D&I should be tied to the organization’s growth strategy and accurately measured, which requires the effort to be appropriately staffed and funded.

D&I can take a backseat to other initiatives if a company feels it is doing well without it. While current results may seem positive, they will be difficult to maintain in today’s environment in which the needs of an increasingly diverse customer base must be met. Some organizations may have limited D&I strategies because they lack the internal expertise to develop and drive an effective Diversity and Inclusion program.

Hire based on core competencies

Firms are certainly getting better at hiring experienced talent (defined here as people who have likely worked for a competitor and are not coming directly from campus), but onboarding and training can be challenging. However, this strategy can limit growth, particularly in today’s tight labor market.

A key element of a successful D&I strategy is to hire for potential, not strictly for experience, although experience is important. Here, “potential” means individuals with the right core competencies and skills for your workplace who have a strong track record of performance in their past roles. They also demonstrate a strong capacity to grow more quickly than their peers. Hiring outside of traditional talent pools can offer fresh thinking, ideas and skills that you may not realize you need. It can also squash a groupthink mentality as you introduce new players with new perspectives.

Diversity recruiting can be challenging, so consider hiring good candidates even if their current skills and experience do not specifically match a current opening. An investment in training and professional development can pay big dividends once an appropriate position opens up.

Hiring based on core competencies may seem risky, but when done correctly, it has the same odds for success as hiring someone from a competitor down the street. The reality is that any firm that recruits on campus is already hiring this way. That strategy just needs to extend to experienced hires.

Other components to D&I success

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to D&I; however, several additional factors can help a company’s strategy deliver greater value:

Link D&I to Growth

Organizations need to understand what D&I approach best supports their business strategies, as well as what inherent traits (gender, race, etc.) and developed traits (education, skills, job experience, etc.) are best suited to the organization by using advanced analytics. Diversity, when executed well, can directly improve innovation, problem-solving, and decision-making.

Focus on Inclusion

Reinforce a greater sense of belonging among employees by integrating both demographic diversity and diversity of thought into talent management practices. Inclusion can have a dramatic impact on retention and performance, which may be why 78% of respondents to Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends survey believe D&I is a competitive advantage. A stronger culture of inclusion can also help build trust and cohesiveness, which result in highly effective teams.

Expand Your Definition of Diversity

Diversity efforts have traditionally focused on hiring women, minorities, LGBTQ candidates, millennials, and baby boomers, as well as those with physical disabilities. Today, new pools of candidates with military backgrounds and physical and mental disabilities have emerged who can bring alternative thoughts, education, ideas, and logic to the table.

Talk About Opportunities for Advancement

Opportunities for advancement is a strong motivator to diversity candidates, so mention it throughout the recruiting process and candidate experience. Include paths for promotion in job descriptions, interviews, onboarding, and annual reviews. According to a report by Glassdoor, 40% of African Americans and 36% of Latinos view advancement opportunities as a top factor in their career decisions

Highlight Your D&I Efforts

Your marketing and advertising should show employees with whom candidates can identify because information (or lack thereof) can help to sway potential candidates.

Simply hiring diverse talent is not enough. Companies need to have diversity at the top in order to have diversity at lower levels within an organization – employees and potential employees want to see that diversity and inclusion already exists. Companies also need a robust inclusion program where employees are well trained, appropriately integrated, and successfully retained. Most would agree this is no easy task; however, a growing number of organizations believe the potential benefits are worth the effort.

J. James O’Malley is a founder and managing director with Comhar Partners, focusing on developing solutions for clients that successfully align their leadership with changing business needs, particularly with diversity and inclusion challenges. For over 30 years, Jim has leveraged his passion for executive search, professional recruiting, on-demand recruiting, workforce planning and analytics, and talent advisory services to solve a variety of talent acquisition challenges.