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How to infuse diversity & inclusion into your company’s DNA

This article originally appeared on VentureBeat and was written by Topia CEO, Brynne Kennedy. 

A more culturally and gender-diverse workplace improves business success. Not only has this been widely documented by McKinsey and Gallup, but also anecdotally supported by companies around the world. Still, despite the direct correlation between diversity and higher profits and revenue, there remains a significant void in gender and ethnic diversity for many companies, especially in the technology sector.

Now that the spotlight has been shined on employee uniformity within so many companies, diversity and inclusion (D&I) is becoming a higher priority. Is it because of the missed business opportunity or the negative publicity? The driving motivation can be difficult to decipher.

Still, the good news is the tide is beginning to turn, albeit very slowly. The leadership gap for women is beginning to narrow and it looks like 2018 could be a tipping point for women founders. At the same time, many progressive companies are focusing more on recruiting ethnically, culturally, age, and lifestyle diverse candidates. This means that companies that are slower to adopt new policies and practices must act now to avoid falling behind in this critical area. The broader ecosystem of employees, entrepreneurs, and investors has taken notice of the impact D&I can have.

“It’s encouraging to see that companies are increasing the effort and focus placed on workplace diversity,” says Hilarie Koplow-McAdams, a venture partner at NEA, a global venture capital firm investing in technology and healthcare companies. “There is always more work to be done, but it’s a worthwhile effort — I’ve seen the value of diversity and inclusion at the companies I’ve worked with and believe that every organization can benefit from the perspective and experience of a more diverse staff.”

If yours is one of the many companies focused on making D&I a higher priority, here are a few strategies that can help embed it as part of your organization’s DNA.

  • Push back on search firms. With unemployment at a 17-year low, the talent market is extremely tight. That means search firms are having to work exceptionally hard to source viable candidates, and it’s easy to overlook D&I attributes in the pressure to fill roles. As a company, it behooves you to hold any search firms’ feet to the fire when it comes to sourcing the candidates you need, even when those metrics include facilitating diverse hires.
  • Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Birds of a feather flock together, and as humans, it’s much easier to work with people who share our same perspective. However, in building a diverse team, you must challenge yourself to work with people who are different. Otherwise you’ll get caught up in groupthink and potentially alienate yourself from your customers’ needs in the process. Instead, welcome the challenge of a different perspective because it could just be the unique point of view that creates a strong differentiator.
  • Be careful with data-driven approaches. The problem with AI-based hiring technology is that too often the teams who build the technology aren’t diverse. That means products intended to eliminate unconscious bias may actually have bias baked into their code. If you opt for the AI-based route, choose carefully to ensure the product comes from a team with a diverse background to reap the most diverse outcome.
  • Don’t rely on targets alone. Setting D&I targets can help your organization evolve toward a more diverse culture, but they can also result in token gestures of parity. No woman who’s worked hard to build a successful career ever wants to be the token woman at the leadership table, just to fill a checkbox. Instead, focus on how you’re operating. Don’t ask women about their plans for having a family unless you’ll also ask the men. Don’t make disparaging remarks about religion or ethnicity, ever. These make minority employees self-disqualify, assuming they’ll be shut out of opportunities for growth or leadership. If diverse employees feel welcome, you’ll attract more diverse employees.
  • Leverage global mobility to your advantage. Technology is enabling employees of all walks of life to work from anywhere. By implementing an efficient global mobility strategy, companies can tap into a potential talent pool that reaches far beyond their physical location, opening the doors to a wide range of cultures, ethnicities, and gender inclusiveness.

“Global mobility gives companies a strategic advantage to hire whoever they want, wherever they reside, or to strategically relocate talent in order to pursue new market opportunities,” says Peggy Smith, CEO and president of Worldwide ERC, a nonprofit that promotes global mobility. “This results in greater business agility and improved innovation that creates a competitive advantage.”

But, even with an effective strategy in place, companies must still ensure diversity in their mobility programs, too. For example, over 70 percent of women want global mobility as part of their careers, but only around 20 percent actually get the opportunity.

“It’s not enough to say that you offer the opportunity to explore an international career. You must demonstrate it as well,” says TalentCulture CEO and Founder Meghan M. Biro. “So, we must be sure to leverage mobility as an opportunity for the individual, as well as the company.”

The most effective way to infuse D&I into any company is to humanize the process through authenticity. By focusing on the employee experience — the quality of life, career opportunities, and overall value employees gain by working for your organization — companies can attract and recruit a diverse talent pool based on the example they demonstrate better than any policy or program they promote.

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