Recruitment Strategies That Embrace Differences and Diversity

In an increasingly global world where innovation is vital and fast-moving, your recruitment strategies must target the people that will help your company thrive. That means hiring with diversity in mind and knowing how it connects with your customers.

Make sure your recruitment strategy seeks out those who are different from you and your colleagues.

If your middle market company sells into global markets, cross-cultural understanding is an all-important success factor. One of the worst decision-making practices of any company is "groupthink," a passionless consensus around the company's current and future actions. Embracing difference in hiring isn't just about being warm and fuzzy or complying with government regulations; it's about becoming more and more strategic every day, in every enterprise.

The Problems of Homophily

One danger to successful recruitment is something social scientists call "homophily": the human tendency to prefer people like oneself, or proverbially, "birds of a feather flock together." It isn't just about race or gender; it can also pertain to geography or educational background. An Ohio-based company might prefer to hire people from Ohio because most of the company's employees grew up there, or a hiring manager might subconsciously select a candidate who attended the same university he or she did.

Silicon Valley entrepreneur Alicia Morgan wrote in Fast Company, "I found myself leaning toward Latinas. Yep — little Mini-Mes. Suddenly I understood why most of corporate America looks male and Caucasian. It is just easier to hire and work with people who are similar to you."

People tend to hire inside their comfort zones, and that spells trouble for middle market companies. Not only do they risk poorly reflecting their customer base, which can negatively affect marketing efforts, but they may also struggle with innovation. Creativity is about sharing experiences and information across disciplines. It's the result of a cross-pollination that forces people to reflect on their deeply held assumptions. Those who are open to diversity and cognitive border crossings are at high risk of having great new ideas. If you put the same people with the same backgrounds and the same assumptions in a room to develop new ideas, it's no surprise when they come back with the same old concepts based on the same old assumptions.

Groupthink is bad for every single middle market business. When you're hiring, remember that difference can be challenging in the best sense of the word.

How to Reduce the Dangers of Homophily

Middle market recruiters need to understand their bias toward homophily and develop recruitment strategies that embrace difference. But how?

"Be aware of the types of individuals you are interviewing," says diversity specialist Mike Kline on his blog, "and then make a cognitive effort to being open to difference and diversity. Remember that our job as individuals is to hire the best for our companies." Know exactly what dimensions of difference your middle market company needs and look for them. In her Fast Company article, Morgan suggests that your company "increase the number of 'different' people in the pool [of candidates] from which there is to choose or allow those 'different' [internal] people to do the choosing." In other words, assume homophily will occur and structure the hiring process in a way that minimizes its negative impact on your hiring decisions.

You could also have a more participatory hiring process, one that focuses on finding differences that your middle market company has identified as necessary. Instead of eliminating those who supposedly don't fit you culture, try to understand what a particular candidate would add to the office climate. Be more active in understanding and altering exactly what your middle market company's culture is and should become. If you value innovation, then hiring people who challenge old ideas or promote new ways of thinking is exactly what you want. If you value excellence in delivering service, then hiring people who might better reflect your customer base would be a great idea. Again, don't assume that difference is bad; just understand how difference can positively affect your company, and then hire for it.

How has your company changed its hiring procedures as it expands? Have you implemented any specific policies pertaining to diversity? Tell us by commenting below.

Boston-based Chuck Leddy is an NCMM contributor and a freelance reporter who contributes regularly to The Boston Globe and Harvard Gazette. He also trains Fortune 500 executives in business-communication skills as an instructor for EF Education. Circle him on Google+.


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