Original article by Glenn Llopis can be found on Forbes.
Imagine your organization is expanding into California where its goods or services are needed but it has no footprint or name recognition. The population of the region is very diverse but largely Asian/Pacific-Islander, specifically Chinese-American. You are responsible for hiring the person to lead the expansion – to brand the organization, hire direct reports, find ways to connect with customers, and work with local leaders in the communities and government. There is no internal candidate for the position and the search has narrowed to two equally qualified and likable candidates: a Chinese-American woman who has never lived or worked anywhere but South Carolina her whole life and no knowledge of the target market and a non-diverse woman who has lived and worked with the target market all her life and is well-established in the business community.
Who would you hire?
Did you say the Chinese-American? So did more than 80% of the senior leaders – both in HR and in other departments – I presented this scenario to. The percentage was over 95% among non-diverse leaders. And after they answer, they all look at my face and say, “Uh-oh, I’m wrong, aren’t I?”
Yes you are. And here’s why: You were thinking about optics and workforce representation not increasing influence. You were thinking about diversity not inclusion. Which is why workforce representation, as it is usually defined, solves for quotas, not growth – it solves for diversity but rarely solves for inclusion.
Culturally diverse segments of the U.S. population have reached critical mass resulting in huge strategic implications for all organizations and industries. This cultural demographic shift and the populations it represents are influencing how all populations are thinking and want to be served. Of course we need more diverse leaders in positions of influence to serve these increasingly diverse marketplaces. But you think that influence is achieved by hiring a single Chinese-American who looks like the market but has no idea how they live? People always ask me what is happening and how to influence the market in Miami just because I am Cuban-American. I was born in the United States and never spent more than a week at a time in Miami. I’m not going to know. Neither would a Chinese-American from South Carolina know something about and have influence with Chinese-Americans in California– a state that looks and acts nothing like South Carolina – simply because she is Chinese-American.
Yet that is the perception. The result is a company hires for representation rather than the best talent for what it is solving for. Representation is about quotas, not moving all people to the center of our growth strategies – it’s about compliance, not influence. This is the mindset when diversity and inclusion is located in HR, because HR is all about compliance related issues. It’s a cost-center, not a profit center. It’s not accountable to influence business growth strategies.
I get that organizations across industries from education to healthcare to engineering to retail are facing demands to increase the workforce representation of diverse populations. But those organizations also know the talent pipeline of qualified shift population workers available to fill roles of influence is limited. Those that are available need to be placed on high potential tracks that allow them to earn influence in the organization based on performance capabilities – how their backgrounds introduce new ways of thinking that promote diversity of thought throughout the organization.
To do that, we need inclusive leadership that prepares shift populations to be successful in ways that embrace authenticity not forced assimilation. Only then can they challenge the status quo and create inclusive foundations for identifying and hiring the most qualified diverse and non-diverse leaders long term. Otherwise we get diversity without inclusion, and all that solves for is quotas. And that is not the right solve at a time when organizations are in search for growth.
The right solve is to embrace inclusion as an enterprise strategy that places all people (and their unique differences) in the center of where growth lies – in corporate strategy and transformation. That’s the foundation for inclusive workplaces filled with inclusive leaders who are aware of how all employees and customers can influence the future of the organization and want to be served. Diversity and inclusion thus becomes part of the healthy whole in which people are growing and evolving together – breaking down silos, challenging outdated roles and templates, and seeing and seizing new opportunities for growth.
Because when you move all people to the center of the growth strategy then everyone in all functional areas of the organization are responsible for solving for the opportunity gaps that affect growth: executive leadership, customer experience, healthy populations, and, yes, workforce representation
HR shouldn’t and can’t be responsible for managing all of these change management requirements, especially when many HR functions have grown outdated when you consider that the influence of the Cultural Demographic Shift is less about the business defining the individual and more about the individual defining the business.Ask yourself how many decisions have you made through the HR lens of “I-have-to-choose-the-diverse-candidate-mindset?” How much has that cost you in engagement and retention, workplace culture, and close-minded decisions and all the money associated with those things? Probably a lot.
Still think the Chinese-American is going to define and influence the future of the business?
Simply put, a leader does not have to be the diverse candidate to best serve shift populations or their communities. The non-diverse candidate was this organization’s path to long-term growth and sustainable inclusive leadership. The usual mindset of quota and workforce representation made this hire a short-term compliance play.
Both candidates may know they need talent to help sell and sustain the company in that market and need to hire talent that understands that market to solve for the opportunity gaps that lead to a long-term growth strategy. But only one candidate has the relationships and understanding in the market and the wisdom to best serve the unique needs of the community to do this, and what she lacks in diversity, she makes up for in diversity of thought.
Think the diverse candidate would eventually make the same hires? Think again. She may even feel threatened by the Chinese-American leaders in the market who know the market and community better than she does. Here’s why: in my experience, hiring diverse leaders who weren’t ready to assume roles of influence resulted in poorly evaluating future diverse candidate hires. The leaders may have been diverse, but they weren’t inclusive enough in their own right in their approach and intentions. They feel threatened because their inauthentic identities are being exposed – that they are not the heroes the company thought they are or would be. They thus become more territorial than inclusive, which further reinforced and perpetuated the organizational silos. Divisiveness prevails, weakening the entire ecosystem of shift employee populations.
Because they were never inclusive enough to begin with – they were hired for workforce representation that solved for diversity alone. They were fruit of the poisonous compliance tree. Chop it down. Its time to disrupt the status quo and reinvent the ways we work and lead. The marketplace has changed yet our thinking has not evolved.
It’s time to embrace a new mindset that moves diversity and inclusion to the center of an organization’s growth strategy and gives diverse talent the influence and start growing from the center out where everyone has the opportunity to be inclusive and influence the future.