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Same-same makes no difference: hiring for diversity

One of the most powerful leadership lessons is to appreciate the value of bringing people into the team who think and look different to us; people who bring a broad range of skills, attitudes and strengths that might otherwise be missing.

Although there is significant research on the importance of diversity in teams, our Australian teams, especially at the senior level, have a definite ‘sameness’ about them. The ‘normal’ leader’s view is that they value, hire and promote on merit.

However, if asked to consider their last five promotions or hires, it often becomes apparent that there is a ‘sameness’ in their choices. Although they intend to hire on merit, they often hire those who hold similar values, behave in a similar way, and who are, yes, similar in appearance. Why else would we see this ‘sameness’ in our boards and leadership teams? This is understandable as we find it faster and easier to build rapport with similar people and the comfort this provides is difficult to override.

When questioned further, the leader’s conversation often runs something like this: “We really value diversity and seek to promote women and those of differing cultural background as much as possible. We know this is important and we have seen the research supporting the strength of diverse teams.  However our organisation runs as a meritocracy and we have been unable to find suitable candidates. We feel sure it is just a matter of time, they just need a bit more experience.“

Chief Executive Women and Male Champions of Change released a paper on 24 August called, In the eye of the beholder: avoiding the merit trap, which looks at how and why this happens. Each of us brings a range of biases to both our home and workplace, often based on our own upbringing. It is not intentional. Our bias is unconscious. In fact, women often hold a bias against other women leaders. However, when we allow this to influence our choices, we are likely to have teams that have a ‘sameness’ to them.

If we truly believe that diversity will bring innovative ideas, and we value different perspectives, we need to challenge our inclination to ‘sameness’ and find ways to overcome our biases. The new report provides valuable insights into the challenge and how you as a leader may become more inclusive and achieve the diversity in your teams that you know will bring financial and other returns.

Diana Ryall

Diana is a leading voice and advocate for Gender Equality in Australia and Founder of Xplore.
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