Q. The quest for diversity in my company is a formalized drive. I appreciate the fact that certain departments, security as one example, tend to have a somewhat homogenous group of people. But we are not finding many candidates that are outside the "same old" group. Any thoughts on how to overcome this?
A. First, let's think about if we are using the term diversity in hiring to make amends for discriminating practices of the past (even near past) or do we truly want a more diverse workforce? Both are fine goals but let's be clear on what we want to get done. I feel I have a diverse group yet it’s not meeting HR’s requirements.
I contend that no two humans are really alike (even twins, and I am one). Each has a different life history. We should recognize that even within what might be perceived as the same culture or ethnicity there are differences between individuals that make them exquisitely unique. The risk here is “unconsciously” holding a preconception. Preconceptions are unavoidable. There is no such thing as a “blank slate.” The interpretive act always establishes itself on preconceptions, presuppositions, or assumptions of one sort or another. The greater risk I fear, even more insidious because of the quiet way in which it also creeps in upon us, is that of having stereo-typed in a way that is not consistent with the insights diversity training gains for us, i.e. diversity training (human relations training) brings us to the point of appreciating that even within what might be perceived as the same culture or ethnicity there are unique differences between individuals. No two individuals have the exact background — twins--with all the similarities of culture, education, and background — do not approach the world in the same way.
The only thing I remember after 10 hours of graduate-level statistics is there is greater variability, or difference, within measurable sub-groupings than between sub-groupings. So to bring that to the diversity quest in corporations — there is greater variability within whites, blacks, browns, or reds than between any of those groups — if a department or company states we need more XYZ kind of employees (pick a gender or ethnicity), is there an underlying preconception "they" are all the same?
When we are looking to hire, let's remember people are not categories. The variability between people comes from an individually based mix of experiential elements such as customs (e.g., gestures, greetings), life-style (e.g., family, diet, holidays) and location (e.g., climate, economy). Perhaps the main focus should be to fill the gaps in the skills we require to be an efficient department, regardless of external indications of "difference."
To suggest that in order to understand the complexities of diversity we need to focus on traditionally accepted delineations of culture and ethnic groupings potentially taints our community in a way that I believe we want to avoid. Gross generalizations or similarities imputed to a group are abstractions more reflective of the cognitive limitations of our own mental powers of observation than actually of any real or enduring states or conditions.
It’s tough, but Thomas Carlyle once observed that, “Every noble work seems, at first, impossible.” It’s only in pushing past those initial impressions that we move on to not only “expect” but to actually achieve great things.”
Answer provided by John McClurg, Vice President and Chief Security Officer of Dell’s Global Security. John is also on the Security Executive Council’s Board of Visionary Leaders.