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Help! How to make your workplace diverse?

Dear OOO,

I am a (white, male) employment manager in a not very diverse company. I’d like to help us become more diverse, but only people who look like us seem to be competing, and I have no idea how to make people who don’t look like us. How can I be better at hiring so we can diversify our staff?


I shout a lot about the still sad lack of diversity in my industry on Internet, which means that I constantly get variations of this question from friends, associates and acquaintances, and even from complete strangers. As much as I like to be considered an expert on anything and everything, this particular line of questioning always confuses me a little. I don’t know if your area is like that, Mark, but the whites in mine are sometimes treated (other whites) as if they’ve unlocked some mystical secret when they just … hire black and brown people.

I cringe when people tell me that hiring people is from different areas difficult, because it is not; it just requires effort. When whites say it’s hard to hire more blacks and brown people for your all-white office, the implication is that it’s harder to find qualified blacks and brown people than whites. But that is obviously false. There are a lot of qualified non-white candidates for literally any job, and the only way to end up interviewing only white people is if you don’t want to invest in a job to get a more diverse pool.

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I don’t think I’m touching you, Mark. I fully believe that you really want to improve your business by making it more diverse and I promise to give you concrete tips for that. But I think it’s important to understand the systemic issues in the game before embarking on smooth instructions, because recruiting diversity is an area that requires a lot more critical thinking, and you can’t get that a step-by-step guide. I would first recommend that you read broadly about the diversity of jobs both in your industry and in general, and discuss what you learn with your colleagues.

Okay then, here’s the advice you actually came for. I would start by trying to identify things that might discourage people who don’t look like you from applying. I bet at the very least, people are reluctant to send in their resumes because they are well aware that you don’t usually hire people who look like them. Who can blame them? Talk to current employees in color (you have someisn’t it?) about how the company could improve their working lives and introduce the changes they seek. (Reassure them that this is not a trick question, but understand that they may not tell you anything, not because you’re honestly doing a great job, but because research shows that people of color are actually punished to advocate for diversity at work.) Look at your company’s retention rates for different groups of employees and if they differ by race, ethnicity, or gender, think critically about why. Consider the differences between diversity, equality and inclusion and figure out how to create an inclusive workplace. Then, when you identify great candidates (more on that below), you can tell them about all the positive steps you’ve taken to correct your own mistakes.

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Once you’ve taken all these steps, not a second before, focus on active recruitment, not just filtering through resumes that find their way to you. While public job posting is an important step towards a diverse workforce, it is far from enough. You have to use the same networking tools that in the past kept companies above all white and masculine in order to diversify them. That means asking all your contacts who they recommend. (One big caveat: Do it no ask prominent people of skin color in your area for their recommendations, unless you already know them well; you haven’t benefited from their knowledge, and having people feel absolutely put in won’t help you.) It also means browsing LinkedIn, Twitter, bulletin boards, or other places in your field where people gather for looks. Going to professional conferences and other events in your area can also help, but it is not a substitute for doing this more arduous job.

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