To develop a diverse organisation, you need to make your company treat people with respect and recognise that the history of discrimination has led to a lack of certain skills within discriminated groups. For example, women are less likely to have technical engineering skills than men.
Rather than accepting or ignoring this fact, we need to take notice, take action and ensure recruitment feeds diversity in at entry levels, and that organisations focus on mentoring and retaining people who are then able to develop those skills internally.
The trouble with language
This is where language can cause issues that are far greater than the odd bias word in a job advert and where the accepted corporate ‘speak’ of most companies forms a barrier to this.
When we de-humanise our workers by referring to them as a “resource” (a commodity), we develop a management mindset where people are simply another stock item whose levels are maintained according to market demand.
Which brings me to my next language block, “talent”.
The word, ‘talent’
Talent is a word that usually implies an intrinsic skill, quite often used with “gifted”. If we believe skills are talents, we demean learning and mentoring, which means we will naturally seek out “talented” people rather than unskilled people that can become “talented”.
There’s a commonplace tendency to ‘fish’ for talent outside our organisation rather than putting the hard work in to pass on learning. The “talented” people are those that have had the privilege to learn the necessary skills and where we bake in bias.
The two words that harm diversity most for me are “resource” and “talent”.
Focusing on solutions, I feel that mentoring is crucial to improving diverse candidates. In fact, this aspect of management should be the main skill associated with that role, viewing all mentees as people that can, and will, be able to develop the skills needed to advance their careers.
Finally, it is important to recruit at entry level based on capability and desire to learn new skills. If we have the mindset that all our people can develop and progress to the top, we will go a long way to removing bias.
I know we can’t change the world in a day, but I think we need to always look towards operational management and away from HR.