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Dr. Ivan Joseph: How Diversity is Good for the Bottom Line

Dr. Ivan Joseph: How Diversity is Good for the Bottom Line

In 1997, Tiger Woods won the Masters. It was quite amazing. Tiger strolling down the fairway of Augusta National Golf Course was a seminal moment in history. Until 1990, Black people weren’t even allowed to be a member at that course. Tiger Woods not only became the first ever Black man to win the Masters, he transformed the industry of golf. His impact is often referred to as the “Tiger effect”.

After Tiger entered the golf scene, TV viewership increased by 50% with 25% of the new viewers being non-white. A year before his win, maybe 10 golfers could earn a million dollars a year, but post-Tiger, over 150 golfers earned 10 million dollars a year. Over the next decade, 2000 new golf courses would be built because a whole new audience of diverse golfers came to the sport.

If you have any doubt as to whether diversity is good for business, just take a look at Nike Golf. Before Tiger, there was no such thing as Nike Golf. When Nike partnered with Tiger to launch this new line, he brought 4.5 million new customers to the brand. Tiger added $60 million in profit to Nike in golf ball sales alone.

Some folks might be hesitant to create diversity policies for their companies because they think it’s just a feel-good thing. I want to remind you, it’s also good for the bottom line.

A study by Harvard Business Review found that teams with a member who shares a client’s ethnicity is 152% more likely to understand that client. If you want to talk about what can help you close a deal, the answer seems pretty straight-forward with researchers at Deloitte finding that diverse organizations had 2.3 times higher income per employee than non-diverse organizations.

Simply put, adding or including employees of diverse cultural backgrounds puts money in your pocket. Diverse teams are also better at problem solving and offer a broader perspective that brings more information to the table. So, why is there hesitation to create diverse teams?

It’s a common bias called the fluency heuristic — a belief that diverse teams lead to conflict. To get past this bias, we have to tolerate dissent and allow time for listening and reconsidering.

Teams where all members are alike (homogenous) are prone to groupthink and leaning on tradition; whereas, diverse teams generate divergent thinking that increases profits through innovation and attracting new markets. Your initial discomfort will pay dividends in growth and preparation for the future.

Need more proof? A revealing 2009 study of fraternity and sorority members published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin offers a remarkable window into the workings of diverse and homogenous teams.

Fraternity and sorority membership conveys a powerful group identity, much like political or religious affiliation, and consequently can create a strong sense of similarity (or dissimilarity) with others. In the experiment, teams were asked to solve a murder mystery. First, students were individually given 20 minutes to study the clues and pinpoint the likely suspect. Next, they were placed into teams of three with fellow members from the same Greek house and given 20 minutes to discuss the case together and provide a joint answer. Five minutes into the discussion, however, they were joined by a fourth team member, someone from either their own house or another one. After collectively naming their suspect, members individually rated aspects of the discussion.

More diverse groups — those joined by someone from outside their own fraternity or sorority — judged the team interactions to be less effective than those groups joined by insiders. They were also less confident in their final decisions. Intuitively, this makes sense: On a homogenous team, people readily understand each other and collaboration flows smoothly, giving the sensation of progress. Dealing with outsiders causes friction, which feels counterproductive. But in this case their judgments were starkly wrong.

Among groups where all three original members didn’t already know the correct answer, adding an outsider versus an insider actually doubled their chance of arriving at the correct solution, from 29% to 60%. The work felt harder, but the outcomes were better. In fact, working on diverse teams produces better outcomes precisely because it’s harder.

So, I encourage those of you who are in leadership positions to make bold moves towards inclusion. This is a challenge to check your bias and see whether you prefer to go with the flow or if you are willing to challenge the status quo.

How to Attract Diverse Talent

“I want to build a more diverse team, but I just can’t find the talent.” I’ve heard that statement far too many times. We have to recognize there is a road block at the front door keeping teams and organizations from becoming more diverse. 

In a well-publicized résumé study by the economists Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan, applicants with White-sounding names (such as Emily Walsh) received, on average, 50% more callbacks for interviews than equally qualified applicants with Black-sounding names (such as Lakisha Washington). The researchers estimated that just being White conferred the same benefit as an additional eight years of work experience — a dramatic head start over equally qualified Black candidates.

Another experiment (Kang et al.) examined the effect of “Whitened” résumés of Black and Asian applicants in 1,600 real-world job postings across various industries and geographical areas in the United States. By this I mean instead of belonging to the Jamaican Lions Club, you belonged to the Lions Club. Instead of having a name like Quin Xi Lu, your name became Keith Smith. The researchers found that Whitening résumés by altering names and extracurricular experiences increased the callback rate from 10% to nearly 26% for Blacks and from about 12% to 21% for Asians. What’s particularly unsettling is that a company’s stated commitment to diversity failed to diminish this preference for Whitened résumés.

Here are three simple actions that will help you find the best candidates by eliminating artificial advantages:

1. Insist on a Diverse Pool.

Whether you’re working with recruiters or doing the hiring yourself, make it clear from the outset that you want true diversity, not just one female or minority candidate. Research shows that the odds of hiring a woman are 79 times greater if at least two women are in the finalist pool, while the odds of hiring a non-White candidate are 194 times greater with at least two finalist minority applicants.

2. Establish Objective Criteria, Define “Culture Fit” and Demand Accountability.

Implicit biases around culture fit often lead to homogeneity. Too often selection comes down to shared backgrounds and interests. That’s why it’s important to clarify objective criteria for any open role and to rate all applicants using the same rubric. When one insurance company began hiring this way, it ended up offering jobs to 46% more minority candidates than before.

Even if your organization doesn’t mandate this approach, ensure that everyone on your team takes it. Write down the specific qualifications required for a particular position so that everyone can focus on them when reviewing résumés and conducting interviews.

3. Limit Referral Hiring.

If your organization is homogeneous, hiring from within or from employees’ social networks will likely perpetuate that. Reach out to women and individuals from under-represented groups by looking for ethnic affinity clubs, specialized schools and programs, or target media.

Dr. Ivan Joseph is an award-winning coach, educator, and leader. Born in Guyana, Ivan moved to Canada at age five. He knows what it’s like to look different and sound different, to be a Black student on a white campus, to be a leader from an under-represented group.

Having experienced the challenges and opportunities of being a designated hire, Ivan understands from the inside the complexities of creating an inclusive organizational culture. He speaks movingly from his own experience on how he has overcome challenges, broken barriers, and led a cultural transformation toward inclusivity in every organization he’s worked for.

Contact us to learn more about Ivan and what he can bring to your next event.