How To Increase Diversity Without ‘Lowering The Bar’
One of the more common concerns I hear when discussing the value of corporate diversity is the fear that focusing on diversity in the hiring process may be compromising the quality of the person hired to fill a position. This concern is often expressed as “lowering the bar,” but as this expression has been heavily criticized, I now hear a variety of alternative euphemisms, such as “we don’t hire for color, we hire for talent” or “we only consider the best candidates.”
Regardless of how it is expressed, the general idea is that expanding the pool of candidates to be more diverse requires relaxing the selection criteria so that more candidates can rise above the threshold for consideration. This post will give you the ammunition you need to blast this misconception out of existence and to make better decisions the next time you have the opportunity to influence hiring.
First, the idea that reaching a more diverse talent pool requires lowering the bar on quality reflects an insidious form of prejudice: somehow the pool of talent is thought of as a monolithic block, the top of which is predominantly white and male; it is only by going farther down from the top that more diverse candidates can be found. In reality, companies that struggle to attract diverse candidates are probably not making the effort to look in the right places. If this is your problem, instead of worrying about lowering the bar, try using a company like Textio, which helps you to remove gender-biased terms from your job postings, or Blendoor, which removes irrelevant data from the recruitment process to ensure candidates are hired based on merit. You should also consider posting your job opportunities on portals that attract large numbers of diverse candidates, such as Jopwell, Noirefy, Lane and Include.io, to name a few.
Second, and more important, the notion of lowering the bar relies on the flawed assumption that a company has a valid, quantitative methodology to assess the exact value of each candidate. The next time someone tells you they only hire the best candidates, ask them to describe the algorithm they use to rank candidates and to predict performance. And while they are hemming and hawing about this, ask them if they systematically check the performance of people they hired to confirm and improve the quality of their selection process. The reality is that most companies do not use a quantitative methodology to select candidates, and even the quantitative methods are rarely analyzed and improved systematically.
Regardless of whether the evaluation of candidates is based on quantitative or qualitative methods, all of them suffer from another critical flaw: the alleged “value” of a candidate is based on an estimation of how that candidate will perform in the specific role for which they are being considered. This narrow view of performance completely ignores the fact that every employee contributes to the company in multiple ways, many of which are not related specifically to their role. For instance, there is an increasing body of evidence that employees feel less valued when their leaders are not inclusive. Hence when considering candidates for a management or leadership role, being a member of an underrepresented minority should be considered as one of the criteria that contribute to the candidate’s value, because that person is more likely to be able to manage a multicultural team effectively. It is also important to point out that it is easier for a person who is naturally inclusive to learn a specific skill on the job, than it is for a person who already has that job-related skill to learn to be inclusive. Hence, other things equal, companies should place greater value on diversity than on certain job-related skills.
Finally, it is important to realize that both the recruitment and retention of diverse talent exhibit a sort of feedback loop: the more diverse talent you already have, the easier it will be to attract additional diverse talent, and the more likely it is that the diverse talent that you hire will feel valued and contribute more to the success of your company. Hence those companies that do not already have diverse talent need to make an extra effort to become more diverse — but the effort is well worth it.
The next time you hear someone complain about lowering the bar, please make them realize the silliness of what they are saying. And if you have the opportunity to influence hiring decisions, be sure to look beyond the narrow definition of roles and consider the value that diversity brings to your organization.
This article was originally published on Forbes.