Inspiring Leadership with Diversity, Inclusion & Cultural Competence

By Leah Smiley, CDE



In Part I, I discussed the rationale behind diversity recruiting. Here, I will detail how you can take a series of calculated steps to increase the likelihood of diversifying your employee base. Some of these steps include:

1. Assessing Inclusion

It’s possible to have diversity without inclusion. Therefore, this term is not a substitute for diversity. Inclusion describes the way that an organization configures opportunity, interaction, communication and decision-making to utilize the potential of its diversity. Inclusion makes diversity work and leverages the resources that diverse individuals bring. In other words, diversity pertains to people, while inclusion concerns the organization.

You can use a variety of tools to assess whether your organization is inclusive such as conducting a cultural climate audit, organizing a diverse focus group to review corporate policies, and examining exit interview data. If reviewing exit interviews, go back 6-months to 1-year so that the data is current. Look for answers to two simple questions: why did the employee leave? Was the company inclusive enough for the individual to contribute 100% of his/her knowledge and skills?

Analyze inclusiveness before hiring more diverse workers. If the organization finds that it is not inclusive, take proactive actions (e.g., rewarding desired behaviors, training, mentoring, etc.) to ensure that anyone will feel comfortable “fitting in” and performing on the highest possible level.

2. Build Your Bench Strength

There’s probably a lot of diversity in your organization already. The key is to find out where your most successful diverse candidates come from. If you don’t know the answer to that question, ask supervisors.

The next question is, “who are your high-potential” workers? How can you develop their skills so that they are adequately challenged within your organization? What vehicle would work best to advance their careers? By developing your current workers, you will minimize the “threat” that is often associated with bringing in outsiders.

3. Evaluate Your Job Advertisements and Announcements

A few years ago, almost everyone wrote “diverse candidates are encouraged to apply” in their job announcements. The only problem is that it may have implied that “white guys need not apply” or it may have encouraged diverse candidates who were not qualified to apply simply because they saw two words that pertained to them “diverse candidates”. The same thing may inadvertently happen when an organization announces “recent college graduates are encouraged”. It may unintentionally exclude experienced candidates who recently retired and are willing to work for lower wages.

To make a point, I looked at several current job advertisements on to provide real-life examples of what NOT to list on a job announcement if you want to diversify your workforce. These organizations said they were seeking candidates with:

  • a “stable work history” (this may exclude qualified men or women who took time off to be a caregiver)
  • the “ability to stand for extended periods of time” (this may exclude someone with a disability)
  • “Excellent English reading and writing skills and good verbal English communication skills” (this may exclude highly skilled immigrants who, although they speak well, may not be confident in their English language skills). Before some people object, the actual job description said “preferred” so English language proficiency was not required to do the job effectively.

4. Train hiring managers

Managers are typically very skilled in, and confident about, what they do. However, when it comes to hiring people who are different, these same managers may not feel as comfortable. Instead of being inactive or reactive, proactively aid these managers. Help them to identify discriminatory practices (such as screening a candidate out because of an accent or due to their nationality) and unconscious biases (such as thinking a black person is not supposed to be articulate or a man cannot be a caregiver). But also assist them in adjusting to this new age of recruiting (such as selling candidates on the company and adjusting to the greater comfort of the interviewee) and retention (such as onboarding and engaging workers).

5. Look for partners

If your organization uses a recruiting or executive search firm, check out their management team. If the firm has all female managers, raise a red flag—where are the men? If the firm has all white managers, raise a red flag—how can you help my organization to diversify if your firm is not diverse? If the firm has all older managers, raise a red flag—where are the Millennials and Generation Xers? Also, ask for references and check them out. Some firms have been pulling the old “bait-and-switch” in diversity recruiting trick. Their references will tell you if the firm promised a diverse candidate, but did not deliver.

If your organization uses internal recruiters, make sure the recruiting team is diverse. Here’s where you want to go beyond simply hiring one person of color, to getting individuals with different religions, sexual orientations, generations, etc., to assist with recruiting. One of the reasons why companies “can’t find” highly skilled diverse candidates is because some recruiters don’t know where to look. That’s why a team approach will help. If you don’t have the budget for a large recruiting team, utilize your diversity council. They can help you to develop a comprehensive list of sources where you can recruit potential candidates.

Diverse candidates may be found at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (such as Hampton, Howard, Spelman, Tuskegee); Hispanic Serving Institutions (such as Hodges University, Nova Southeastern University, Texas State University, City College of New York); nonprofit and professional associations (such as the National Black MBA Association, National Council of La Raza, National Association of Asian American Professionals, Hire Heroes USA); international job boards (,; social networking sites (LinkedIn, Twitter); places of worship (for example, some large black churches will make an announcement during services); fraternities and sororities, see the list on the National Pan-Hellenic Council site (; employee referrals; and more!

6. Evaluate your efforts annually

As the saying goes, “What gets measured, gets done”. So…we’re not Affirmative Action Officers, therefore reports on the number of diverse new hires may not be the best gauge of success. You can report on the increase in diverse applicants or specific departments that have become more diverse, but you want to focus on what impact these diverse new hires have made on the organization (such as who received a promotion, how have sales surged, was there a new product developed, have retention rates increased, etc.). Providing this level of insight requires tracking the candidates and their achievements over time. This will also encourage the organization to remove barriers or hindrances to high performance for all employees.

Diversifying your workforce is not as simple as it sounds. Nevertheless, many organizations have been successful in this area. You can achieve success too if you are willing to make a commitment to the process, and seek other organic ways to build a strong pipeline of highly skilled candidates. Also, invite your traditional workers to join the journey!

I would love to hear from you. What else would you suggest?




Leah Smiley is the President of the Society for Diversity, the #1 and largest professional association for diversity and inclusion. For more information about the Society for Diversity, log onto

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