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We tend to hire those who are most similar to us. And yet our success depends on a diversity of perspectives. So how do we overcome barriers in the diversity hiring process?


The conversation on diversity in the workplace is very visible in many organizations around the world these days. Diversity by the way, means different things in different countries and cultures. In some places, it begins with laws and possibly even indicators, which ensure hiring decisions are not influenced by gender, age, sector etc. In the last few years, much of the diversity conversation evolved to include values and social justice. But the real change is happening these days, as we begin to comprehend the direct relation between a diverse workforce and business success. Since the world markets are comprised of diverse customers, a diverse workforce inside your organization is the only way to ensure you get the full range of perspectives you need to understand these markets and approach them with the right products, services and messages.  So why are we still holding conversations about inclusion of females, minorities, age groups and other sectors in the workforce?

We don’t really “throw CVs out” due to diverse criteria

In a recent conversation with a public figure, attempting to clear the way for a specific sector, I realized the person I was talking to really believed the hiring process filtered out that specific sector, or in his words “hiring specialists see this on a CV and the throw it out”. You might have heard this before, in relation to females, minorities, age group or other sectors. When a sector finds it hard to get a job, we believe we get screened out in the process. That is a simplistic approach to the problem, one that puts the entire weight of the problem, and the solution, on the hiring processes. And yet most barriers to entry of people into the workforce do not involve “throwing their CV out”…

That is not to say there are no barriers to entry, but they are more complex and do not fall squarely on one part of the system. This also means that the solution space requires focus by all players, including the organization, hiring managers and the candidates themselves.

Let’s start with organizations. A few years ago I was tracking the proportion of input and output of diverse candidates in a large scale sourcing effort. I noticed that the process was not yielding the same proportion of older candidates as was their share at the start of the process. The process was managed by an outsourced specialized hiring firm and the organization which contracted for the service did not define any criteria that would have filtered out employees of certain age groups. To the contrary, there was a good focus on diversity of hiring, including age groups, thus the evaluation of the process outcome.

That is where I met the most dominant diversity hiring barrier of all:

We hire those who are most similar to us.

Imagine a group dynamic type of session, where candidates are evaluated based on their interaction with their peers. Now imagine 10 candidates, 9 of which have similar backgrounds, age group or ethnicity. And the 10th candidate is different, or in the case we were studying older. On top of that, the person evaluating the group dynamic was also similar to the 9 candidates, about the same age group and background. So, what do you think would happen to that 10th candidate???

So you see, organizations do not intentionally “throw out CVs” of diverse candidates. In fact, they may be intentionally seeking them. And yet we hire those most similar to us because that is the environment we are most comfortable working in. So, how do we make sure we overcome this barrier?

First step is to be clear on the “what’s in it for us”

This is about the WHY you not only want, but need a diverse workforce. While social justice is an obvious answer, the business reason is a much stronger motivator. Who makes the decisions in your market? The women? Young people? Are you targeting a global customer base? An organization whose workforce does not mirror its customer base is likely to make decisions without taking into consideration all relevant inputs.

The technology sector today, for example, is in the middle of a very active conversation on the participation of technical females in the workforce. Why? Because this industry discovered technology is no longer a big black box mostly purchased by men. The broad array of products included in what we now call technology enjoys a significant female customer base. So if females are part of the decision making around your products, you might as well make sure they are part of designing it…

How do you conduct interviews?

Another way to remove barriers for diverse hiring is to introduce into the hiring process people from the same group as the candidate. An interview is a stressful interaction for the candidate and in many organizations, interviews are conducted by hiring managers or human resources. If one of the interviewers is of similar background to the candidate, he or she is more likely to feel comfortable and, more important, the interviewers are more likely to be able to move beyond unconscious reactions based on “similar” or “different” and be more objective in evaluating the candidate.

If you are utilizing external hiring agencies it is even more important that you define the importance of diversity in your process. Hiring agencies might otherwise play it safe, wanting to bring you candidates you are likely to hire, thus staying away from anyone who is “different”. And if you’re using some sort of group dynamics in your hiring process, you might want ensure you are creating diverse groups, so no one stands out as being different only based on age, gender or ethnicity.

And last but not least, the hiring managers themselves are very important to the ability of diverse candidates to make it through the hiring process. In the area of ageism, for example, when a young hiring manager hires someone say, over 50, they maybe, even unconsciously, asking themselves questions about the candidate’s expectations, flexibility, ability to work with them or their peers etc. These questions will most probably impact the hiring process outcome at least to the same degree if not more than the objective experience and education data. Women in some cultures might recognize this in the form of questions on family and work life expectations. Immigrants might recognize this in reaction to language difficulties or accents. Any such interface between candidate and hiring manager includes this hidden layer of questions and biases.

My recommendation to any candidate, if at all possible in the context of your culture and your environment, put these unspoken considerations on the table and discuss them. Don’t worry about opening the conversation on whatever you think is unspoken between you. It will enable you to address the unasked questions and thus influence the decision making process.

And if you’re in an organization, in a position to impact the hiring process, remember your results will be as good as the diversity of perspectives in your workforce. So don’t be afraid of those who are different, they will make your life interesting.

Nirit Cohen

Nirit Cohen is an expert in the future of work, bridging the gap between emerging trends and practical solutions, providing valuable insights for careers, management, organizations, and broader societal systems.

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