There is now endless research showing that diversity is good for business, good for innovation and good for creativity. A Harvard Business School study found that teams with colleagues from different backgrounds and experiences come up with more creative ideas and methods of solving problems.
Another study by the London Business School found that more gender-balanced teams better promote an environment where innovation can flourish. And the list goes on! In the end, if we’re all the same, how can we think differently?
In an environment where competition for talent is fierce, diversity can also be a secret weapon for building and retaining world-class teams. For example, research by Creative Equals found that teams that are diverse are 45 per cent happier and 48 per cent more likely to stay at a company.
Diversity is not just about gender. It’s about building teams that reflect society as a whole incorporating different ethnicities, cultures, neurodiversity (dyslexia, ADHD, autism etc.), sexuality, disability, socioeconomic backgrounds and more. Why? Because we all have biases - it’s human nature.
Here are a couple of examples of when unconscious bias gets us into trouble:
- When seat belts were first invented by a primarily male team, they only tested these belts on male crash test dummies. The result, while women are less likely to be in accidents, they were 47 per cent more likely to die from these accidents.
- Take the act of searching websites as another example. On average, men prefer to search a site using free text search, whilst women are more likely to prefer some form of signposting (like a drop-down search menu). The challenge comes when a tech product is built by a primarily male team, they unconsciously build products for themselves, not for everyone.
Building teams that are reflective of society as a whole will also become increasingly important as we enter an age of automation – if the people teaching the machines to think are homogeneous, we’re going to start amplifying bias at mass scale.
For me, LinkedIn always felt like it encouraged homogeneity, but being a dyslexic sole female tech founder, I never felt I fit the mould. What I’ve come to realise is it’s our differences that make us brilliant. So, in 2014 sunk everything I earned into starting The Dots from my houseboat Horace. Fast forward four years and The Dots has grown into a viable LinkedIn competitor with over 10,000 brands now using us to hire full-time and freelance talent. At the heart of what we do is helping businesses build diverse teams. Our amazing community is currently 68 per cent female, 31 per cent BAME, 16 per cent LGBT+ and we also do a lot of work to support disabled, neurodiverse, socioeconomic movements and disadvantaged talent. We also adjusted our algorithm so a more diverse selection of talent appears at the top of searches.
Over the years I’ve collaborated with hundreds of incredible diversity organisations who play a critical role in training, mentoring and remove the barriers faced by diverse talent. Here are some top tips I’ve learnt along the way.
Start from the top
Incorporate diversity into the company’s DNA. The most forward thinking businesses I know have second interview diversity quotas. Sourcing a big enough funnel of talent might take a little longer upfront, but it pays off massively in the long run.
Lead by example
You get the best out of people if they can bring their whole selves to work. For example, my email signature reads ‘delightfully dyslexic, excuse typos!’. My dyslexia comes with some challenges (like I’m terrible at spelling), but it’s also my superpower in that dyslexics have high levels of perseverance, intuition, creativity and empathy, meaning we thrive as leaders, creatives and entrepreneurs. The more leaders are open about their specific superpowers/challenges like neurodiversities, the more mid-levels and juniors coming through can also feel empowered.
Think carefully about job descriptions
You might be putting off a whole raft of people that might otherwise apply for your position simply by using the wrong language or overloading the job description with too many required skills and experience. For example, men and women do not perceive job descriptions the same way – on average a man will be more likely to apply for any job they’re interested in, while women tend to apply if they feel they have all the qualifications needed. I recommend stripping out everything that isn’t essential, as many things can be taught in-house. This will result in a more diverse selection of applicants.
Hire for value fit not culture fit
So often I hear people saying ‘we've got to hire for culture fit’. I become worried about that, as hiring for culture fit tends to mean hiring someone you think you’ll get on with – someone you would potentially go to the pub with. This attitude tends to lead to very non-diverse teams because you're hiring people like you and if we’re all the same how can we think differently? What's more important is hiring talented people who share your company's values.
Remove bias from your recruitment process
Interviewing by committee (around three people) is a great way for removing bias from the interview process. Blind recruitment is also great, and is a practice that has become increasingly common amongst recruiters in recent years. At its core, blind recruitment is a way to remove personally identifiable data such as name, photo, gender and age from incoming CVs. This results in companies considering applications solely based on talent and skill, thereby removing immediate bias at the first stage of the hiring process. This has lead us to develop a bias-free browsing mode when companies search The Dots to hire talent.
Pay your interns
Paying interns anything less than national living wage will bias junior hires, as those whose parents cannot afford to support them while they’re interning won’t apply.
Train from grass roots
At The Dots a while back, I found I was struggling to find female developers to hire, so I instead hired female junior mathematicians - who were incredible in their own right - and placed them underneath senior engineers who mentored and trained them up. This way they learned organically and the seniors loved training them as much as they loved being trained.
Have a diversity advocate
Within a company, placing someone who stands as the ‘diversity advocate’ can be beneficial. This way for example, anyone who is LGBT+ but has not yet come out to the office, or anyone who is neurodiverse, or anyone who simply doesn’t want to speak out, can go to the advocate who will inform the office for them.
Focus on team happiness
There is no point onboarding diverse talent into your business if you haven’t built an environment where they can flourish. Tokenism doesn’t work. Having just one diverse person on the team can actually lead to a negative effect of making individuals less able to express their identity in the workplace. Most businesses find this out too late, when talent chruns. A trick I’ve found to working out if you’ve built an inclusive working environment is to focus on teams happiness. I monitor this each quarter via an anonymous survey to my team asking how happy they are working at The Dots (1-10), what they love about working at The Dots, how I can improve the office to make them happier, how can I improve the product to make them happier and what would they do if they were CEO. The survey is a bit like an exit interview, in the end, if someone is struggling in silence because they find, for example, their open plan office distracting because their autism, they're not going to be happy or productive.
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