What Diversity Really Means

Posted on August 7, 2014.

Do you have a diversity council at your company?  Are the members primarily made up of women and people of color? If you answered yes to either or both of these, I’m sure you have a very diverse workplace, right?  Maybe not.

Since creating a diverse culture starts with the hiring manager and not a “diversity council”, building the right environment takes more than creating policy and giving speeches.

There’s very little of graduate school I remember. But the one class I never expected to stick with me, or actually use, was a Human Resources course that discussed things like the Halo Effect and Group Think.  Yet as a hiring manager for many years, every single time I interviewed someone, I thought about the lessons learned in that class. Creating a truly diverse culture means shedding your own personal biases and hiring people that THINK differently than you do.  Now often those people are of a different gender, sex, religion or color.  But this assumption is just another form of bias.

Let’s talk about the Halo Effect first.  The Halo effect basically means you’re favorably disposed to hiring someone who’s attractive. Now attractive may mean looks, or it may be that you find them attractive because they have a similar background, or went to the same college.  The reality is that the person with a similar background is likely to think exactly the same way you do whether they’re considered “diverse” or not. You both come to the table with a similar frame of reference. So what have you really added to your team? Someone who will likely agree with everything you do and say. How nice for you.  Recognizing that you actually are attracted to the candidate for reasons that have nothing to do with experience, qualifications fit, or adding real thoughtful diversity to your team is a great step forward.

As it relates to interviewing and hiring, Group Think can occur when you have several people interviewing one candidate or a group of candidates.  In this scenario, opinion can often vary on who is the top candidate, especially given the Halo Effect mentioned above.  But as a group, the person with the strongest opinion and the most influence usually prevails.  The group is often more interested in agreeing and jumping on board than hiring the right candidate.  It’s possible that the right decision is made, but feeling like you can’t voice your own opinion can be dangerous.

First and foremost, adding diversity to the workplace means adding diversity of thought.  All the better if diversity of thought comes from groups of people who are usually discriminated against.  But people that will not always agree, people that have a different way of looking at a problem, people that have a different way of executing a task will yield the best result.