Now that the language and concepts of diversity, equity, and inclusion have proven they are here to stay in corporate culture, it may be tempting to think we’ve moved past talking about “diversity hires.”
The phrase seems almost problematic, suggesting that there’s a “best” candidate for the job—and then there’s a “diverse” candidate, and the latter is chosen for qualities that have little to do with the job in question.
But the dilemma is still very real for executive teams that are overwhelmingly white and male, and they can no longer ignore the fact that our diverse society is not reflected in their company’s leadership. It’s also clearer more than ever that their existing hiring structures haven’t historically identified diverse candidates outside of their networks. An even bigger challenge is determining how to create a team culture of belonging for people who are different from that majority.
So teams ask themselves: Should we mandate that this next hire be Black, or a woman? That’s not a simple question and the answer usually isn’t a clear-cut yes or no.
There’s a lot to consider when searching for the next member of your company’s C-suite, leadership team, board of directors, or even engineering team. Rather than guiding my clients through a framework to make this decision, I let them talk it out and jump in as needed. But I often kick off these discussions with the question, “What does success look like?”
This brings us back to the idea of what qualities make up the “best person for the job.” Of course, there are an infinite number of ways to answer this question that go far beyond the skills and diversity desired for this open role. Is the best interview performance really all we’re looking for? Are specific tech skills required or just nice-to-have? And how do we begin to assess those skills in our pool of candidates? Does this person need to fill certain gaps on the team or bring in a perspective that’s missing? Interviews aren’t always the best way to assess people, and onboarding adds another layer of variability. Ultimately, there will be different kinds of “best” in the pool of candidates, and the goal is to determine which one aligns with the goals and values the company deems most important.
To bring in another perspective, I usually ask executive teams to think about how their customers, partners, and the public might perceive their company when they see pictures of an all-white executive team on their website. What does that say about the company’s values? How does it resonate with the other messages they are sending in their branding and marketing materials? How would adding a non-white person to the team change that dynamic?
After discussing what their idea of success looks like and what qualities and skills the most aligned candidates might have, my clients usually have a better idea of which criteria are must-haves and which ones are more flexible. They might also become aware of some blind spots on their leadership team and begin to see how another perspective might be more important than more traditional criteria in the big picture of their overall success. However, the conversation is not over until we determine how their structures and systems might need to change in order to support and retain this new hire.
Hiring just one diverse executive can completely change the shape of your leadership team or board of directors. The voices and perspectives amongst these groups determine priorities and strategies that will affect every level of the company, and your public image. Remember that a “culture add” instead of a “culture fit” at the leadership level means this new hire may introduce your business to a new network of diverse contacts, and even expand your pool of potential clients, partners, and employees. This study by McKinsey shows that diverse leadership correlates with both higher levels of overall diversity and financial performance. But not without deliberate accountability for inclusive practices after those individuals are hired.
Breaking the mold of your ideal executive candidate and reimagining your company’s success is hard to do. A great way to avoid getting stuck in old habits and patterns is by bringing in someone from outside the organization to facilitate that conversation.
Is your team getting ready to make a big change? Get in touch with me and let’s chat.
And, if you do decide to mandate that the company venture out and find someone that represents a different demographic on your team, it’s important to appreciate their “culture add” features and to ensure that it doesn’t stop at one!