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The Business Case for Diversity

Learn what diversity in the workplace is—and how it can help improve business

What is diversity?
The word “diversity” commonly brings to mind categories such as age, gender, religion,
race, ethnic background, and sexual orientation. People often think the term refers just to
these areas.

But diversity is broader than these categories. It also encompasses things like
socioeconomic background, personality type, learning style, and many other factors.

Consider the many dimensions that make up you—and how each of these affects how you
view the world. * Your coworkers are equally complex. The varied backgrounds you and
your coworkers bring to the workplace are essential to your organization’s success.

The Mix of Experience

Esther Alegria — Vice President of Manufacturing and General Manager, Biogen Idec
When building a diverse team, consider differences in many categories, including industry and
professional experience.

Why build a diverse workforce?

It’s morally right to provide people with equal opportunity in the workplace, regardless of
age, gender, ethnic background, or sexual orientation. In some countries, antidiscrimination
laws require diverse hiring.

But diversity isn’t just a moral or legal imperative. It’s a performance enhancer too.
Companies have discovered that a diverse workforce provides important competitive
advantages. Studies show diverse teams generate higher profits, greater innovation, and
increased productivity compared with homogenous teams.

Diverse groups are powerful because they:

 Solve problems more effectively. A group of people with different skills and
perspectives is better able to anticipate obstacles, make accurate predictions, and find
creative solutions than a homogenous group. *
 Reach more customers. A demographically diverse team is more likely to be able to
identify, attract, and keep a wider range of customers. *
 Challenge the status quo. Teams with diverse opinions challenge “business as usual,”
engage in vigorous debate, and consider more alternatives. *
 Develop breakthroughs. Diverse opinions stimulate creativity and divergent thought,
which are critical to innovation. *

How Diversity Fuels Group Emotional Intelligence

Daniel Goleman — Author, “Emotional Intelligence” and “Focus”
Diversity isn’t just an abstract principle; it also leads to greater productivity.

Focus on inclusion

It’s not enough to hire diverse talent. To reap the benefits of diversity, you’ll need to create an
inclusive environment. Such an environment acknowledges and supports differences, rather than
pressuring people to conform. In an inclusive environment, people feel:
 They are treated with respect and fairness.
 The unique life experience, opinions, and ideas they bring to the group are valuable.
 They belong within the team and are not “outsiders.”
 They can be their “true selves” at work. For instance, a Muslim can talk about a friend in
his mosque community, and a gay man can bring his partner to a company party.

Value Your Employees as Individuals

Susan David — CEO, Evidence Based Psychology, Codirector, Institute of Coaching, McLean Hospital
No matter what your leadership style, you can boost your team’s engagement by being genuinely
interested in each person.

Barriers to inclusion
Though inclusion is essential, it can be difficult in practice. Some common obstacles managers
face include:
 Employees’ preference for being around others most like themselves
 Employees’ tendency to mask their differences in order to “fit in”
 Managers’ tendency to unconsciously stereotype minority employees
Each of these factors can limit the contributions of diverse employees and hinder your team’s
In-groups and out-groups
Though it may be uncomfortable to admit, most people prefer the company of others of the same
race, nationality, and religion. We trust them more, cooperate with them more willingly, and feel
more comfortable with them in work settings. When a large group of employee has the same
values, attitudes, and beliefs, this can form a dominant faction or “in-group.”
In contrast, an “out-group” is often a group in the minority at your organization. It might be
members of an ethnic or cultural group. It could be a woman in a field that’s generally male-
dominated, or an older worker on a youthful team. Members of an out-group may feel they have
less “voice” in the organization because they don’t see many people like themselves as role
models in positions of power.

Establishing Credibility Takes Persistence

Marta Mitsumori — Product Manager, Harvard Business Publishing
Chances are good that you’ll need to overcome barriers in your own career—and will be called on to
help others do the same.

The pressure to fit in

Most people want to feel accepted and liked by others. Some adaptation is healthy and
appropriate, such as adhering to a company’s dress code or recycling to honor a company
focus on sustainability. However, when particular individuals feel they have to cover their
true identities in order to be accepted by the larger group, that’s problematic. In those
situations, your team is losing the strength of its diversity.Consider the range of changes
your diverse employees may be making to fit in:
Type of Change Description Examples
Appearance Individuals alter their clothes, An African woman may straighten her hair to
mannerisms, hairstyles, etc. deemphasize her race.
Affiliation Individuals avoid behaviors A mother might avoid talking about her children
widely associated with their because she does not want colleagues to think
identities. that she is not committed to her career.
Advocacy Individuals avoid defending a A veteran might not comment on a denigrating
group with which they are joke about the military for fear of seeming too
affiliated. aggressive.
Association Individuals avoid contact with A gay man might not bring his partner to a social
other members of their gathering at work.
identity group.

Undervaluing employees
Because of unconscious habit or bias, managers may undervalue or marginalize some
employees. This not only hurts the affected employee’s morale and undermines his or her
talents, it sets a damaging example for the rest of the team.

Managers may undervalue employees when they:

 Base work assignments on stereotypes. For instance, when a team’s meetings run
long, one manager always asks the sole woman in the group to step out and order lunch
for the rest.
 Relegate racial minorities and women to junior status. For example, during a
strategy meeting, Horatio, the only Latino in the room, offers a suggestion for
implementing a new competitive strategy. The room is quiet until a white male team
member echoes the idea. The group manager then responds to the idea, expressing
interest and asking follow-up questions.
 Assume racial minorities do not have a strong work ethic. * For example, Mark, an
African-American employee, misses a deadline. His manager takes note and assumes
Mark will be unable to handle challenging work assignments in the future. In contrast,
when a white employee misses a deadline, his manager assumes it is an aberration.

Develop Your Cultural Competence

Everyone has biases. When you identify yours, you can guard against letting them influence
how you treat your team members.

Cultural competence defined

Is it hard for you to relate to someone whose life experience is drastically different from
your own? If so, you’re not alone. Most people feel some degree of discomfort with
However, as a manager, you have a responsibility to develop cultural competence. Cultural
competence is based on:
 Self awareness about your own biases
 An ability to learn about and empathize with others’ viewpoints
 A commitment to use difference constructively in the workplace
 The development of cross-cultural skills
To develop cultural competence, you’ll need to look both inward at your own beliefs and
outward at how other people see the world.

Developing Cultural Competence

Uncover hidden biases

By nature, human beings tend to group people into categories. Scientists estimate that we are
exposed to as many as 11 million pieces of information at any one time, but our brains can
functionally deal with only a fraction of that input. * We make unconscious decisions and notice
things based on what feels safe, familiar, or relevant at the time.
However, we need to guard against stereotyping—automatic judgments about people based on
their religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, or race. These oversimplified conceptions of
particular groups breed discrimination.
Examples of stereotypes include:

 "Asians are smart and hardworking."

 "Men love sports."
 "Germans are efficient."
 "Americans are pushy negotiators."
Consider what happens to Eric, who has stereotyped a member of his team.

Eric, a VP of Business Development, runs a team that looks for new consumer products to acquire. When
his team has identified a potential target, Eric assigns them roles to pull the deal together. He
consistently gives Dev, a team member of Indian descent, the job of gathering the financials. When Dev
has asked to try negotiating a deal, Eric has been noncommittal. But unconsciously, quiet Dev doesn’t fit
Eric’s picture of a successful negotiator. Further, Eric sticks to the notion that Dev’s cultural background
means he’ll excel at financial analysis.
Dev becomes increasingly frustrated by his lack of growth opportunity. So when a competitor contacts
Dev with a position that will allow him to lead a negotiation, Dev accepts the offer and resigns.
Eric has lost a talented employee, someone who wanted to learn both the financial and deal-making
sides of the business and who could have potentially reached new audiences for the team.

Learn, Unlearn, Relearn

René Carayol — Visiting Professor, Cass Business School
How someone looks, acts, or speaks can cause us to make incorrect assumptions about them and
their leadership capacities. But recognizing our mistaken assumptions can create valuable learning

Reduce your biases

To avoid unconsciously favoring some of your employees over others: *
 Recognize that you have biases. It takes conscious effort to evaluate your decisions for
bias, but it’s important to regularly do so.
 Think about people who are both similar and different from you. Your biases aren’t
limited to people from other cultures and backgrounds. For example, a man might
unconsciously assume that a male colleague would be more interested in a sports-related
project than a fashion assignment.
 Challenge your beliefs. Recall individuals you know who do not fit the stereotypes of
their ethnic group, age, gender, or other defining characteristic. What is powerful about
these people?
 Consider ways in which you don't fit certain stereotypes. Identify faulty assumptions
others have made about you. What did it feel like to be judged based on something other
than your talents and interests?
 Notice when your biases arise. Stressful situations are more likely to trigger biased
judgments. For example, the last time a project deadline slipped, how did you react? Was
your judgment influenced by biased assumptions you made about some of your
employees? How could you avoid a similar reaction in the future?
Recognize Your Biases
To avoid unconsciously favoring some of your employees over others: *
 Recognize that you have biases. It takes conscious effort to evaluate your decisions for
bias, but it’s important to regularly do so.
 Think about people who are both similar and different from you. Your biases aren’t
limited to people from other cultures and backgrounds. For example, a man might
unconsciously assume that a male colleague would be more interested in a sports-related
project than a fashion assignment.
 Challenge your beliefs. Recall individuals you know who do not fit the stereotypes of
their ethnic group, age, gender, or other defining characteristic. What is powerful about
these people?
 Consider ways in which you don't fit certain stereotypes. Identify faulty assumptions
others have made about you. What did it feel like to be judged based on something other
than your talents and interests?
 Notice when your biases arise. Stressful situations are more likely to trigger biased
judgments. For example, the last time a project deadline slipped, how did you react? Was
your judgment influenced by biased assumptions you made about some of your
employees? How could you avoid a similar reaction in the future?
Recognize Your Biases
The first step to creating a diverse workplace is for people to reflect on their own preferences and

Be aware of affinity bias

Unconscious biases don’t just influence how we treat those who are different. We may also
favor people who seem familiar to us—a phenomenon known as an “affinity bias.” For
example, a manager may instinctively like someone with similar educational background,
personal interests, or religion. An affinity bias may become a self-fulfilling prophesy: A
manager may give that person additional attention, coaching, and opportunity, thus
reinforcing the positive stereotype that "people like me" are best suited for the team.
Consider the following example:

Janice interviews two candidates for the same position. The first, Amy, reminds Janice of her own
daughter. Amy is nervous at the start of the interview and stumbles in her response to the first
question. Janice makes a small joke to reassure her. Amy laughs, relaxes, and the interview proceeds

The second candidate, Ray, has similar experiences and skills, but Janice doesn’t feel a personal
connection. He is nervous and awkward in his response to the first question. She wonders if he
prepared properly for the interview and moves directly on to the second question. Ray’s interview
continues to go poorly.
The next day, Janice tells her boss about the interviews. She recommends Amy for the job. She does
not remember the quick interaction she had with Amy after the first questions and is completely
unaware of how her unconscious affinity bias could have influenced the outcome of the two
interviews. *
Resist the Urge to Hire People Like You

Try to boost diversity in team. But while recruiting, he’s drawn to people who are like him. A
professional coach offers advice for avoiding this common bias—such as asking all job candidates
the same set of questions to objectively assess their qualifications.

Learn about yourself and others

When you are culturally competent, you’re aware both of how you filter information—and how
others do too.
For example, based on your personality and life experience, you may believe that the best way to
address a conflict is to be direct and honest. So when you see someone on your team dealing
with an issue indirectly, you may view him or her to be disingenuous. But the employee may
view being indirect as a polite, less confrontational way to handle the situation.
When you’re culturally competent, you acknowledge there are many successful work and
personal styles. Therefore, instead of judging the method or the person, look at the result: Was
the issue resolved successfully?

Identify your cultural filters

Your life experiences affect how you behave and what you value. Think, for instance, about
the assumptions you make about the “right” way to do things—these are your cultural
For instance, you may have been raised in a household where people were emotionally
reserved. Employees who are highly expressive might seem uncontrolled and less
competent to you. You might unconsciously shy away from them and spend less time giving
them coaching and advice.
To identify your filters:
 Think about your childhood. What did you learn about values, conflict, religion, family
obligations, and work? Did you have rules about what to wear to certain venues? Were
you expected to speak in a certain way to certain people, such as your friends’ parents or
your teachers? What was forbidden? What was encouraged?
 Reflect on how you live now. Do you hold on to any of these childhood lessons? How
does what you learned as a child affect the decisions you make as an adult? In what areas
have your ideas shifted since childhood? What factors caused these shifts?
 Focus on how cultural filters influence your interactions. With whom do you feel
comfortable living, working, and socializing? What types of people makes you feel
Learn about your employees’ filters
Investigate how your employees see the world. What you learn about others can add richness to
your life and help you develop new interpersonal skills.
 Learn about each team member. Talk informally with individual employees about their
backgrounds and unique experiences. Go beyond discussing work matters and ask them
about their interests, their families, their holiday plans, etc. Make the relationship mutual
by sharing details about your life.
 Observe behavior. An employee who comes from a more formal culture may wipe down
a break-room table before sitting to have lunch. Another team member may switch to
Spanish when talking to relatives on his cellphone. Such things can provide clues about
the values and concerns of diverse employees.
 Consider differing viewpoints. People with varied backgrounds might see the same
problem in different ways. You might not immediately agree with someone’s suggestions,
but take time to give the person's ideas some thought. After consideration, you might
decide that an idea that didn’t seem promising at first might have potential.
 Investigate other cultures. It is helpful to understand the cultures, customs, and belief
systems represented on your team and in your workplace. But be cautious with this
information—don’t assume that everyone from that culture will be the same.
 When you’re unsure, ask. Part of cultural competence is staying in “learner’s mode,”
open to what others have to teach you.
As you get to know your team members as individuals, you’ll make the authentic connections
that are the foundation of mutual respect.
Compare Cultures to Understand Your Own
How to approach learning about other cultures? First, understand your own.

Learn from mistakes

Despite your best efforts, you might unintentionally say or do something that offends
someone. The key is not to ignore such a mistake. Instead, address it, apologize if necessary,
and learn from it.
Consider the following example:

Michael, an African-American vice president at a consulting firm, sees Jenna and Grace, two Asian-
American analysts, in the lunchroom. He asks Jenna a question about a project. Jenna looks confused
for a moment, and then responds that she isn’t working on the project. Grace then answers Michael’s
question. Embarrassed, Michael apologizes, thanks Grace for the information and hurries out of the

A “cultural mistake” like the one Michael made isn’t unusual. Research shows that we
recognize faces of people who share our racial background more accurately than those of
other races. * These mistakes are more likely to happen when racial groups are
underrepresented in a particular setting.
How you respond to a cultural mistake can make the difference between a hostile
environment and an inclusive one.

Michael’s embarrassment could lead him to try to avoid Grace and Jenna in the future. He might
assign projects to other analysts whenever possible to avoid working with them. But if he follows that
path, he is compounding the mistake in a way that could harm both women’s careers.
A better response would be to visit both women’s offices, apologize for the mix-up, and invite them
to lunch to get to know them. He could look for future assignments to work on with them based on
what he learns about their individual interests and talents. Michael’s positive response to his cultural
mistake could ultimately help Grace and Jenna get better assignments and feel more connected to
the firm.
To avoid making a similar mistake in the future, Michael could commit to getting to know all the
analysts as individuals. Then he’s better positioned to match their talents and interests with
appropriate opportunities.

It can feel awkward to pursue cultural competence because it will force you outside your
comfort zone. You’re likely to make mistakes. When you do, acknowledge it, think about
how you’ll avoid a similar blunder in the future, and continue to pursue cultural

Foster Inclusivity
How do you help a diverse team perform at peak levels? Build an inclusive environment in
which individuals feel comfortable being themselves and motivated to contribute.

What is an inclusive environment?

In an inclusive workplace, employees are welcomed and respected equally, no matter their
age, gender, race, ethnic background, religion, or sexual orientation. Research demonstrates
that when a workplace is inclusive, employees are more likely to give their best
performance. *
What’s one of the best ways to make your culture inclusive? Allow members of your team
the flexibility to meet their diverse work/life needs. This demonstrates you are supportive of
their many different life situations. *
Although you’ll need to work within your company’s policies, consider these suggestions as
a starting point:
 Empower workers to set their own hours. One employee who lives farther away from
the city might want to come in early and leave midafternoon, to avoid traffic. A divorced
employee might want to work longer hours from Monday through Thursday and take
Fridays off to travel to spend time with a noncustodial child.
 Allow remote work. Telecommuting can reduce commute time and allow workers to
use that time for other purposes. For example, in the United States, a disproportionate
number of minority professionals are responsible for their immediate and extended
families. This extra load, combined with demanding professional schedules, can lead to
 Support caregiving. Studies show more people will be caregivers than ever before,
whether it’s for children or elderly relatives. Allow for personal days and sick time to be
used for caregiving tasks and appointments.
 Measure by results, not “face time.” Track what people accomplish, not how many
hours they spend in the office. Offering flexibility about when and how employees
complete their assignments can enable them to contribute to their full abilities. *
 Lobby for benefits. Regularly let your human resources team know which benefits
might help your team. For instance, if income is tight for certain employees, could your
company offer discounted bus or public transit passes? Could a vacation policy be altered
so that a team member could save up days and use them for an extended trip to visit
foreign family? Changes like these may not be immediate, but raising awareness is a
critical first step.
Let Employees Work Smart
Want happy employees? Be flexible about time, but not about productivity or deadlines.

Help people feel welcome

Think about when you first came to your company. Did you feel welcome? Often, experiences in
the first few months of employment set the tone for the rest of your time there—either positive or

To help new employees feel welcome and valued, be sure to: *

 Meet regularly with them. Familiarize them with their new job and company culture.
 Network on their behalf. Introduce your new hires to employees who might have
similar interests or who can act as mentors. For example, in one company, each new
hire’s manager lists everyone in the organization the newcomer should meet, suggests
topics he or she should discuss with each person on the list, and explains why
establishing each of these relationships is important. *
 Invite them to socialize with you. Take new hires out to coffee or lunch. Use the
opportunity to get to know them personally and professionally. Share some of your own
interests and ask about what your new employees like to do. If you talk about work, don’t
ask only what they doing, but ask who they are doing it with, what they like about it, any
obstacles they’ve had to overcome, etc.
 Share information about inside politics and unspoken rules. Help your new
employees understand some of the complexities of your particular business
environment. Success is based on unwritten rules and the ability to navigate underlying
cultural norms. Familiarize your employees with these norms. In addition to making
suggestions about how to do things, also give warnings such as, “That might not be the
best way to do that."
 Connect employees with mentors and affinity groups. In many organizations, affinity
groups—associations of workers with common backgrounds, interests, or other
connections—can be a good way for employees to provide support for each other.
Affinity groups can be based on ethnic identity, such as a Latino workplace group, or
lifestyle, such as a new-parent group.
Is your welcome inclusive? The following example illustrates how people can feel very
differently about the same place based on how they are welcomed.

Josh, a young college graduate, and Shanette, an experienced professional, join Accounting Inc. the same
week. The team has hired many people like Josh—young, male, recent college graduates. But Shanette,
who has two children and who is making a career switch, is a less traditional hire for the group.
Both employees get the same training overview, and both are introduced around the office to coworkers.
At the end of the day, however, the team manager rounds everyone up for the customary new-hire
ritual: a trip to a local bar. Josh is able to attend because he has no after-work commitments. Shanette,
who was unaware of this tradition, has to leave to pick up her children from daycare.
As a result, Josh gets key insights into office politics over drinks and, when he expresses interest in a
major client, one of the senior team members offers to invite him to the next review meeting. When
Shanette hears about the evening gathering the next day, she feels she is already a step behind.
Fitting In with New Colleagues
Lily Robles — Creative Director, Opus Design LLC
Worried that you won’t fit in with new colleagues whose personal style differs radically from yours?
Don’t—once you get to know them as individuals and they get to know you, you’ll look beyond surface
differences and work well together.
Help people feel respected and valued
In an inclusive environment, managers believe that good ideas can come from anyone—and they
act in ways that demonstrate that faith.

This is important because individuals whose views differ from those of the majority may not
readily share their ideas. It’s not enough to simply ask, “Does anyone have anything else to

To demonstrate that you value contributions from all members of your team: *
 Seek participation from everyone. During meetings, seek input regularly. When
someone makes a point that is different from the mainstream, ask probing follow-up
questions to further explore the idea. Or ask a question to solicit reaction—“How can we
build on Jai’s thought?"
 Let individuals know you appreciated their ideas. During and after meetings,
acknowledge how difficult it can be to express a different perspective, but how valuable it
is to the organization.
 Vary the ways you receive input. Some employees love to talk in a group—and others
don’t. Occasionally, email about an issue to be discussed and ask for written thoughts in
advance. Or invite an employee to discuss an issue one-on-one over lunch.
 Thank employees for their work. When someone does something well, acknowledge
what you liked about it. Raise the profile of your diverse employees by putting such
positive feedback into an email and copying your manager. *
 Show confidence in employees’ ability to meet high standards. Research shows
employees rise to positive expectations.
Power up participation
Collaboration by Difference
Cathy Davidson — Professor, Duke University
Encourage team collaboration by listening to the non-experts.

Be fair
Your employees may not like or agree with every decision you make, but they should trust
that you are fair, transparent, and honest.

Demonstrate fairness in the following ways: *

 Review your candidate lists. When you’ve got a project to delegate, a team to organize,
or a promotion to give, write down your list and evaluate it for diversity. Are all of the
candidates similar to you? Are there others you haven’t thought of who might bring a
different perspective to the role?
 Pay attention to who you include. Are there people you aren’t including in important
conference calls, meetings, and emails on a regular basis? If so, ask yourself why. People
can’t perform to their highest potential if they don’t have the information they need or if
they feel undervalued.
 Make your standards explicit. Don’t assume that what you have in mind is obvious to
everyone. Explain clearly what it will take to be successful on a project or within the
 Give candid feedback to everyone on your team. Give both positive affirmations and
constructive criticism. Offer support and encourage questions. And don’t hesitate to
address an employee’s lagging performance because you fear being seen as prejudiced. If
someone doesn’t know or isn’t told that his or her performance is inadequate, he or she
will fall behind and it will be harder to fix the problem. *
 Keep high expectations. Assume all employees are capable of additional achievement. If
a person struggles with a new task, then look for opportunities to coach, train, or provide
development experience. This practice will help you overcome any hidden biases about
individuals’ capabilities. *

Recruit and Retain a Diverse Team

It takes effort and dedication to build a diverse team. Learn how to recruit diverse
employees and make their transition to your team a smooth one.

Assess needs
Each time you hire, you have an excellent opportunity to increase your team’s diversity.

First, consider what the position you’re filling entails and what characteristics are required to
carry out its responsibilities successfully. Then assess what resources your team might need
to be more successful. Consider factors related to diversity, including:

 What types of different skills, viewpoints, and connections would help improve your
team’s performance?*
 Can you use diversity to reach desired customers–for example, by recruiting someone
from a community you want to serve better? *
 Is there a personality style, approach, or experience set that’s missing from your team?
Consider how the partners at a public-interest law firm approached a hiring decision.

A public-interest law firm needed to hire an additional attorney. When the senior partners examined
the firm’s records, they discovered they were not reaching the area’s immigrant community and
speculated that their nearly all-Caucasian staff may have sent an inadvertent message that the firm
was out of touch with immigrant issues. Because the firm's mission was to advocate for all, the
attorneys were troubled by this. They consulted with local community groups, who called their
attention to Soledad, a Hispanic attorney who had an excellent reputation at a family firm. When she
met with senior partners, Soledad impressed the partners with her qualifications and passion for the
After a year at the firm, the difference was significant. Soledad attracted many new clients from her
own community, advancing the firm’s desire to serve a broader spectrum of clients. Even more
valuable, Soledad offered new ideas about cases the firm should consider. For example, she involved
the firm in precedent-setting litigation protecting immigrant rights in the public and private sectors.

Challenge assumptions
Consider the last few times you’ve filled a certain position and look for a pattern—for instance,
have all your candidates attended a certain kind of university? Have you relied exclusively on
recommendations from current employees?
When managers rely on narrow assumptions about the background someone needs to succeed,
they may unwittingly exclude certain groups. Continually challenge your own beliefs and habits.
Look at diverse teams in your company for best practices, and talk to other leaders who have
made nontraditional hires about their experiences.

At a technology company that employs mostly men, one manager cited "ability to work with people" and
"compassion" as prerequisites for promotion to leadership. But then he admitted, "That's the official
story. In truth, it's aggressiveness that really gets people promoted here. And most women just don't
have that trait."
To hire and promote more women—and thereby gain the performance benefits that gender diversity
offers—managers need to challenge their actual criteria for hiring and promotion. Managers could ask,
"Do aggressive leaders truly get better results than compassionate ones?" They would also benefit from
challenging stereotypes about women, asking, "Are most women really incapable of being aggressive
when the need arises?"
Managing Idiosyncratic Talent
Robert Austin — Dean, Faculty of Business, University of New Brunswick
People with certain cognitive conditions may not do well in job interviews—but they may have
exactly the talents you need for an open position in your team.

Recruit promising candidates

Stretch beyond your usual recruiting tactics to find diverse, qualified candidates and
persuade them to join your team. Use as many channels as possible.

To reach a diverse talent pool:

 Describe the job in an appealing way. Emphasize what makes your organization a
good place to work and highlight benefits that might interest a diverse group of
applicants. For example, does your organization offer flexible schedules for those who
take care of extended family members or provide benefits for same-sex couples? Does it
provide opportunities for social good, such as reaching underserved communities?
 Use targeted media. Advertise in magazines, newspapers, and websites that appeal to a
broad range of identity groups. Tweet support for key diversity issues. Use a broad
variety of media outlets to advertise job openings. *
 Reach out to diverse communities. Sponsor special activities such as children’s sports
events or concerts in diverse neighborhoods. Sponsorship of such events not only
increases your organization’s visibility but demonstrates that you care about the
community. Such events also put you in contact with community leaders, who might be
able to identify potential talent. *
 Build relationships with advocacy groups. Nonprofits and other organizations that
serve your target audience may be able to give you feedback about your company’s
reputation for diversity and inclusion. They may also be able to connect you with job
seekers. *
 Involve your employees. Individuals within your organization that represent groups
you're interested in recruiting may know qualified candidates. To help employees find
qualified candidates, give tips on where to look. *
 Involve affinity groups. Ask members of affinity groups to help "sell" your organization
to potential job candidates at career fairs. Also ask them to refer candidates from their
Make the transition smooth
After you’ve recruited diverse candidates, work to retain them. For example, if a person has
relocated for the job, be aware that geographic locations that lack diversity or are very different
from the employee’s previous home may present adjustment challenges. Thus, a new employee
who grew up in an urban location may feel out of place in a small town.

To ease the transition, help new employees make connections in the community. * For example,
if you learn that an employee enjoys playing soccer, you could suggest facilities that have adult
soccer leagues. Or, if an employee has children at a particular school, you could make
introductions to other parents you know with children at that school.
Prioritize employee career development
Talented employees from diverse backgrounds will be attractive not just to your company, but to
your competitors too. Keep them loyal to your organization by providing opportunities for career
Facilitate career development in the following ways:
 Communicate often. Be clear about the criteria for promotions and the next steps your
employee needs to take. Introduce him or her to people within the organization who can
discuss the variety of career paths available at your company.
 Provide stretch assignments. Choose challenges aligned with the person’s interests and
talents. Look especially for opportunities to make diverse employees visible to company
leadership. For instance, ask the employee to present part of your group’s results at a
company meeting.
 Give regular feedback. Let employees know, specifically, what they do well and where
they can improve.
 Provide mentors. Mentors are people who can offer advice, provide insights about the
organization, and discuss career paths. Diverse employees should have multiple mentors.
At least one should be someone with whom they feel comfortable discussing diversity
issues that they might not bring up with you.
 Introduce employees to potential sponsors. These are senior leaders who can take an
active role in helping high-potential diverse employees advance.
The Best Feedback Includes an Action Plan
Marta Mitsumori — Product Manager, Harvard Business Publishing
Help your employees develop their skills by pairing feedback with opportunities for growth.

Coach employees to find sponsors

Sponsorship is crucial to advancement—particularly at midcareer and beyond, when competition for
promotions increases. *
Finding the right sponsor can be difficult. Why? Because employees often make the mistake of aligning
themselves with role models they trust and like, rather than powerfully positioned sponsors. *
Help your employees find potential sponsors by: *
 Explaining the difference between a sponsor and a mentor. Mentors advise; sponsors have
the clout and motivation to advocate for employees’ advancement.
 Encouraging them to seek sponsors. Your employees may need a push to actively align
themselves with individuals who could be effective sponsors. Explain that sponsorship isn’t
favoritism—it’s transactional. The sponsor is an ally for advancement, and in return the
sponsored employee produces excellent work.
 Identifying potential candidates. Look for people in positions that can help advance the careers
of your team members—whether or not they match the demographic background of your
employees. For example, a white male might be the perfect career sponsor if he has the high-level
connections within the company, the challenging projects, and the knowledge of office politics to
help advance a female or minority employee’s career. Let your employees know that effective
sponsors might have different management styles than their own and that they don’t need to
copy a sponsor’s style to have an effective relationship.
 Looking beyond their immediate supervisors and mentors. Ideal sponsors in large
corporations are two levels above the employee. In smaller firms, the best sponsors are the
founder or president or someone who is part of his or her inner circle.

Develop an inclusive microculture

Your firm’s culture or “personality” plays a powerful role in recruiting talent. However, when it
comes to retainingindividuals, microculture matters most.
“Microculture” is the culture that’s specific to your department or team—the daily experience of
work. For instance, the sales department may have an informal culture based on open
workspaces where team members’ results are posted in good-spirited rivalry. The human
resources department, in contrast, may sit in traditional, enclosed offices and have an expectation
that team members will keep matters they are working on confidential.
To build an inclusive microculture, gather information about the diverse expectations and habits
of your team members:
 Ask how they would define the current team culture. Discover how they view the
team’s culture and what they like best.
 Seek feedback. Is your team viewed as welcoming and inclusive? For instance, is humor
appropriate? Are team activities suitable for everyone? Some employees may feel
concerned about discussing concerns candidly, so find a way for your team to submit
information anonymously if necessary.
 Solicit ideas on what their ideal culture looks like. Encourage them to frame their
answers both in overarching terms like "family friendly” and in more specific terms such
as "A place where I can work without getting interrupted" or "A place where I can wear
comfortable clothing when I work."
 Find out if employees have unique needs or preferences. For example, do they have
religious holidays or family obligations that require them to take time off at a certain
time during the year? Or would a flexible start time in the morning help parents who
need to get children to school?
You may not be able to accommodate every employee preference into your team’s operations.
But you’ll likely find some simple changes can make your team culture more inclusive. For
example, when you schedule team meetings, you might take into account part-time workers’
availability so that your whole group can be present. Or you can make sure to have vegetarian
food options available during your next team outing.
Tomorrow’s Leaders
Doug Ready — Founder and President, ICEDR
It's important to be aware of organizational biases when identifying and cultivating new leaders.

Use stay and exit interviews

Stay interviews help you better understand your diverse employees’ needs and goals so you can
customize strategies to retain them. Stay interviews keep you from making faulty assumptions
about diverse employees’ interests and desires. Such conversations may also give you
information about noninclusive workplace conditions that diverse employees could be reluctant
to discuss.

When you conduct a stay interview, be sure to discuss:

 Your employees’ core interests. Core interests reflect how people engage with the
world and what kinds of activities feel most natural to them. For instance, they may have
a core interest in using technology to solve problems, or a core interest in teaching
others. Ask your employees: What have they loved doing recently? What experiences do
they seek, both at work and in their personal lives?
 Their skills. Review new learning, training, or certifications. Staying apprised of
employees’ expanding capabilities also helps you delegate effectively to them and offer
new challenges.
 Their goals. What milestones do they want to achieve in the next six months? The next
year? What about five years from now?
 Their work/life balance. Are they able to balance work priorities with family or
personal needs? How are their stress levels? Prevent burnout by discovering what
obstacles you can eliminate.
 The level of support they get from you. Do they need additional resources or guidance
from you? In contrast, is there anything they’d like to be able to do with greater
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, talented diverse employees decide to leave your group.

In this case, learn as much as you can about the factors that went into their decisions before they
go. Ask your human resources department to conduct a formal exit interview so you can gather
additional insight. Use the information to determine what, if anything, you could do differently
in the future to prevent others’ departures.*

Understand diversity-related conflict


Though workplace diversity offers major business advantages, it can also create
misunderstandings and tensions in the workplace.
Diversity-related conflict can result when:
 Team members’ behavior is misinterpreted because of cultural differences.
 Team members form biased impressions of others based on negative stereotypes.
 Team members discriminate against those who aren’t like them.
 Individuals who have been subject to bias in the past act defensively when others
challenge their expertise.
Address tensions
It’s tempting to ignore diversity-related tension and hope that it will resolve itself. But if not
addressed, small tensions often escalate to bigger conflicts. This can cause distractions, drain
morale, and result in the loss of valuable talent. In extreme cases, unaddressed conflict can lead
to outright hostility, discrimination, or even violence.

Instead of ignoring tension, address issues openly and establish positive guidelines for working

Consider the following guidelines—either introduce them to the team, or encourage the team to
brainstorm similar ideas:

 Think about others as individuals, not as members of certain groups. * This helps
avoid stereotyping.
 Treat each other with kindness and respect. Think about how you would like others
to treat you.
 Appreciate that differing viewpoints bring new insight. Though unfamiliar points of
view might not resonate at first, they are often an important step along the path to the
best solution.
 Assume everyone has good intentions. Interpret mistakes as honest and not malicious.
 Focus on the team’s shared goals and objectives. See everyone as part of the same
team, with the same end goal.
 Address tension or conflict honestly and directly. Allow yourself a “cool down” and
reflection period if necessary, but address the situation in a timely fashion.
 Seek advice. A mentor or human resources staff member may be able to provide insight
about how to handle a conflict, particularly if an individual feels uncomfortable
addressing a particular situation directly with a coworker.
Invited Versus Welcomed
Audrey Lee — Principal, Perspecitva LLC
For diversity initiatives to work, managers must ensure that everyone truly feels included.

Manage conflicts
When you notice conflict among members of your team, first analyze the cause. Is it diversity-
related or does it stem from other issues such as conflicting goals or confusion about work roles
and responsibilities? Often, it’s a combination of the two—a work-related confusion that’s
exacerbated by cultural misunderstanding or bias.

When you address diversity-related tension, involve your team members in generating a solution,
rather than prescribing one. People who think about an issue, talk it over, and arrive at a mutual
agreement will be more invested in making meaningful change.

Consider these approaches for addressing diversity-related conflict: *

When Then Use How

Team members have the Adaptation Encourage team members to
communication skills required acknowledge differences and
to manage a discussion of figure out how to live with
differences. them. Ask them to update you
on what they discussed and
what new guidelines they’ve
agreed to for better
collaboration. Observe the
relationship for signs of
Team members have not Mediation Facilitate a discussion with
successfully solved the team members about their
problem on their own or they conflict; explore emotions and
appear to lack the propose options to help them
communication skills to work together better.
manage a difficult
conversation on their own.
Mediation and other attempts Structural intervention Reorganize the team to reduce
to resolve conflict have been friction or conflict, for instance
unsuccessful. Team members by subdividing tasks or
remain defensive, nervous, or forming more cooperative
cling to negative stereotypes subgroups.
of others.
A team member actively Removal Document the situation, and
discriminates against someone speak with your human
and refuses to adopt inclusive resources representative. In
behaviors despite intervention. extreme cases, your company
may choose to remove the
employee from the

Mediate conflict
Follow these steps to mediate employee conflict. Your role as a mediator is not to solve the
problem yourself, but to facilitate a productive discussion.
 Step 1: Help define the problem. Use open-ended questions and prompts, such as “How
did you experience that?” or “Share your concerns about that interpretation.” Encourage
employees to describe the conflict and to express their emotions, motivations, and
viewpoints. Model paraphrasing and other active listening skills to demonstrate how this
is done.
 Step 2: Identify areas of agreement. For example, perhaps both people have a project's
best interests at heart, but they have different views about how to carry out the work.
 Step 3: Brainstorm alternative solutions together. Encourage the parties to consider
multiple ideas. Evaluate how well the proposed solutions satisfy each person’s concerns
and issues.
 Step 4: Create a plan. Help the parties create a plan and help them anticipate barriers.
Ask questions, such as “How would you handle a setback?” Set next steps, including a
follow-up meeting to discuss how things are going and whether the solution is working.

Listen to Really Hear

When people really listen to each other, they increase the odds they will be able to resolve cultural
Talk often to your team about the importance of listening. Explain that it isn’t a passive skill. Model the
following best practices and encourage your team members to adopt them too:
 Attend to each other. Make eye contact, nod or show positive body language, and reflect—
paraphrase—someone’s idea before you respond.
 Look for something you may have missed. Did you miss another person’s perspective
because you were focusing on something else or not expecting it?
 Ask for more information. Even if you don’t agree with what the person has said, don’t
dismiss it. You may have missed an importance nuance, so ask follow-ups such as “What
inspired your idea?” or “What factors do you think are most important to consider in this
situation?” With additional insight, you may grow to appreciate others’ ideas.
 Clarify how you see the issue. Identify areas of agreement and disagreement with
another’s point of view.

Manage bias towards you *

Sometimes diversity-related tension arises between you and a coworker—whether it’s a
peer, direct report, or manager. If the tension is minor, you may both be able to adapt to it.
If the perceived bias or unfair treatment leads to dissatisfaction, an uncomfortable work
climate, or poor work results, it’s important to actively address and resolve the situation.
Take these steps to manage diversity-related tension that involves you:
 Step 1: Prepare in advance. Research the situation and gather facts. Examine if bias
might be affecting how you view the situation. What needs to be remedied? Have you
potentially misinterpreted someone’s honest mistake? Or is there a pattern of
 Step 2: State your concerns. Arrange a meeting with your coworker. Calmly explain
your perspective about the situation and explain why you believe this conversation is
necessary. Use “I” instead of “you” statements to help keep your views from sounding
 Step 3: Solicit the other person’s perspective. This doesn’t mean you need to agree,
but honestly attempt to learn the other person’s concerns and opinions.
 Step 4: Brainstorm solutions. Exchange ideas about how the situation could be
improved. Ask yourself “What could I do to make things better?” Ask your coworker
“What could you do to improve this situation?”
 Step 5: Agree on solutions. Discuss the merits of proposed ideas and commit to changes
that you can make. Ask your counterpart to agree on actions he or she can take that will
help resolve the situation.
 Step 6: Schedule a follow-up conversation. Decide when to meet again, perhaps in a
few weeks, to assess how well the situation is being resolved.
You may find it difficult to initiate a conflict-resolution session with a coworker, especially if
you believe you are the target of bias or disrespectful behavior. Or your coworker may be
uncooperative when you attempt to discuss the situation. In such cases, consult with
someone in Human Resources, and consider involving a third party to help you and your
coworker resolve the situation.

Grounds for dismissal

Some diversity-related conflict can’t be tolerated. With the support of your human resources or legal
department, begin dismissal procedures if the conflict involves:
 Sexual harassment
 Civil or human rights violations
 Violence or emotional abuse

Harness conflict
Not all conflict is bad. If every meeting is harmonious, it’s likely your people don’t feel
comfortable expressing their full selves at work. When managed properly, conflict can result in
creative breakthroughs.

In order to leverage creative tension and build collaboration: *

 Clarify team roles up front. Define individual roles and ensure that employees are
empowered to do a significant amount of work on their own. Otherwise, team members
are likely to waste energy negotiating roles or protecting turf, rather than focusing on
achieving their team goals.
 Let the team decide how to achieve its goal. You’ll gain more from your team’s
diversity if the problem-solving approach is not predefined and therefore requires
 Coach employees to view disagreement as valuable. Emphasize resilience—that even
after a disagreement, a relationship can still be productive. Praise team members when
they resolve conflict and draw out each others’ distinctive talents.
 Foster community. Plan activities that bring team members together for fun. Shared
jokes and common experiences help people build mutual goodwill.
 Seek training. Provide training in basic collaboration skills such as goal setting, conflict
resolution, and listening.