One of the most common questions we get asked at P4G. And why we don’t recommend starting there.

Three people in yellow and white clothing contribute puzzle pieces to a large light bulb on a blue background.

“How do I diversify my organization?”

This is something we get asked often at P4G. And when you dig in, the real question behind it is often, how can I hire more People of Colour?

While the intention is likely coming from a good place, it’s not the question we recommend starting with. Before we jump to the end, we need to start at the beginning.

A diverse and inclusive team is the outcome of successful cultural and systemic shifts designed to foster a culture of belonging.

What’s your motive?

Before asking “how can we make our team more diverse?”, we encourage clients to consider their motive. Is the motive a result of executive-level pressure to meet a ‘diversity quota?’ Is it for a reputation that gives the organization a progressive front-face?

We often see the business case for cultivating diverse teams. It sounds like ‘diversity propels business, profits, global exports, so why wouldn’t we take the leap?’

We don’t love the business case. Nobody wants to see their potential employer having to be sold on why to hire them (reasons that aren’t required of majority power candidates). The business case is rooted in colonial practices stemming back to slave trade. Research shows that workplaces promoting a business case for diversity makes members of underrepresented groups feel interchangeable and depersonalized.

While requiring a shift in thinking, it’s important to recognize that motives that sound like the above, fail to center the needs of those most impacted. Those who have been historically and intentionally excluded by institutions and workplaces, which have been designed to benefit and reward the majority power. What do we mean by ‘design’? See our fit vs contributor blog.

Own your why

If c-suite level leaders in an organization can’t meaningfully speak to a why that prioritizes the community, then it’s near impossible for employees to climb onboard.

A better place to start is by asking yourself, what might be stopping people from wanting to work at your organization? What is making people feel undermined, ignored or dismissed?

Then ask, how can we remedy any harm we have caused while cultivating a safer and inclusive workplace? One that people with diverse perspectives and experiences want to be part of? 

The easy route is probably not the right route

When it comes to this work, we don’t suggest a check-box approach and the work will probably require the same level of resources, time and planning as any other organizational pillar. 

Everyday we are making decisions that affect other people. And they are influenced by organizational processes and personal bias. Gone unchecked, our actions can lead to unfair treatment or judgment of people, and their abilities, value and contribution. 

If your workplace has been hiring for fit and has limited experience with anyone from outside of the ‘norm’ you’ve created, then making a ‘diverse hire’ without addressing the potential biases and structural barriers that exist can cause more damage. 

Whenever you add or make change in an organization, the majority group might feel as if something is being taken away from them. We have all had that moment where we pushed back against change because it felt hard. If we fail to communicate why a change is necessary, it can cause further tension and divide among a team.

Creating a safer and more inclusive workplace means creating the conditions for people to be seen, heard and valued. Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. Check out some of our services to see if connecting with our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Facilitator could amplify your organization’s journey. Learn more here.

Shout out to Kaylee Hake, Margaret Schwartz and Bradley Daye for their edits and contributions to this train of thought! 

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