How Hard Should You Push for Diversity


In a recent Harvard Business Review Blog, Case Study: How Hard Should You Push for Diversity,  the Managing Director of Diversity Recruiting at GlobeBank, Charles Begley, finds himself in the middle of a predicament. Begley scours hundreds of resumes and meets with numerous applicants in order to recruit a diverse range of employees. He needs to ensure that GlobeBank is attracting the best talent in the marketplace. As an African-American male, Begley not only wants to ensure that GlobeBank is open to individuals of all backgrounds, but is also a company that his son, Jason, would someday want to work.
Like many other companies, GlobeBank struggles to achieve this goal of a culturally diverse staff. The CEO of GlobeBank, Will Sonenberg, comments in a Businessweek article that the minority and female representation in management has been stagnant with no noticeable improvement for some time now. Despite Charles’ efforts to fill the pipeline with well qualified minority candidates, few of these candidates have pushed through into the executive ranks. Charles predicts this lack of progress is a consequence of “blockers” who underutilize the potential in their employees depriving them the ability to build a more impressive résumé. To counter the blockers within companies and encourage the utilization of those employees, the questions proposed is:

Should Charles advocate for financial incentives to increase the number of diversity promotions?

Many would disagree with financial incentives to improve diversity in the workplace. There may be the fear that diversity incentives may cut overall productivity by placing diversity ahead of qualification and talent. It is still a business and some believe these incentives would potentially put competence on the backburner. Instead, companies including GlobeBank could redefine their definition of diversity. To this point, Charles is expected to recruit minority and female applicants. This hints that GlobeBank’s definition of diversity is variety in race and gender. Instead, the definition could be modified to include variety in skillset and experience. By recruiting and promoting on these terms, all interested applicants can be included and considered for hire and, later on, promotion. From this point, the most qualified candidates should stand out.

But, what happens when qualified employees are being underutilized? This was the case with two African-American GlobeBank employees, Anthony and Trey, who felt they were repeatedly being assigned to dead-end projects. They both felt bored and untested. An implemented system that encourages the inclusion of every staff member ensures that relationships are being built with employees of every rank, top to bottom. This helps deter the feelings of detachment and stagnation that Anthony and Trey were experiencing.  This also makes it easier for workers to showcase their skills and share their achievements and experiences with higher-up decision makers. Furthermore, it breeds familiarity, so that employees aren’t going unseen or unconsidered for certain tasks and projects. In this instance there needs to be some form of accountability.

There are other tools companies could use to encourage diversity and ensure that all staff are being utilized and recognized to their full potential.

Incorporate all staff into the same circle: Emphasize inclusion among the staff members. By building an environment conducive to interaction and relationships, employees are more inclined to embrace the company’s vision and feel like they really are a part of the mission. Employees who feel detached or distanced won’t perform to their potential.

Let employees showcase their skills: Acknowledge the accomplishments of your staff. Celebrate and make it known that their hard work is making a difference. This will encourage them to go the extra mile and to stay engaged. Pay close attention to the unique skills of employees and give them a chance to shine.

Use the incentive system on the employees: Instead of rewarding executives for promoting and retaining diversity in the upper ranks, reward employees who go above and beyond in the first place. Let them know that their effort is what will determine their future in the company.

Survey the employees: Have your staff periodically participate in satisfaction surveys to assess how content and engaged your employees really feel. This is a great way to gain insight into the way employees view their experience with the company. Xerox, a leader in diversity in the business world successfully utilizes a similar survey system.

All communities whether it is the workplace or a neighborhood should encourage the high achievement of all people and not have barriers for certain populations. The main issue in the instance of GlobeBank and with numerous other contexts is getting everyone on board, especially, in this case, executive board members. Executives must understand that diversity is a true competitive advantage. History suggests that the incentive or “quota” system is ineffective. Although a quota system can make a company appear more diverse, it does not address the systematic reasons for under-representation in the workplace. By hiring or promoting a person based on any factor other than competency, you jeopardize their ability to succeed. A study by UCLA Law School Professor Richard Sander concludes that the preferential admission of Black students for the sake of diversity was ultimately detrimental to their success. They were admitted to fill a quota rather than on their level of qualification. If this trend is seen in higher education, it is reasonable that it would carry over into the business world. Rather, by using the diversity tools listed above, a company can ensure that they are using a fair system to develop a pool of diverse, well-qualified employees.  In order to truly promote diversity in the workplace, it is crucial that the best interest of every employee be put at the forefront. Everyone in the system must understand the fundamental benefits of a diverse workforce and execute the specific, equitable vision to ensure a vibrant future for their organization.

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Harvard Business Review Blog: How Hard Should You Push For Diversity


By Ryan Dusil, Fair Housing Policy Research Assistant

Photo by Eline Van Beek

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