”What does diversity mean to your business?”
The answers I’ve heard cover quite a spectrum. The majority miss the point of the question and simply state how their organization needs to do more around diversity. Another set of responses involve background stories such as how improving diversity of employees helps improve organizational and business struggles. And a few just provide very targeted answers that simply talk to what can be translated to quota counting (UGH!).
I was speaking with an HR leader from a mid-sized retail business at a SHRM event. Her response hit the bullseye. She simply responded with “It means having the ability to see beyond diversity”. It was simply a fantastic way to say how diversity is all about seeing the value of what each individual brings to the table. Going home after the event, I had a flashback to my youth.
Flashback to 1979
At a very young age, my family migrated from Cuba to, what I considered, the melting pot of America…Brooklyn. I grew up in a diverse neighborhood called Canarsie. On 102nd and Ave K, there was a school park next to the Junior High School with a baseball diamond (PS 211 and it was all concrete, of course). On most Sundays from early April till October, a group of us would meet up at the park, choose captains and start forming the baseball teams that would play each other. And when you were the captain (of which I was several times), the pressure was on cause you had to strategize your picks in order to win. You see:
Wayne, also called Hoover, didn’t allow any grounders past him in the infield. Also happened to be a great clutch hitter.
I swore Ira had a 12’ arm in the outfield. Very few balls made it over his head.
If you had Wayne in the infield, you needed Sam at first cause Wayne sometimes threw wild. Sam could stretch and scoop those one-hoppers.
For clean-up hitters, you had to at least get Jerry, Kenny or Manny. All 3 were able to hit the ball over into the paddleball courts in left field.
We all knew what strengths and weaknesses each player had and could sometimes predict who would win even before the first inning started. We’d always play a doubleheader and, afterwards, there would be the bragging about a great play or hit someone made. And it was bragging rights that lasted till the following Sunday. I so miss those days.
When I think back to those days, I can so clearly see the diverse crew we were.
Wayne, who was an Asian born in mainland China.
Ira, who was an Orthodox Jew that always quickly swapped his yarmulke for his Mets hat when we played.
Sam, who was a girl and loved the game more than most of us.
Jerry, who was Black, could out bat the rest of us and loved the game like Sam did.
Kenny, who came from a proud Irish family with a flag-waving on the front porch.
Manny, who, like myself, was Latino and his Mom made the best empanadas.
And then there was the rest of us who played representing quite a melting pot.
But, here’s the thing…we didn’t care about our ethnicity or gender when we played. We were competitive and wanted to win. We knew what each player brought to the table and that’s all that mattered.
Back to the Present
So, was it the innocence of youth that made us see the true value each person brought to the table? Call it what you want but the bottom line is that, as a coach, we were focused on what we needed to do in order to win. Now, isn’t winning the same focus we have as business leaders? When we have a seat to fill, we need to focus first and foremost on what strengths, capabilities, and skills are needed from the person filling that seat.
Unfortunately for many, life-long implicit biases over-shadow the strengths, capabilities and skills in making hiring decisions. And although bias training can help us be aware of our biases, we will always see the triggers that quietly influence who we hire. When we can start thinking of diversity as an ability to see beyond diversity, we will gain the ability to put together an amazing baseball (or business) team.
I co-founded career.place to eliminate bias in how we hire. Technology that drives a hiring process which starts with an objective evaluation of candidate’s strengths, capabilities and skills BEFORE allowing anything that can trigger a bias to occur. So, now I ask again…What does diversity mean to your business? I’d like to hear it.