Increasing diversity offers major benefits to virtually all organizations. That’s not merely an assumption—research shows that companies with more diverse workforces tend to be more profitable than others.
Despite this, there are many executives and managers who don’t prioritize diversity. Many of them have fallen prey to widespread misconceptions about diversity hiring.
It’s important to debunk these myths. The following are some of the most prevalent misconceptions about workplace diversity, and why they’re rooted in false assumptions.
Myth: Promoting diversity is merely a way of illustrating “ethical” or “socially-conscious” behavior.
Some leaders fail to promote diversity in the workplace because they believe it’s merely valuable from a branding perspective. In other words, it’s generally a good thing to do if you can, but the precise link with profitability isn’t clear, so it’s not strictly essential and not worth a major change in hiring practices. At most, diversity is valuable enough to consider in an informal way during hiring, but not enough of a priority to create a dedicated initiative.
Of course, this is an out-of-date way of thinking. It’s also completely inaccurate. Again, while it is important for employers to use the power they have to expand opportunities for others, it’s also worth remembering that research consistently proves hiring for diversity is good for a company’s bottom line.
Consider the comprehensive 2018 McKinsey report Delivering Through Diversity, which found that companies in the top 25% for executive team cultural diversity were 33% more likely to have “industry-leading profitability.” The same report also found that companies in the top 25% for executive team gender diversity were 21% more likely to have greater profitability and 27% more likely to have superior value creation.
This is merely one example. Research has also shown that organizations that prioritize diverse hiring tend to enjoy higher levels of employee engagement, higher retention, more innovation, and a greater ability to attract the best talent.
These facts illustrate the basic value of promoting diversity in the workplace, beyond performative signaling. If you’re not prioritizing diversity and inclusion, you’re depriving your company of a significant competitive edge.
Myth: Hiring for diversity means lowering your standards.
In reality, hiring for diversity has been shown to help companies attract better employees—people want to work for more diverse companies. This may surprise people who’ve assumed that hiring for diversity requires lowering standards in the name of greater inclusion.
Many executives and managers mistakenly think that, if hiring for diversity is the top priority, hiring for talent and experience must take a back seat.
It’s easy to understand why this type of thinking is problematic. It implies that candidates who benefit from diversity hiring initiatives are naturally less likely than others to have the necessary talents and experience for a job. Additionally, it overlooks how some factors can make someone appear more or less qualified than they actually are.
All humans have biases, and many of these affect hiring decisions. People tend to think more highly of people who are similar to themselves (similarity attraction bias) or people with whom they have something in common, like the same school, hometown, or degree (affinity bias.) None of these qualities, however, truly indicate that a candidate is a good fit for a job. People who believe that hiring for diversity would mean lowering their standards should consider whether their current “standards” even matter—or whether they amount to irrelevant qualities like a degree from the “right” school.
A hiring initiative that prioritizes diversity can help correct these biases. It is a way to help organizations consider talented and qualified people who might otherwise be overlooked. In this way, diversity hiring is a way to improve an organization’s candidate pool.
No one is asking leaders to lower their standards to promote greater diversity. On the contrary, hiring for diversity is a way to include candidates from diverse backgrounds who meet these standards—something leaders can potentially see if they’re willing to recognize and look past their own biases.
Myth: Diversity hiring only involves diversity in terms of race and gender.
It’s certainly important to address lack of representation among members of particular genders or ethnicities within a workforce. This should be a central part of a diversity hiring initiative.
However, it shouldn’t be the only part. Sometimes, even when leaders make the right decision and take action to prioritize diversity hiring, they fall short. Besides race and gender, diversity hiring should also account for other representations of diversity, such as age, educational background, and much more.
This highlights one of the most valuable benefits of diversity hiring. Companies with diverse workforces often innovate more than others, because coming up with new ideas is easier when you have a range of voices contributing a variety of perspectives.
After all, people aren’t good at their jobs thanks only to what they learned in school. Many types of life experiences have the potential to contribute to a person’s skills. When leaders hire people with wide-ranging life experiences, they get the opportunity to leverage a wealth of different strengths and insights those experiences have given employees.
Remember, when leaders fall prey to myths such as those covered here, candidates from diverse backgrounds aren’t the only ones who pay the price. Companies do as well.