The powerful article by Harvard Business Review on Why Diversity Programs Fail has a few surprising findings. It shows how organisations have been trying to reduce bias with the same kinds of programmes since the 1960s and it shows how these programmes actually tend to make things worse, rather than better. Most programmes —diversity training, hiring tests, performance ratings, grievance systems— had been designed to pre-empt lawsuits by policing managers’ decisions and actions. But this kind of force-feeding actually activates bias and encourages rebellion.
Where a manager is asked to increase the diversity in his team, but then gets presented with 10 candidates of which only 1 ticks the “diversity” box, it leaves a bad taste, not only with the manager, who feels forced into a decision, but also with the candidate, who now has to prove that he or she “wasn’t just selected because”. However, when a manager gets to make a selection from 20 “diversity” candidates and gets to select the absolute best of those candidates, he actually walks away proud with his choice and often becomes a diversity champion in the process.
This interesting finding from the HBR article stands at the core of what has proven to work and what hasn’t. Positive approaches where managers get to shine when they score high on diversity within their teams, diversity task forces that champion change within the organisation, mentoring programmes that foster diverse talent, all have proven to work and truly move the needle on diverse initiatives within an organisation. When recruiting for positions where diversity is a key value add, it tends to be less about what you are looking for and more about how you are looking for it.