D&I Hiring Mandates

I’m hearing a lot about hiring mandates in my social circle these days. My friends are being told that their next hire has to be a non-straight-white-male. Interestingly, none of these friends work in tech. Feelings are conflicted. Reactions border on rejection. “Is that legal?”  “It sucks being given a mandate.” “Everyone else is hiring straight white men, why am I being punished?” While every situation is different, there is a shared a sense of unfairness. They are pro-diversity, but a mandate feels wrong. Something about the coerciveness of it—and the implicit criticism—doesn’t sit well. As the saying goes, when you're accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression. And, what I try to say in a nice way is that being on the diversity bandwagon is easy until it comes time to get out and push.

Mandates clearly threaten our sense of choice and fairness. So I mostly try to get folks to an open minded spot by assuring them that it's going to be ok and highlighting the levers of control they retain. What efforts were they putting into sourcing non-traditional candidates? What prevented them from saying yes to candidates from underrepresented groups? How do they consider the value of a non-traditional candidate’s experience and background when they sit down in the interview? What’s it going to take to change the answers to these questions? At every level there are opportunities to exert equitable outcomes and opting for them requires neither permission nor direction from our managers.

Taking a cue from Ellen Pao, as a leader think the question of mandates is worth spending time on. I actually don’t have a problem with issuing a mandate on hiring. I have previously set an organizational goal of having 50% of new hires come from underrepresented groups, and were we to start falling short of that goal, it would be mandate city. However, I understand that mandates are a solution more in the vein of building boats rather than teaching my people to yearn for the sea. It might be the only means available at the moment, but being successful in building a diverse workforce requires an holistic approach. How often do I talk about the importance of a diverse workforce for the business? What ways have I communicated the benefits of working with folks from different backgrounds? Have I defined what successful hiring is to my organization? How am I educating my people about fair and equitable interviewing and evaluation techniques? What am I doing to make our organization attractive to underrepresented groups? Mandates may solve my immediate goals for the next few hires, but true success is understanding and addressing the conditions creating passivity on this issue among my hiring managers.

If this sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is. If you’re wondering why I’m all questions and no answers, it’s because there really is no one answer and everyone who is working on it is still trying to figure this all out. But, most of the organizations I’ve seen who have been successful in recruiting and retaining candidates from underrepresented groups have found ways to impart the spirit of inclusion within their employees and have understood that committing to diversity and inclusion necessitates committing to fundamentally changing their workplace norms.

All of this aside, it’s helpful to know that mandates are correlated with effective change. In 2002, France enacted parity laws which mandated that each party had to field an equal number of men and women. This led to the National Assembly going from 10.9% women to 39%. Title IX here in the states is another great example. Prior to 1974, fewer than 300,000 women participated in high school sports. Today, there are over 3.1 million. While we can't ignore these leaps in progress, we also know these directives were not complete solutions. Mandates focus exclusively on diversity which is the easier half of the diversity and inclusion equation. And unless you’re looking to create an organization that’s an ever-revolving door for underrepresented people, you will need to do the hard work of changing your workplace norms in order to reap the benefits of a diverse workforce.

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