I’m a 20-something-year-old, Caucasian, American, male living in Utah. Diversity is not the first thing anyone thinks when they meet me. And rightfully so. I’m part of the most privileged class of people in the world. Not only was I born in a developed country, am I college educated, come from Caucasian descent but I also have a Y chromosome. I’m the demographic, more than any other, that needs to understand diversity, what it means and why it matters.
As the CEO of an early-stage startup hiring is critical to the success of my business. Headquartered in Salt Lake City, which has 3 percent unemployment and is 72 percent Caucasian, I often hear that finding “diverse” candidates can be a challenge. Here’s my break down for what everyone needs to know, particularly the “white guys.”
Lesson No. 1: Diversity is Everywhere, You Just Have to be Willing to See It.
Religion, sexual orientation, worldview and experiences all contribute to a more diverse workforce, but you often can’t identify if by the way someone looks. While we commonly talk about race and gender as the most prominent factors for diversity, and they are important ones, you need to look beyond that.
As the CEO of a business, my job is to assemble the best possible team around me to help my company flourish. As the decision-maker, I need inputs from all of the folks around the table, I need to hear the good and the bad, and the most creative solutions and applications to a problem I’m trying to solve. That’s why I need a diverse team. People who have seen and experienced things, vastly different from you will inherently have different opinions, come up with new ideas and offer suggestions that people of a similar worldview or upbringing may not. Diversity is critical to your business decision-making and is why the world’s best and brightest companies make incredible efforts to recruit, attract and retain people of different races, genders, religions, sexual orientations and so much more. The best solutions can only arise from the best discussion, diversity of thought is the best way to solve problems, and diversity of thought comes from diversity in people.
Lesson No. 2: You Have to Want It.
One of my mentors once told me, “A company can only grow as fast as its CEO.” If you’re the CEO or leader of your organization you set the tone. You have to walk the walk and talk the talk. It’s not enough to show up at a diversity summit and check a box. You have to make an effort, surround yourself with people of diverse upbringing and experience, as well as the opposite sex, different races, religions and sexual orientations. Get out of your comfort zone. If you don’t push yourself harder, you won’t grow as a person. Similar to the way you exercise a muscle to nurture it’s growth you have to exercise your maturity, see the world in new ways, talk with people that see the world differently to gain an appreciation for the eclectic experiences in the world.
Lesson No. 3: Diversity Fosters Diversity.
Let’s say a woman of color walks into an office of all white men for an interview. Whether consciously or subconsciously she’ll retract, be more guarded and very possibly insecure. She doesn’t look anything like the people in the room, how could she possibly fit in. Conversely, if that same woman walked into an office with a diverse blend of genders, races and other experiences she will likely feel much more comfortable, see an appreciation for diversity and feel more inclined to join a workforce with which she can identify and picture herself working there.
Often it takes diversity to grow diversity, and someone has to take the first step. It’s the typical chicken-and-the-egg scenario. So how do you overcome it? You start somewhere, building diversity takes commitment, it won’t just come to you. Surround yourself with folks that are different from you. At an early stage company that’s whom your most likely to draw from when you’re hiring and it will help you bridge the divide and awkwardness that might keep others away. Forming genuine bonds with people makes them feel comfortable with you, it breaks down the barrier of us and them. From there it’s connecting with the people that you want to hire, building a team and growing it.
Nothing is more important than leadership when it comes to diversity. That means committing to looking for, recruiting and even paying more to attract diverse talent. Without the CEO on board, I suspect an organization won’t go far. It may even go backward. That’s why a genuine commitment to looking for diversity in your organization is critical to your success, the more diversity there is in your organization’s leadership team the better it is to grow and sustain diversity.