Go Beyond HR To Find Diverse Talent

Many leaders are still asking how they can find the people they want to hire to create a more diverse workforce. Difference comes in various forms such as gender, race, religion, marital status, age, national origin or ancestry, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation and gender identity. Here are a number of creative ways to achieve this goal.

Scout out and share the talent.

I was at a women’s leadership conference when I heard an incredible story. A panelist recounted how she was able to make sweeping changes to bring gender and ethnic diversity to her male-dominated workplace in the transportation industry.

She shared about her colleagues’ constant refrain that there were no female engineers and architects to hire at the senior levels. Frustrated, she began gathering the names of women she knew and who she was meeting at industry events, and then compiled and gave the list of professional women to her colleagues at one of their meetings. Her efforts paid off.

Aim to reconstruct jobs.

Sometimes the solution is already inside the business. In one instance, a senior leader invited one of the leaders reporting to him to help him understand why, after the company declared it a goal so long ago, there still wasn’t racial diversity on his team. The reasoning he gave was that the team required candidates with multiple hard-to-find specializations. They saw that separating the team into two, each with only one area of specialization, would lessen the barrier to entry and give many more people the opportunity to be eligible. Hiring for diversity is made possible with structural solutions. Here are a few other examples:

• In a pharmaceutical company, several jobs were re-imagined to give people with only foreign work experience an opportunity with room to be promoted.

• In a not-for-profit, a review of job descriptions revealed needless criteria that were then removed. They went deeper to simplify the online application process when they noticed that the drop-off rates were high.

Develop a non-insular network.

It’s commonplace for employees to be asked for referrals to fill open positions. It turns out, that isn’t often helpful for hiring for diversity because we regularly know people who are similar to ourselves. This closed-loop is only helpful if you are from a marginalized group, like the racialized woman in the transportation industry who found plenty of qualified women to introduce to her male colleagues.

To find a way out of the closed loop, you’ll need to have a strategic network: people outside your operational web of connections who can drive business goals forward by identifying emerging trends. They are different than you, and it may be that they are eligible candidates or they know people who are.

Tapping into a non-insular strategic network can drive a leader’s success and that of the business. A leader I know is diligent in keeping in touch with the people he worked with in previous jobs, with each promotion to a new role and with every leap to a new employer, often across industries. It’s admirable, and I’ve told him so. I’ve seen him turn around a near-impossible search for talent in 24 hours, bringing forward an eligible candidate. Tapping into his non-insular strategic network drives his success and that of his business.

An entrepreneur on a not-for-profit board serving persons with disabilities was asked if he was able to place a neurodiverse individual in his company. Keen to make it work, he hired a consultant who was brought in to interview the candidate and shape a role to match his strengths. It’s been a success story. They are currently reviewing the success factors so they can apply the learning to other new hires, such as those who are neurodiverse, those who are much older or younger and those without a college or university degree.

Promote junior talent.

Too often, diverse talent is mostly at the junior levels of the organization. An antidote is to upskill or reskill these employees so they can move into jobs with a career path; this could help others stay with the organization because they see their peers being promoted. Some leaders share their goals with their direct reports so that everyone’s plan is laddered up to the larger company goals and each person understands their part in achieving them.

Pairing junior employees with a VP and above who can mentor them can help them see that they have a future with the company. Sometimes the talent you need is already in the company. Giving junior diverse talent exposure to leaders, mentors and opportunities can maximize their potential and make a big difference in attracting new talent.

Share stories of the obstacles.

A CEO shared that she had been a victim of bias over her career. People she worked with earlier in her career jumped to the conclusion that the dissolution of her marriage was caused by her long hours at work—a sexist view and unfounded. I was told by a Black woman at the company that hearing this was inspiring to her; knowing that her CEO faced bias helped her feel less alone.

Previous generations kept quiet about stories of bias they faced at work—often for very good reasons. But younger generations are more willing to tell these stories that others can take inspiration from.

Too often, searching for diverse talent is relegated to the HR function. It’s considered other people’s job even though it requires many more people’s involvement to get right. The most useful understanding of diversity broadly includes employees who reflect a range of backgrounds, thoughts, experiences and skills. It takes a little creative problem solving to enable greater work opportunities and bring in multiple perspectives.

Women’s Great Resignation: Ways To Retain Women Leaders

As women continue to consider exiting the workforce, the question on their minds is: Does my workplace work for me? While many organizations are attempting to redress the inequities women face, there are plenty of new policies and actions that have served to undermine women’s certainty that they belong. Let’s discuss a few examples and positive ways to retain women leaders.

1. Be thoughtful with mentoring pairings.

Consider a leader who would like to increase her assertiveness. Like anyone who is working on this, she appreciates that it has an impact on her relationships and how she is perceived. It takes experimentation to express assertive behaviours to the right degree. Too little, and you aren’t standing up for yourself and expressing yourself sufficiently, too much and you’re perceived as hostile. In an effort to help, a more senior leader selects a mentor for her who is overly assertive. She and others perceive him as aggressive. The thinking behind the match was that pairing a leader who overdoes a vital competency with someone who underutilizes it would work. Instead, it sends the wrong message and creates confusion for the mentee who is looking to find the right level of assertiveness.

Get 360 feedback about potential mentors before involving them in facilitated mentoring programs where they will be role models. In my experience, leaders who overplay their strengths are not good mentors to a mentee who is looking to practice the competency.

2. Make growth opportunities count.

Advancing women in their careers by giving them opportunities for growth is moving in the right direction. So when one woman earned the invitation to participate in a next-level leadership team meeting, she naturally accepted. When the meeting started, she was asked to take minutes for the group.

When a mid-level manager is given an opportunity and then assigned an administrative task, it doesn’t advance them in any way. They want to be free to be actively engaged because they want to maximize the occasion. Playing the role of the scribe is a sensitive issue for women as it relegates them to assist in an administrative function, long ago perceived as a woman’s rightful job and as far as her career could advance.

3. Reserve your praise for a job well done.

A director in a design studio in the technology sector prepared an outstanding strategy. Her manager asked her to present what she and her team had accomplished. Many more people came to the call than were expected and in the banter before the presentation began, her manager noticed that the director was a little nervous. His response was to tease her about the colour of her lipstick thinking it would provide her with the confidence she lacked by telling her how good she looked. It had the opposite effect. Instead, it made her feel self-conscious.

Women want men to be great allies when they face challenges at work. What some allies don’t know yet is that commenting on women’s makeup, clothing or physical appearance redirects attention to how a woman looks instead of focusing on their competence. Calling out a woman’s physical appearance is a challenge for women working hard every day to gain credibility.

4. Recognize that one rule can’t fit everyone.

Among the new measures brought on to slow down the increased expectations for work since the pandemic, is the “no emails or work calls past 7 p.m.” rule to show support for parents who have family obligations. But instead of freeing people up from work obligations, it serves to levy new pressures to get everything done before the witching hour. This is the matching bookend of obligatory early morning meetings for those with childcare responsibilities.

The best ideas are rigorously tested before they become rules. This rule disproportionally disadvantages moms with family responsibilities immediately after the workday. Encouraging leaders to have conversations with their teams in order to tailor the right limits for everyone is preferable to a blanket rule. Flexibility not uniformity is preferred.

5. Build on what came before.

A committee was put together in a public sector organization to support women’s leadership. When the office responsible for developing policy and programs to advance women’s equality learned about it and wanted to be involved, the chair communicated that she had no interest in collaborating and preferred to work without dialogue.

When leaders go it alone and don’t leverage the people, processes or work that’s come before, they forfeit lessons from the field, efficiencies for disseminating communication through established pathways and the opportunity to build momentum.

6. Promote for real.

Being promoted means an increase in responsibilities. Yet when there is no actual increase in decision-making power, the promotion is in bad faith. A recently promoted leader’s decisions had to be run by her male senior management team each time. It wasn’t long before this director understood that she wasn’t set up to succeed. She also came to doubt that her pay was on par with the men at her level since she was only permitted to function as Team Lead.

Research shows that early on in careers, men on average, are given more people to supervise and lead larger teams. As a result, they gain a wider span of control even at the same organizational level. Getting a change of title with more responsibilities but no increase in decision-making power is the oldest cheat in the book. It looks good to promote a woman but it’s demoralizing for everyone it affects.

The problems that are leading to the great resignation didn’t start today. Yet we have the opportunity now to re-imagine work and normalize new ways to ensure women are supported and valued. It all starts with listening to women’s experiences to know where to make changes so that women know they belong.

(This article is written by me, and was first published by Forbes.com)

Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com 

Four Ways Leaders Misstep With Their Wardrobe

It’s a tender topic and one I approach with care. Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not referring to clothes that aren’t in good condition, unattractive or meant for the beach. When it comes to dressing as a leader, missteps can be far more nuanced than that.

Our perception of leaders is often influenced by how they dress. Our work attire telegraphs so much about who we are and how we lead. But it can also inhibit career progress.

In my work as an executive coach, I often conduct 360 interviews with a client’s peers, direct reports and senior leader. Sometimes they say that my client’s clothing needs a rethink. Interestingly, some even express frustration borne out of a perception that a leader ought to know better. Here are four wardrobe missteps, illustrated through real-life examples.

  1. You might not have allowed your wardrobe to grow with you.

I worked with a banker in wealth planning who was a strong leader but created confusion because her clothing did not align with her level of seniority. Her wardrobe consisted of traditional business attire, specifically multiple navy pantsuits. Many of her peers felt she portrayed the look of someone who had just graduated, not an experienced executive. Her wardrobe needed more variety and modernizing to become contemporary.

Initially, she responded to the feedback by asking questions to gain clarity and then shrugged it off, relaying why it wasn’t important to her. Then, she disclosed that she had created a self-imposed moratorium on shopping for clothes until she knocked off a few added pounds. That sounded reasonable enough.

This story has a surprising ending. After she had time to digest the feedback, she told me that the feedback had been transformative. It changed how she saw herself. It wasn’t just that she freshened her wardrobe but she also recognized that she was due to make bigger changes in her life, including at work.

  1. You may not be dressing with your audience in mind. 

Dress codes vary by industry, but standards can be different even within departments of the same company. I was asked to work with a high potential insurance executive principally because his career ambitions were stalled. He was recognized by senior leaders for his talent for innovation, but we learned from interviews that his casual attitude and clothing were a hot button: He was seen as a rule breaker in a very conservative insurance culture.

To be fair, he worked in operations where the dress code was casual. He didn’t interact directly with clients, and interactions with other stakeholders were limited to the phone. In those instances, his casual dress was appropriate. But he also regularly traveled downtown to headquarters for senior leadership team meetings. Showing up regularly without a blazer made his superiors hesitant to promote him because it would mean greater visibility and more face-to-face interaction with stakeholders.

He surprised me when we met for our next coaching session. He showed me the three new blazers that he kept behind his office door for when he needed them. People around him didn’t expect that he would be willing to flex in this way, and his new wardrobe choices sent an important message about his adaptability to the right people.

  1. You stand out, but maybe not in the way you hoped.

Many of us like to express our personality through what we wear, but sometimes in the interest of standing out, we can go too far and alienate people we work with. I coached a marketing whiz in a large telecom company who dressed untraditionally in colored suspenders, fashion-forward shoes and edgy haircuts. The common view held by those he worked with was that it was pretentious and too quirky for their culture.

When he and I talked it through, he recognized that he was dressing for where he wanted to be and not where he was. He had fostered the sort of look common in an advertising agency, not a telecom company. He impressed everyone by switching up his wardrobe and finding a balance between fun, serious and eclectic. He could see the difference it made to be perceived as approachable.

  1. You haven’t yet optimized your wardrobe to save time and space. 

Naturally, our desire to change the way we dress doesn’t always originate from other people’s constructive feedback. Sometimes we initiate a change because of our own needs.

That is the case with my current client, a strategic planning executive for an international company. With her promotion to vice president, her travel commitments accelerated and she found that she was spending too much precious time coordinating travel outfits for different weather, seasons and cultures. It was getting in the way of her feeling productive and it was frustrating. On more than one trip, she brought too much clothing with her and it created an inconvenience. That’s when she decided to engage an image consultant to help her create capsule wardrobes. Comprised of a select number of clothing items that can be used in a variety of ways, this streamlined approach makes it easier to identify pieces that work together, and thereby reduced her closet, saved her time and minimized her luggage.

It’s important to be mindful about your clothing at work and consider your needs and the expectations of the workplace you are in. My hope is that by being aware of these missteps, you’ll be able to adapt and lead, confident in what you wear.

This article first appeared on Forbes.com here. Photo credit: Cleo Vermij.