Diverse teams are awesome — just straight-up awesome. Numerous studies from multiple sources have found strong correlations between the diversity of a team’s members and the success of the team. The idea is that diverse teams are made up of people with diverse perspectives and ideas, and this mixture of perspectives leads to better problem-solving and more creative solutions. Diverse teams have an easier time stepping outside of the box, challenging the status quo, and taking risks that pay off.
So, why are so many employers having a hard time putting together diverse teams? Why are we all just hiring the same kinds of people over and over again (see, for example, Silicon Valley’s very recent, very public struggles with diversity)? And why did 74 percent of leaders surveyed by the Corporate Executive Board say their most recent hire was just like them?
Why — in other words — are we all hiring ourselves?
“More often than not, this is done in an unconscious way,” says Doug Upchurch, head of people development at Insights Learning & Development. “It’s not something people typically go out and do — I’m gonna hire a mini-me – unless you’re Dr. Evil. More often, unconsciously, we look at people, and we admire those traits that we admire in ourselves.”
There may be another factor at play here, too — namely, our current zest for emphasizing cultural fit above all else in the hiring process.
When Cultural Fit Goes Too Far
Not that we shouldn’t consider cultural fit when making hiring decisions, but that it’s all too easy for us to take hiring for cultural fit to extremes. One minute, we’re hiring people who share our values; the next, we’re hiring people who like the same things we like, and act the way we act, and think the same thoughts we think — all in the name of cultural fit.
What we need to do instead is strike a fine balance between fit and diversity of perspective, thought, and idea.
“That is a challenge. It probably is the challenge,” Upchurch says. “You need to make sure you don’t go too far in hiring for cultural fit, where it turns against you.”
Put another way: a myopic focus on cultural fit can lead to a company of virtual clones.
Upchurch’s advice for avoiding this pitfall: choose a few things that are “must-agrees,” and leave the rest open to diversity.
“Center your recruiting around values alignment and purpose,” Upchurch says. “Does this person really identify and align with what we do as a business? Do they align with our corporate values? Those things are the nonnegotiables [for us at Insights].”
But if a candidate is more introverted than the rest of your team? That shouldn’t be a problem. And if a candidate agrees with your values, but sees new and different ways to live those values ? Well, that’s more than not a problem: that’s the candidate you should hire.
How to Hire More Diverse Workforces
Given that we don’t often attract and hire our exact replicas on purpose, it can be difficult for recruiters, hiring managers, and leaders to stop doing so. It’s unconscious behavior, after all. That being said, Upchurch has a few tips that may be useful for employers that want to build more diverse workforces — and enjoy the benefits that come along with them.
1. Look Outside Your Normal Pools of Talent
If you’re always hiring from the same schools, the same cities, or the same job boards, try branching out a little.
“Look at different locations,” Upchurch says. “Talk to your peers and your colleagues in other industries. Find out where they find good talent.”
Recruiters often get stuck in routines, checking and rechecking the same pools of talent over and over again. The first step to diversifying your workforce is diversifying your talent sources.
2. Ask Candidates About Your Weaknesses
If you’re hiring people who are just like you, then everyone on your team probably has the same strengths and same weaknesses — and that’s no good. Teams should be made of people who complement one another — people who can succeed where their teammates struggle, and whose teammates can succeed where they struggle.
“I tell hiring managers to ask candidates questions about their own weaknesses,” Upchurch says. “Think about an area where you’re not so good, and ask a candidate how they would deal with that area. See if they have better ideas than you do. Tap into your struggles, and look for candidates that can complement your weaknesses.”
3. Do More Panel Interviews
During one-on-one interviews, only one person gets to know a candidate, and then that single interviewer gets to make a call about whether or not the candidate is the right person for the job.
During panel interviews, on the other hand, multiple people get to know the candidate, and these multiple people can bring different perspectives to the candidate’s qualifications, skills, and personality traits. When a more diverse group is making decisions about candidates, candidates who don’t perfectly “fit” the company’s mold will have a better shot at landing a job with the organization.
4. Don’t Look for What You Want — Look for What You Need
When putting together new job listings, Upchurch says, employers should ask themselves what they need — not what they want.
“Often, what we want may not be what we need,” Upchurch explains. “Think really long and hard about yourself and your team: what are the things you actually need to make the team better, to be different? [The answer] may not be the things you like.”
Too often, Upchurch says, we take the easy way out when hiring. We find someone with a similar background to our own, and we hire them because they are a “known entity.” But to build diverse, high-performing teams, we need to step outside of our comfort zones. We need to go after what we need — even if we don’t like it at first.
“It’s good to take a little risk,” Upchurch says. “When you really see the need of your organization — and the need of your team — you can look beyond the superficial. You can look at the impact that a person might have on your business.”