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What it Really Means to Hire Diverse Teams

By Patrick David

October 2021

The reason why is clear: Diverse teams are better teams. Extensive studies by the folks at HBS, McKinsey, and the like support this important claim. But I know this to be true because I’ve lived it throughout my career.

I’ve spent the majority of my career working with people and recruiting teams where the sum of its parts are unique and different from each other resulting in high performance and business success. As an executive recruiter hiring execs for large corporations, I’d challenge clients to shake up what they thought they wanted with diverse slates of qualified candidates who were “different from them”. As a gay BIPOC, I worked on those projects alongside team members who brought age, income, education and ethnic diversity, bringing a myriad of lived experiences and knowledge to draw upon to solve human capital client problems. Today, I work at Shopify, where diverse hiring practices and inclusive team development is the norm and practiced daily. It’s not perfect but I can say from my experience, I’ve never been in an organization that cared so deeply about people. My direct team of 12 that I helped recruit and build includes 8 women (all but 2 are BIPOC) and 4 men (all but one is BIPOC), all working within a Digital by Design (remote) culture.

It’s these experiences that have brought me to some observations on building diverse and inclusive teams that I’d like to share with you.

Get your leaders behind it.

Although it’s easy to agree that hiring a diverse team is the right thing to do, it’s a lot of hard work to accomplish and can challenge fundamental beliefs and business practices that may have brought a lot of success in the past. It’s easy to fall into old patterns and hire people who graduate from the same school or played certain sports or worked at certain companies. These biases are often supported by leaders because they have worked for them in the past. How do you change hearts and minds? Start a dialogue with them and your team. Identify examples and cases where it has been successful (the more internal examples the better!) so they can see that diverse teams are truly the way to go. There are many strategies here but without a doubt, it will be an uphill battle to climb if your leader is not onboard with this approach.

Define diversity for your team.

Once you have your leadership onboard, it’s important to align on what diversity means for your team. This can look very different at the company-wide level vs. your direct team. Thinking about the different dimensions of diversity, what applies to your team and what is missing from your team is an essential exercise. Just as important is communicating which dimensions of diversity are clearly (over)represented and which ones are not and to align on what you need next. Company and team data can also help build the case here. It should be clear to everyone that the next team hires will focus on specific types of profiles with the aim to diversify the team.

Establish hiring process standards specific for your team.

Committing the team to specific standards in the hiring process helps to ensure quality but moreover increases the chances of a diverse hire. What type of standards? Ensure the generation of “top of funnel” candidates through different and diverse means including posting the role on community or culturally specific job sites, actively sourcing by reaching out directly to candidates who reflect the needed diversity dimensions of your team, and committing to a certain percentage of diversity required at each stage of the process. For Women especially, equitable hiring standards are essential in helping improve underrepresentation in areas like tech and finance. I’ve seen examples of this that have mandated that at least 3 of 5 short list candidates must be gender diverse or BIPOC. Note this example is not “one size fits all” - you must determine what standards and commitments make the most sense for your specific team and company. The Rooney Rule employed by the NFL is an example of this.

Support inclusive culture and development practices.

So you’ve hired an amazing new diverse team member - now what? Arguably, this is where the long-term work begins. If this person represents a new dimension of diversity within the team, there is the potential to not have the infrastructure, attitudes and culture in place to make that person feel included or like they belong. It is essential to onboard the new team member to the ways of working in your company but also for the team to be open to feedback and change. This ongoing two-way dialogue is a practice that must be espoused by leadership and visible positive change must take place in order to make such practices accepted and normal on your team. Kim Scott’s Radical Candor approach to providing feedback is an effective one but know that trust, genuine care and direct communication are required to ensure its success.

So there we have it. This is not meant to be a surefire playbook - it’s simply a few observations that have helped move the diversity needle with some of the teams I’ve worked on. Remember, we are dealing with people on both the candidate and hiring sides - so this process is inherently nuanced and can be complicated. Having said that, the overall team, company and societal outcomes of hiring diverse teams are worth the change and effort put in.


About the Author

Patrick brings over 10 years experience as an executive recruiter. He is currently with Shopify, the leading commerce technology company, where he works on merger integration of acquired companies. Previously he was an executive search consultant with Russell Reynolds Associates, a global recruitment and leadership assessment firm.

Patrick David

Patrick has attended the Ivey School of Business and has an MBA from ESADE Business School in Spain. He lives in Toronto with his husband Mike and their weimaraner, Hank. Patrick is an avid crossfitter and loves the arts. He sits on the board of The Musical Stage Company in Toronto.


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