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Experts: Firms that don't have full buy-in on diversity will be at a disadvantage

Companies with diverse workforces are 1.7 times more innovative, according to a study. That's because diversity brings people of different backgrounds and perspectives together, avoiding the "group think" that can set in.

Don't fall into the trap of treating your

Don't fall into the trap of treating your diversity strategy like a quota system, says Janine Truitt, chief innovations officer at Talent Think Innovations in Port Jefferson Station. Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

With the labor market tight for certain skilled positions, companies should be casting their nets wider to attract a diverse pool of talent, experts say.

Many firms claim to be doing so, with 72 percent of employers reporting they have a “diversity and inclusion” strategy in place, according to a recent report by Allegis Group.

But less than half of respondents identified diversity as a top priority for business success, and only 37 percent said they have diversity hiring goals.

“The lack of diversity among senior leadership roles is a sign we still have a lot of work to do,” says Tanya Axenson, global head of human resources at Hanover, Maryland-based Allegis Group, a global talent solutions firm. To truly get behind these initiatives, “it takes clear direction and ownership from senior leaders that it’s part of the way we do business,” she says.

It can’t be just short-lived, check-off-the-box activities.

“It needs to be the way business is done,” says Axenson, noting there are clear benefits.

For example, since 67 percent of job seekers say they consider diversity when evaluating companies and job opportunities, firms with strong diversity programs will attract a better pool of applicants.

Plus, such firms are 1.7 times more innovative, according to Allegis Group. That’s because diversity brings people of different backgrounds and perspectives together, helping to avoid the kind of “group think” that can set in, Axenson says.

Also, consider that companies’ customer base is changing.

“There are more decision makers at organizations that are diverse,” says Lois Cooper, a Baldwin-based diversity and inclusion consultant and co-chair of the diversity and inclusion council for the Long Island chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management.

If you show up to pitch with an entirely non-diverse team, it could put you at a disadvantage, she says.

To be sure, there are many dimensions to diversity, and companies can’t cover every diverse group, which now goes beyond ethnicity and race. The Allegis Group report also includes LGBT workers, people with disabilities, and military veterans.

But you have to start somewhere, says Cooper, who is also board chair of Urban League of Long Island, which released a report last year related to equity on Long Island (tinyurl.com/yb89evfv).

Look internally and assess how diverse your own organization is, says Janine N. Truitt, chief innovations officer at Talent Think Innovations, a Port Jefferson Station business strategy consulting firm that assists clients in developing a diversity and inclusion strategy.

But don’t fall into the trap of treating your diversity strategy like a quota system, she says, noting that when you look at diversity and inclusion, you also need to look at equity.

Specifically, is your diverse population being promoted, given growth opportunities or being compensated as fairly as other employees? If not, you may have trouble keeping them engaged and/or retaining them, she says.

When seeking job applicants, cast your net wider than the traditional recruitment sources, Truitt says.

“When we put together a pool of candidates to select from, we put our job query out to as broad a reach as possible,” says Leslie Berkoff, a partner at Moritt Hock & Hamroff LLP, a law firm in Garden City and Manhattan.

This includes reaching out to bar associations focused on specific ethnic groups, she says, noting the firm also hosts events and speakers that address different diversity issues and groups. For example, it’s hosting a June event in Garden City with speakers addressing topics related to gender identification issues, discrimination issues and sexual orientation, says Berkoff, who founded the firm’s diversity and inclusion committee about seven years ago.

“We’ve ended up with more diverse candidates being presented to us because we’ve broadened our reach,” she says, noting that at the end of the day, they’re still looking for the most qualified candidates.

To broaden your reach further also consider how you word your job postings.

For some companies the same copy keeps getting re-used, which may include language that deters certain diverse populations, says Charlotte Zhang, a student studying human resources in the master’s program at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations in Ithaca, who co-authored research on how the wording of job descriptions impacts diversity recruiting.

For example, some masculine-skewed words may include assertive, strong and superior, while some feminine-skewed words might include thoughtful, creative and curious, according to the research.

Companies can use computer programs such as Textio to analyze the language they use, or they can ask a diverse group to give feedback on the wording. A firm might even test two different descriptions for the same job to see how the language impacts the pool of applicants, Zhang says.

“Work to incorporate less biased language in your postings,” she says.

Fast Fact:

11.4%

Percentage of senior HR executives who said their companies have diversity goals for leadership and development programs

Allegis Group

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