It's Time to Make Diversity a Hiring Priority

By Emily Sider

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Build the Best Possible and Most Innovative Team by Prioritizing Diversity


The facts are clear: diverse teams are more innovative and better problem-solvers.

So why do we keep hiring people who are like ourselves?

When hiring, the topic of diversity might get pushed to the backburner. It’s the kind of buzzword that makes you think, “I would like to hire for diversity” but you have no way to benchmark or measure the effectiveness of your efforts. The truth is, it’s just a lot easier to hire people that are like ourselves. We feel more comfortable hiring people that share our experience, beliefs, and worldview. But trusting your own gut when it comes to hiring is actually a form of bias—one that you’re probably not even aware of.

Diversity goes beyond just employment brand for your company. Hiring for diversity is not about meeting a quota; it’s about building the best possible team. The research shows that diverse teams are more facts-focused and innovation-driven. Breaking up homogeneity in the workplace can break up unquestioned and conformist ways of thinking that can be a major stagnator of company growth and innovation. Diversity is also a major contributor to the bottom line—a poll of nearly 1000 executives found that 63% of the sample found that having women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) roles made their company more profitable. Yet, amongst these executives, 30% do not require that female candidates make up part of their recruitment pool (even though, statistically, women candidates will not be hired if the finalist pool consists primarily of white men).

It’s also time to expand our idea of what the idea of “diversity” encompasses. Fostering a diverse and inclusive culture isn’t just about scanning resumes for names of women and people of colour, but it’s about hiring representatives of all intersections of identities, who are different from ourselves visibly or non-visibly. Neurodiverse people, such as individuals on the autism spectrum, don’t often fit into our initial definition of “diversity” or “inclusion” because their differences from ourselves are not always immediately visible. But neurodiverse individuals often struggle to fit the desired profile sought by employers. Traditional hard and soft skills that employers screen in interviews—such as communication skills, networking skills, and being a team player—systematically reject neurodiverse people.

However, many neurodiverse people have higher-than-average abilities. Research shows that neurodiverse people can impart special skills in pattern recognition, memory, or mathematics, providing a valuable asset to your team. Regina Dugan, head of Facebook’s new hardware unit, has called cognitive diversity “the most powerful tool” because “when we are working on very difficult problems, it’s essential that we have different voices in the room.” Better problem-solving happens when a team feels inspired by how different they are, not when they are comfortable because everyone is the same.

“Diversity” is a hot topic these days, and your organization may even state that they have a commitment to inclusion. However, unless you make intentional steps to remove barriers and biases ingrained in the tried and (not so) true method of resume screening and informal interviews, your team is going to automatically fall back on homogeneity and low diversity rates. And that means missing out on untapped talent and innovation opportunities.

It’s time to make diversity a hiring priority. This means embracing new recruitment and hiring practices, because the old way of doing things relies on biases that, no matter what your intentions are, systematically result in teams of like-minded people that are comfortable but incapacitated to growth and innovation. So how do we break up these conventional hiring processes that get organizations stuck in cyclical ruts of the same-old, same-old?

Job descriptions

When you go to write that job posting, keep these things in mind:

  • Use plain language. Avoid jargon and acronyms to be inclusive to all candidates, despite reading level and industry-specific experience.
  • Focus on the what rather than the how. You should specify what needs to be achieved or what problem needs to be solved, but as soon as you describe how you expect the problem to be solved (i.e., what skills and past experience you expect will dictate how the problem is solved), you disqualify candidates that have alternate perspectives and approaches to problems than you do.  
  • Ask for ability, not credentials. This breaks down barriers for individuals with transferable skills but do not fit into your limited box of what makes a successful employee. Hiring for ability means hiring candidates who have a high potential for a specific job, but have not had the opportunity to exercise this potential. Hiring for a degree or prestigious unpaid internship favours people who have better networking opportunities and funds for education. A particular credential should only be necessary if it is essential to performing the job safely, legally, and effectively.

Narrowing down the candidate pool

Applications are in, but there are still plenty of ways your “gut” can sway your decision-making down the hiring funnel. Here are some ways you can ensure you can be hiring for diversity and innovation rather than for like-mindedness and conformity:

    • Take the focus off resumes. Resumes are inherently biased. Hiring managers make conclusions based on an applicant’s name in 0.2 seconds. Their focus on education and experience favour candidates of better socioeconomic status. Resumes measure what a candidate has done, but have no indication of how they will perform in a new role and context. It’s time to stop treating resumes as the key performance indicators of people. Instead of screening resumes first, use an assessment tool that appraises every candidate’s personality, deductive reasoning, and problem solving (far better indicators of employee success than keywords on a resume) and then check out their resume to make sure any required credentials align. Assessments at the top of the hiring funnel narrow down your candidate pool before any resume-based bias can occur.
  • Structure your interviews. When a job seeker walks into their interview, the hiring manager decides the outcome of the interview within 10 seconds of interaction. Obviously, 10 seconds is too short a time to practically assess the candidate, but it is plenty of time for interviewers to make conclusions based on the job seeker’s gender, race, physical and mental ability, age, and body weight. If you leave your interviews unstructured, you may be subject to confirmation bias—skewing interview questions to fish for answers that uphold your opinion. Structured interviews, however, allow a more objective comparison of candidates’ answers when it comes down to making the final call for who to hire.

Your company may be investing in unconscious bias workshops and diversity and inclusion seminars, because businesses are realizing the benefits of inclusive workplaces that goes beyond just reputational value. But are you leading by example by making diversity and inclusion a priority in your hiring process? There are opportunities for unconscious biases to dictate decision-making in every stage of the hiring process, from the job posting to the interview. If you want to gain the benefits of a heightened culture of innovation in your workplace, you first have to question the traditional hiring process and be innovative in your hiring practices.