How to Grow Team Diversity & Inclusion

Photo of Owl Street Studio President Brian James Rawson
May 9, 2022
by Brian James Rawson

Listen to the episode above. Read the transcript below.

Episode Transcript

Hi, I'm Brian Rawson, and welcome to the Owl Street Studio podcast, where we talk about all things marketing, design, from the big picture to the small picture, from the details to the empathy, and everything in between.

Today we're gonna be talking about diversity and inclusion and how you can grow your diversity on your team and the nuances and details that come with growing that diversity on your team.

You Need to Check Yourself

To start with growing your diversity, I like to go through a series of checks. And to start with, I always recommend checking yourself. What are your motivations for this? Why are you trying to reach out to build diversity? Are you doing it because you feel like you have too? Because you’ll look good?  Because you “fill in the blank”?

Sometimes there can be very good reasons for it. Sometimes there might be some shallow reasons for it. And sometimes there might just be some pragmatic reasons for it. But I believe to be able to build diversity, to be able to build it well, you have to “Know Thyself” and do some introspective work to uncover what is driving you to do this.

You Need to Check Your Blindspots

With that, you need to check your blind spots. I don’t care how Woke or Progressive that you feel you are, all of us have some blind spots. All of us have some conditioned biases, stereotypes, assumptions, narratives. None of us can escape them. And to be fair narratives, assumptions, stereotypes, they’re a human behavior because they do help people survive. I'm not going to take the time to understand what kind of Tiger it is that’s jumping out in the forest at me. I just know I need to run.

So we can’t escape some of this hardwiring. But what we can do is recognize it, to understand what are the things that you hold. What are the beliefs that have been handed down to you through your culture, through your lived experience, through your family structure. Are these blind spots: are they good or bad? helpful or hurtful? Sometimes we can’t fully erase every assumption that we have, but at least by acknowledging it, we can work on it. And the more information that you have, the better decisions that you can make.

You Need to Check Your Path

So after you check yourself and your motivations, after you check your blind spots, you need to check your path. As an organizational leader, what is your path to reaching diverse candidates and applicants? How are you going to get from where you are now to where you want to be? How are you going to tread that course to take your team from its current level of diversity to a more inclusive and a higher place of diversity?

As an organizational leader, I believe you need to be very proactive, tenacious, and intentional about reaching out past your pipeline and the hiring pool of applicants. While I've had experience being that leader and running my own business and as the upper middle management in a company where I had limited decision power, in both those scenarios, I've had it where I felt I was doing as much diversity as I could. I was reaching out, hiring, interviewing, and trying to support the diverse candidates that were coming to me. But the problem was that there wasn't many diverse candidates coming to me in the first place. So I supported what I could, but there wasn't much to support.

And a lot of people stop there. They just assume, “Well, if they're not going to come to me, that's it. I've done my part, and I can move on.” But to really break down barriers to really (this comes back to your motivations and those blind spots)...if your goal is to really remove gatekeeping and remove boundaries for people, to open up doors and open up space for people who don't maybe have as much space as you or don't have access to the resources and connections that you have, if your goal is really to open up that space for them…then you have to do a lot more than just going through what applicants come to you on a whim.

You have to make sure your branding, your marketing is all showing that this is a welcome place to come. You know, there's a reason why people don't apply, why diverse candidates maybe aren’t coming to you is because maybe you don't look like a place that is welcoming to begin with.  Maybe they don't see enough of themselves in your firm to even want to apply in the first place. Maybe your reputation and your branding and your messaging - maybe it's not explicitly harmful or closed off, but it doesn't feel welcoming. Maybe from a distance you can tell as a diverse candidate that, “That is not a space I would feel comfortable in or I’d be fully welcomed in.” So you have to go beyond the simple and obvious path if you truly want to make a diverse and inclusive workplace and team.

You Need to Check Your Brand

After you check your path, you need to check your brand and reputation. This is kind of the next level up from the introspection of yourself, where first you need to check yourself. Now, this is still doing that self-evaluation but on an organizational level, on the big picture of your firm's brand and reputation as a whole.

Is this a place that people assume are only for…? “fill in the blank.” Or do you have a reputation that you have a space that welcomes…? “fill in the blank.” This might be painful work. It might be difficult. It might be easy. Maybe you've been very intentional at every step along the way. But if you don't take time to at least check, to do the brand evaluation and the reputation evaluation, you could have put a lot of time, energy, and resources into something that's not going to bring a lot back to you. Even with the best motivations and the biggest goal for diversity, if you don't remove any barriers within your reputation, all that heartfelt effort will be for nothing.

You Need to Check Your Numbers

So after you’ve checked yourself, checked your blind spots, checked your path, checked your brand and your reputation - now you need to check your numbers. What does it mean to be diverse? What's the benchmarks? What's the goals, the metrics that show that you've reached diversity or have not reached diversity? And this is where some of the rubber meets the road. That we have to check: what do we mean by diversity?

Is a diverse group of socioeconomic statuses? A diverse group of racial and ethnic identities and heritages? Is this a diverse group of gender expressions and presentations? Is this a diverse group of educational backgrounds? A diverse group of skill sets? A diverse group of… “fill in the blank.”

It can feel very uncomfortable to have to put any sort of number to these personal and emotional concepts. But if you don't put some sort of number, you're never going to know if you've hit the goal or not. And when it's something as important as diversity and inclusion, you can't just leave that up to chance or kind of fuzzy feelings. You need to do the work to make sure that you're not just saying you're reaching out for diversity, but you can show that you're actually doing it.

At the same time, when using a number when it comes to diversity can be very uncomfortable because it feels counterproductive. The whole point of reaching out to grow a diverse team is to break down barriers and boxes and predetermined definitions. And putting a number, putting some sort of metric on diversity feels like the very opposite of the goal of diversity. I'll admit it is an uncomfortable push and pull. And I'm open to suggestions, but I personally have not found a better way to help track your diversity besides having some sort of number.

You Need to Check Your Balance

And last is to check your balance. The big picture, the bigger concepts within diversity, I believe are the most important goals that we can aspire to. But anything in extremes, anything to an excess can be bad, can be harmful, can be counterproductive. So what is the right balance for diversity? For things to be diverse, it can't…there has to be a balance. There can't be too many of this, too much of that. So what is your balance level?

There are other dimensions that we should not be diverse on. I know that might sound counterproductive or unexpected. But, for me personally, something I'm not diverse about is our values, our ethos, our vision. When I work with people, what we have to connect on is a similar world view, a similar outlook, a similar life mission, passion, similar convictions, morals, and ethics. That's something I can't be diverse about. I have to have people that we’re like minded. We have to be in a cohesive group when it comes to our deeper motivations.

But besides that, everything else can be diverse. Wherever you come from, whatever background you have, whatever presentation, heritage, whatever life lived and life experience that you have -  that can be diverse.

Something that I also can’t flex on and cannot be diverse about is the skill level. Sometimes people can reach out and try to have a diverse team, and they compromise on bringing people who don't have the skills or the experience to really provide quality service and provide a quality contribution to the team.

But back to the path, back to the hiring pool and the hiring pipeline;  too often I hear the skill sets and experiences as an excuse to not break beyond the pool, to not break beyond the pre-established pipeline. So it takes a lot of intention to make sure that you seek out the candidates who are diverse and skilled. Because they exist! There's plenty of people out there who could fill whatever role you need to fill who come from a background different than yours, who are different from the other people on your team. But you, as a leader, have the responsibility of finding those people and not just making a shortcut or excuses.

So, when checking your balance, I believe that you need to check what are the things that you need to be diverse on, that you need to be open and embracing; and what are the things that you can't compromise on, that you can't budge on, that everyone has to be in alignment with. That's gonna look different for each person, for each organization and firm. But I recommend looking at your, whatever your values are, whatever your culture is at your firm. What is your worldview? What is your larger mission? What is the thing that drives you and the rest of your team? And once you find that, once you find that core ethos, that's the thing that can connect you that you shouldn't budge on. But everything else beyond that ethos, I believe can be as diverse as possible.


So a quick recap, what I found to work the best when you're an organizational leader and you're trying to grow the diversity on your team is to go through this checklist of checking yourself, your motivations, your intentions, your why behind this diversity push; and then checking your blind spots, checking your own biases and preconceived notions - doing the self work to make sure that you're not going into this diversity with these invisible, subconscious notions that can get in the way and trip you up before you're even out of the starting gate.

After you check those two things, you need to check your path. What is the pipeline? What is the hiring pool? What is your own social network and professional network that you can use to chart a path from where you are now to the diversity that you want to be? Often this means forming a new path, breaking out of the boundaries of what's currently open, and forging a new way to bring people into the fold.

And then you need to check your reputation. What's your branding? What's the messaging that you're putting out into the world? What's the image and presentation that you show and how do people think of you? What are people's idea of you as a firm and organization? Do you seem like a place that they would be welcomed in at all?

Then you need to check your numbers. What is a metric, a measurable thing, that you can use to help guide you on your path to diversity?

And then you need to check your balance. What are the things that you can't be diverse on? To have various experiences and outlooks on? What are the things that you can't move? Things that need to be cohesive? I recommend that it's your ethos, your firm's vision and values that are the things that have to be universal with everyone on your team. But that's just my recommendation.

All of this very deeply personal work, a lot of thought, introspection, and time goes into building a diverse team.

So these are just some rough, overall guidelines and tips. But you have to do the work. You have to find what works for you. If these tips are not helpful, then don't use them. If they are only a starting point, that's great! Build your own. But as long as you start somewhere and as long as you have those clear intentions and the positive motivations in your diversity, I believe you'll be on the right path.

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