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Hire for diversity

Last updated on
October 12, 2018

We need to talk about workplace diversity – actual diversity; not the bad science of the Myers-Briggs test. As businesses, we are uniquely positioned to challenge the deep-rooted social and economic trends that determine who has access to opportunity. And in an era still saturated by the figure of the oppressive white man, the need to hire for diversity is more pressing than ever.

What do we mean by diversity?

When people think of diversity, people tend to focus on surface diversity – gender, racial and ethnic diversity, which are all visible. But there are other types of diversity that you can’t always see: educational and economic background, age, family status, culture, disability, gender identity, sexual preference, political leaning and religion.

And it doesn’t end there. On a more intellectual level, there’s diversity to be found in the ways we think and work, how we communicate, in our skills and interests, and the ideas we have. So when businesses fail to curate diverse teams, they effectively limit their own creative and developmental potential. And besides, hiring in your own image by no means guarantees your candidate will actually add value to your team.

The benefits of workplace diversity

Increasing workplace diversity isn’t a hollow exercise in box ticking – it’s an astute business decision, and it seriously pays off.

A 2015 McKinsey study of 366 companies discovered that those whose management team fell into the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity were 35% more likely to have higher financial returns. Gender diversity has a powerful effect, too: a Credit Suisse analysis of 2,400 companies found that companies with at least one female board member reported a higher return on equity and a higher net income growth than companies without women on the board. But seriously, let’s aim higher than one female board member…

Recently studies have revealed another advantage of workplace diversity: diverse teams are smarter. A mock-jury study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that jury panels were more fact-focused and made fewer errors when they were made up of both black and white participants, rather than all white. When you work with people who are different from you, your brain can be forced to refine its performance and overcome tired ways of thinking. Diverse teams are likely to remain unbiased, continually reviewing facts and encouraging greater analysis of each other’s actions.

But it really doesn’t end there! Diverse teams are also more innovative. A study published in Innovation: Management, Policy & Practice analyzed gender diversity in research and development teams from 4,277 companies, and found that companies with more women were considerably more likely to propose radical new inventions. Another study by BDG found that there’s a strong and significant link between the diversity of management and innovation: diverse companies reported an innovation revenue 19% higher than companies where diversity was below-average.

Build a genuinely diverse team

So how do you actually go about hiring for diversity without making the whole thing two-dimensional? Try these winning approaches:

Make inclusion a priority

Diversity begins with your company culture. Think about the organization you want to build, not just the job you’re recruiting for. What type of people do you want working for you – someone with a specific skill you need in that moment, or someone who’ll help your team grow? Take a look at your workplace; what toxic elements might exist? Are the people you hire heard and respected? Are opportunity and rewards shared equally, not just to those who shout the loudest? What about your workplace could make it difficult for someone from a different background to thrive? Do people actually challenge their own perceptions and check their biases? How do you deal with negative, closed-minded behavior?

Check your own hiring biases

As the person leading the hiring process, you need to try and eliminate your own personal biases as much as possible – which is even more important if they’re unconscious ones. When writing a job description, ditch anything that may sift out decent candidates e.g. bias towards certain educational institutions, brands, or years of experience. Look past trivial things like appearance and presentation (including the way CVs are formatted or the ways people introduce themselves) to find the potential in the people themselves. You could even add a disclaimer at the end of the job spec, encouraging people who might not be an exact match to apply anyway – “wildcards” often reveal the restrictions and lack of imagination of your job ads and what you think you need.

Hire remotely

There are so many advantages to hiring remote workers, but the biggest has to be that you can access a much wider talent pool – instead of limiting yourself to hiring within a set geographic location, you can hire the very best people across the globe. It enables a genuine cultural exchange to take place, and offers a unique opportunity to let wildly different perspectives and approaches work together. What’s more, you’re enabling someone to do self-enriching work while also letting them choose where they want to live – supporting individual choices, and ideally strengthening specialist skills in different areas without taking people away from their communities.

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