To Improve Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging, Look Beyond Recruiting

January 26, 2022
By Steve Astle
Man with magnifying glass and tie inspects a lineup of varied, puzzled professionals.

A lot of things that seemed debatable just a couple of years ago seem a lot less so today.

  • The wealth gap is widening and that’s a problem for everyone.
  • Discrimination against women and minorities persists to this day.
  • Economic opportunity is not evenly distributed across society, even here in the “Land of Opportunity.”

In recognition of these emerging truths — and let’s be honest, in response to mounting stakeholder pressure — many businesses today are working feverishly and earnestly to attract and hire employees whose demographic profiles and/or lived experiences will diversify their businesses. Unfortunately, while recruiting is often viewed as the tip of the DEIB (diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging) spear, it’s a pretty long spear.

Think about it this way: As easily as adjusting the mixture of hot and cold water in the bathtub, the admissions staff of a top university can turn a few dials and admit a freshman class with impeccable academic qualifications whose demographics perfectly match those of wider society. However, the potential impact of such a change will be greatly diminished as long as the profile of the tenured faculty, the contents of textbooks and the alumni mentoring network are all rooted in values and power structures from the last century.


"Recognize that increasing diversity, equity, inclusion & belonging isn’t a simple matter of “importing” people who are different; it also entails changing the behavior of those who are already there."


Similarly, in the business world, a well-run, well-funded recruitment engine may be able to draw diverse job candidates, but unless the organizational values and behaviors, the time-off policies and compensation plans, the professional development opportunities and the management training are all redesigned, any amount of recruiting success will have been for naught.

It’s not my goal to convince anyone that a diverse, equitable, inclusive organization enjoys considerable competitive advantages — there’s already abundant evidence of this. Rather, my point is that becoming such an organization is slow, hard, at times painful work — and if you think you’ve already achieved it, you’re probably kidding yourself. Here are a few lessons we’ve drawn from our work in this area with a wide range of clients:

Begin with an honest, objective assessment of organizational culture. Are the expressed values — those words on the “Careers” section of your website or on the backs of your laminated employee ID cards — aligned with the actual experiences of everyone working there? If not, where are the discrepancies, and what do they tell you about what’s changing, what needs to change, what must not change?

Don’t allow culture to be a proxy for discrimination. If you find yourself or your colleagues dismissing an otherwise qualified job candidate because of a “poor culture fit,” consider the possibility that the misalignment may be rooted not in consciously agreed-upon values like hard work, integrity and customer service, but rather in implicit bias — unconsciously passing judgment based on perceptions about those who don’t “look or behave like us.”

Recognize that increasing diversity, equity, inclusion & belonging isn’t a simple matter of “importing” people who are different; it also entails changing the behavior of those who are already there. So, for example, if you catch yourself passing someone over for promotion because she doesn’t have the skills needed at the next level, ask yourself whether you, as her manager, have the leadership skills needed to help her advance to that level. Maybe you’re the one who has some more work to do.