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Organizational Dvpmt & Change

Diversity & Inclusion: More Than Just Buzzwords

Diversity & Inclusion: More Than Just Buzzwords

Author: Kathleen Cherrie

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) has consistently been a hot topic in the workplace.  Now more than ever, companies are working to develop strategies and programs that will help them foster an inclusive environment with diverse employees.  Having people from different backgrounds encourages innovation and helps avoid groupthink, enabling businesses to consistently improve their practices in order to remain at the forefront of their respective industries.  It also enables companies to provide a better product or service if their employees are reflective of their customer base.  Companies with a representative workforce experience higher success rates because employees can empathize with customers and have a better understanding of the customer’s needs, and as a result, customers find their employees more approachable.

There is no doubt that great strides have been made in this area, but there is still a long way to go.  We need to go beyond talking about D&I and take action.  A workforce that is diverse for the sake of quota fulfillment or PR only promotes tokenism and undermines the actual purpose of D&I initiatives.  Companies need do more than just say that diversity is important to their culture and ensure that their endeavours reflect a collaborative workforce with contributions from multiple perspectives.  We need to welcome all types of people into an environment that enables them to succeed and grow.  In order to successfully do this, we must address a couple key questions:

  • Are we making the effort to source candidates from a diverse pool?

  • How do we lower bias in interviews?

Sourcing for Diversity

In order to develop a diverse workforce, companies must actively seek diverse candidates.  Most of these efforts start internally where the company executives and recruiters team up to find the best way to search for these candidates.  Engaging with the community is the most effective step.  Organizations all serve the community on a certain level so it is essential for them to get out there and seek the desired talent in the real world.  Many HRIS systems have offered effective recruiting software to help get “the best” talent filtered to the top and simplify the hiring process as a whole.  While this may improve the speed of sourcing candidates, these tech solutions sometimes overlook qualified candidates because their resume was not a strong enough match.  And when it comes to finding diverse candidates, there are also problems with tech solutions.  An applicant tracking system cannot always see the story behind a candidate resume, so it is important to keep the human aspect in the recruiting process.  Just because there are not enough keywords does not mean a candidate is not qualified.

Additionally, diversity is not limited to race and gender.  Most companies tend to focus on these two aspects when trying to build a D&I program.  While race and gender play a major role in diversity, they are not the only factors.  We need to expand our definition of what makes someone “diverse” and in order to do that, we must dig deeper.  The key is finding something unique about the candidate that adds value to your organization.  Diversity includes (in addition to race and gender) class, physical ability, veteran status, sexual orientation, culture, religion, age, experience, job level, skills, thinking styles, educational background, etc.  It is more than just filling a quota for the positive perception to the public.  Diverse teams have been proven to produce better results and generate more revenue, so they are essential to any workplace.

Inclusive diversity promotes an environment where people of all backgrounds (not just demographics) can come together, collaborate, and develop an exceptional product or service with a positive impact.  For example, it might be pertinent to acknowledge the barriers that made someone choose a state school over a top 15 university, or the transferable skills of career changer trying to break into a new industry in which he/she lacks “direct” experience.  If anything, the candidates with non-traditional educational or work backgrounds are the ones worth looking into.  The candidate who went to school outside of the country or state may add a new perspective to your company’s way of thinking, and the recent grad who held down three jobs while going to school demonstrates resilience and is the type of person you’d want on your team and maybe for future leadership.  We need to look at all aspects of a candidate and hire a wide range of talent in order to keep the workforce thriving.

In order to find talent across diverse communities, you actually need to go out and engage with those communities.  We cannot solely rely on technology to find talent when we are looking to build a diverse workforce.  Technology only evaluates resumes based on keywords and filters, which severely limits the candidate pool.  Companies need to make the effort to host events or hold programs that actively engage with the communities from which they are trying to hire.

Lowering Bias in Interviews

While we cannot completely eliminate bias, there are strategies we can utilize to reduce it significantly.  We want to ensure that the interview process does not benefit some candidates over others.  Perhaps the most effective way to do this is to have a diverse interview panel.  There are several benefits to this model that will help reduce any bias towards a candidate.  After all, studies have shown that diverse teams in the workplace produce better results, so why not go with a diverse interview panel to do the same for hiring?  The following are some benefits that this type of interview panel can bring:

  • More than one person is evaluating the interviewee so if there are multiple points of feedback and one person’s unconscious bias does not completely influence the decision
  • Having people of multiple backgrounds on the interview panel enables the company to get a more well-rounded perspective of candidate qualifications and what factors are necessary to succeed in the role
  • The interview panel also allows for an in-depth discussion on the candidate’s qualification in relation to their background and experience (how can they contribute, and their ability to learn on the job)

Another way to help reduce bias in the interview process is to provide candidates with some sort of skills-based assessment that allows them to show their ability to perform job functions.  In addition to this assessment, make sure that the person evaluating is not familiar with the candidate.  The blind grader will only be provided with the final product from the candidates and evaluate whether the skills and competencies in the desired person for this position are represented in the work.  For instance, a software engineer would be given a coding assignment where he/she is required to produce the necessary code.  Or an event coordinator candidate would be given an assignment to create an event of his/her choice for the company, write up a proposal, and create a flyer.

Working to eliminate bias ensures that companies  make better hiring decisions and reduces roadblocks candidates may face.  Ultimately, fostering an environment of diversity and inclusion allows companies to build communities of success that benefit employees and employers.


Kathleen Cherrie is a trained HR leader with a BA in Psychology from Chapman University and a Professional Certificate in Human Resource Management from UC Berkeley. Professionally, she has a background in financial management, environmental health and safety, community outreach, and customer service roles.

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