Three terrible responses to the diversity question

Whenever I interview for a new role, I always make sure to quiz the company on it’s level of diversity. The response gives great insight into what a company values beyond the work they deliver. Here I want to share the three worst responses I’ve hadt and why I think diversity in the workplace is so important.

#1 “I hired a gay man recently because, hey, why not!”

Seriously?! This goes along with any form of listing out current employees that aren’t straight, white and male. It’s inappropriate and doesn’t actually answer the question. Moreover, you shouldn’t be sharing out your employees private information! This kind of answer makes you seem unprepared and makes it clear that diversity isn’t something that the company values. It also raises questions as to whether you are positively discriminating when hiring.

Instead of listing individuals, I’d like to hear statistics. A hypothetical example:

As we specialise in modelling men’s clothing, 90% of our workforce are male. Whilst the nature of the business does mean we have a lower number of women across the business, we do have fair representation when it comes to LGBT and ethnic minority groups.

You don’t have these statistics to hand? Then go and get them! There are plenty of tools to anonymously collect information from your employees (if it’s legal to do so in your country). Another common pattern is to collect it at the point at which people apply for the position – just be sure to keep that data separate from the application itself to avoid potential bias!

#2 “Only 1% of our applicants are women.”

This says two things. You have a lack of diversity and you’re willing to blame it on forces that you perceive to be outside of your control.

Variants include:

We don’t really have a say as all applications are managed through [an agency].

Well, the industry is known for a low number of members from [insert group].

Any of these responses warrants questioning into what you are doing to put yourself in front of minority groups. I want to hear about the events you get involved in and how you promote your company such that people from all walks of life become aware of what you do and become interested in getting involved. You go to graduate fairs and LGBT pride parades? Great! You regularly host workshops aimed at minority groups and give talks out in the community? Cool! You’re focussing on growing your social media presence to attract people from near and far? I definitely want to hear more about that!

Yes, some industries do suffer from a lack of diversity but blaming the problem on the industry itself is not going to solve the problem. Companies that acknowledge this and get creative with how to bring in a more diverse set of people are personally much more attractive.

#3 “We try but there’s not much we can do”

Similarly to #2, this shows a lack of responsibility and a lack of willingness to address the real problems. There are plenty of actions you can take as a company to attract a more diverse audience. Do you provide work experience for school kids or graduate schemes for those leaving university? Do you train staff on bias and regularly assess your hiring process to ensure a lack of both positive and negative discrimination? Is your office accessible to wheelchair users without having to go round the back of the building to use the lift intended for deliveries? Do you sponsor local meet-ups? Do you get involved in awareness days/weeks/months? Do you showcase your diversity online and in the real world? The list goes on.

Saying there isn’t anything you can do about a lack of diversity is easy but the longer you ignore the problem, the worse the impact could be. Think women don’t want to join you because you’re a team of 5 men? What about when you’re a team of 30?

Working amongst employees with a diverse range of backgrounds provides a greater range of experience to pull from when tackling new problems. New university graduates have had exposure to the latest research. People from different areas of the world are brought up with different ways of thinking. People from minority groups provide insight into segments of the population that may otherwise be forgotten or ignored.  A company that doesn’t have a range of diversity is more likely to became static as it tackles problems in the same way over and over.

If you do not already ask about diversity at job interviews, I hope that this post has persuaded you to start. For anyone who sits on the other side, I hope this post has convinced you that giving an answer without due thought could be turning great people away.

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