The corporate world embraces diversity and inclusion. Countless mission statements say so. Building a diverse organisation is supposedly a strategic imperative. But the question remains: Are businesses making it happen or missing the mark?
One test is talent acquisition. If diversity is so important, you would expect it to be reflected in the selection of senior executives and skilled professionals.
In the real world, a mixed picture emerges.
Awareness of the advantages of diversity and inclusion is certainly growing.
The ‘2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends’ report says 69% of executives say diversity and inclusion are important, up from 59% in the previous survey.
Furthermore, the number of executives who cited inclusion as top priority rose 32%.
Diversity strategy has the CEO’s attention.
CEOs are the primary sponsors of diversity initiatives, according to 38% of executives canvassed in this international survey.
Finding the right skills, irrespective of gender or race, is crucial. It ranks third among the major concerns of business leaders, says the Deloitte report. It is ‘very important’ or ‘important’ to 83% of executives.
Increasing pressure to comply with organisational hiring policies and quotas also drives growing focus on diversity and inclusion.
There is an implicit prohibition of ‘cloning’ (hiring someone just like you) as it perpetuates the status quo and is bad for the business. Failure to move forward could even kill the business, yet the practice remains prevalent.
‘Cloning’ may not involve the same race, gender and religion, but the same skills, management approach, interests, likes and dislikes as the hiring manager and team.
The pretext is often that the selection gives the best ‘culture fit’ and therefore seems perfectly acceptable.
However, ‘cloning’ is toxic as it fosters group-think. Consensus and like-mindedness strangle collaboration, creativity, innovation and risk-taking.
Industries and technologies change. Customer’s needs change. Therefore, a team’s ability to generate new ideas and embrace change is critical.
Here, experience shows it is easier to teach a multi-skilled team how to resolve conflict among themselves than it is to teach a homogenous group how to generate alternative solutions.
We can espouse diversity in theory, but nullify it in practice simply by sticking with time-honoured recruitment practice that might be skewed toward recruitment in our own image.
This explains growing doubts about traditional interviewing.
It seems our brains are hot-wired to make rapid assumptions (an asset when ancient man had to instantly assess danger). Research shows we take just 15 seconds in a rush to judgment. Essentially, we look for things that make us comfortable.
Quickie judgments like this can flaw traditional interviews.
Obtaining a diverse skills set may be vital. But how, if old-style interviews might not be up to the job?
A mix of tools is increasingly adopted, including psychometric tests (often questionnaire-based), simulation exercises (to replicate challenging scenarios and scrutinise behaviour) and semi-structured or competency-based interviews.
Is there any evidence South African business is racing to adopt these more objective assessment tools in its quest for greater representivity?
Yes and no.
Some employers are moving in this direction. Others rely greatly (sometimes solely) on traditional interviews. Often, objective assessment techniques identify a high potential candidate who challenges traditional thinking, identifies novel opportunities and embraces risk, but is passed over by a hiring team who favour slow, cautious and conservative thinking.
Again, the culture-fit rationale is trotted out.
It seems everyone wants diversity, but ‘cloning’ is comfortable, ‘cloning’ is acceptable … but for how long?
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