Why hiring for “merit” and “diversity” is really the same thing

“I want to hire the best person for the job, regardless of identity”.

This phrase is common amongst HR leaders when I speak to them about diversity. While diversity is part of their broader mandate, they are not going to sacrifice job quality for the sake of reporting on a stat. Nor should they.

However, this statement is not at all in opposition to my statement that diversity recruiting is important and necessary. In fact, they are the exact same statement.

There are two key reasons behind this:

Diverse candidates  (women, LGBT people, racial minorities, Indigenous peoples, and persons with disabilities) represent as much as 75% of the labor force but are not represented well in traditional recruiting methods.

Finding the best candidate means looking in the biggest pool. This is where diversity recruiting comes in. Diverse candidates often cite that big job fairs as impersonal, and they rarely meet anyone who looks like them or shares their identity. In a world where people are more likely to stick with (and up for) others that share their identities, it becomes difficult for minority professionals to make those personal connections necessary for most jobs these days (this phenomenon is called “homophily”). When it comes to online job board applications, one famous study found that a “Black” sounding name was called back for interviews 50% less than a “White” sounding name with the same credentials, a stat that has led many minority candidates to self-select out of big-box online recruiting methods for fear of discrimination.

With challenges of representation affecting diverse and minority communities, reaching out into these communities and giving “special” looking attention to their recruitment is not playing favourites, it’s ensuring that you have a large enough pool of qualified candidates to know you are choosing the best, period (see an article about that here).

Having diverse teams makes everyone more successful

This is due to a breakdown in groupthink, a social phenomenon that occurs when people in a group are too homogeneous (read a great study by Deloitte about that, and other broad diversity benefits, here). Getting a more diverse team actually brings out the best in every team member, thus increasing the overall innovation, creativity, and eventually profits of the organization. (Articles extolling the benefits of a diverse team here, here, here, here, and here).

When you have a larger pool of candidates to select from – and that pool of candidates has been shown to be more effective working together than when they work separately – your interview mechanisms and “fit” tests flow much more smoothly. When you actively recruit minority and diverse candidates into your talent pipeline, you are not just being a good person, you are strengthening your strategic plan for everyone involved.