In part two of my interview with Allison F. Avery, a Senior Diversity & Inclusion Specialist at NYU Langone Medical Center, she clarified common misconceptions about Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) and offered a framework and methodology to implement D&I. She reminded me, “You should not be doing diversity for diversity sake.”
I’ve put together a few interview highlights below. By the way – they’re perfect for cutting-and-pasting into an email to your company’s HR executives and other C-levels!
On Recruitment Practices: Hire for Diversity or Skillset?
I’m going to challenge your question because thinking in that way dichotomizes two very critical ideas. It feeds into this mythology that diversity is lowering standards or is a compromise.
If a candidate has potential, capacity, ability and aptitude to learn new skills and someone you want to invest in – hire her. Don’t just look at people that have the hard skills today. Business climates are always changing and you need someone who is flexible to those changes. If you just look at just diversity or just skill, that’s not the model you would want.
On the Benefits of Diversity & Inclusion
If you truly understand Diversity & Inclusion appropriately, and know the actual benefits – i.e. better financial gains, better product and software development, new niche markets developed, greater capacity, enhanced creativity, better innovation. When you really understand that, it benefits everyone.
Albeit – it might make things more challenging. Because the more diversity, the more challenging things are and you have to work a little bit harder. But it really should pay dividends, make your company more lucrative, and the people who work there would and should benefit from that.
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Cindy Ng: Should we be hiring for skill set or for diversity?
Allison Avery: I’m going to challenge your question a little bit, because I think that people dichotomize those two things as, you know, do you either want diversity, or do you want “quality”? And I think that those two things get pitted against each other as though they’re one mutually exclusive or in competition with each other, and that you have to choose. And I think that even looking at it that way puts people into a mind pretzel, and makes diversity seem antithetical to being a top talent place, and being a top talent institution. And I think it gives diversity a bad name, but it also kind of feeds in this kind of mythology that somehow diversity is lowering standards, or diversity is compromised. And I think that whenever we get into this bind of doing things differently, our brains get into this idea that somehow, whenever we go against the grain, that all of a sudden we’re compromising our standards.
But all we’re doing is one, either changing our standards for something that we have prioritized for a different reason or rationale. One, we need to fully understand what that rationale is, and if we don’t that’s when we tend to dichotomize, because we don’t really understand the value of diversity, and what the sort of actual benefits of having a socially diverse workforce is, and you know the fact of the matter is it does lead to greater creativity, greater financial gains, and greater innovation, and greater research. I mean, that has been substantiated in multiple research, pervasive throughout different industries and in multiple different ways from innovation creativity to financial gains. That’s just kind of time and time again.
There is a big financial case for diversity, and how it does literally make you smarter, more creative and more conscious. Julie Peeler who’s the foundation director of the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium, you know, was sort of citing in March how there’s…you know, there’s about 30,000 open positions in U.S. information security, and how the gap is growing wider and wider. It’s actually easier and we’ve noticed this actually in medical school as well. It’s easier at times to train people in skill development, than it is in human skill development, and what we’ve noticed that is that certain areas of aspects of diversity, and what should be needed for tech in the 21st century, and tech for the next coming 50 plus years are the communication and analytical skills, and participation decision making. Women in leadership positions tend to be more engaged in being able to do that.
They tend to be able to be more collaborative. We’ve also noticed that in medical school, that it’s easier to teach somebody some of the hard “skills” and it’s harder to teach somebody some of the soft skills. Harder to teach somebody some of the needs of a diverse community, but it’s easier to teach them some of the hard skills that they’re going to need. So if they have somewhat of an orientation, if they have potential, if they have capacity, if they have the ability to learn, and those are things that you can test for if you look at some psychometrics testing, if you look at some actual like organizational development testing.
You can utilize that or leverage that within your hiring system. So looking at a person’s aptitude for learning, as opposed to just being a hard and fast person on a skill acquisition. So the potential for a person to be able to learn a new skill, or to be able to acquire a new skill, you can test for that through some psychometric testing. You get somebody who’s good at like organizational development, or organizational psych, and you input that within your structural system in your hiring manager, and you can test for that and that might increase aspects of your diverse workforce, as opposed to being hard and fast about you need to know this still today. As opposed to we can teach you this skill, but you’re coming in with some of these other desired skills, and be more competency based.
So we’ve noticed that when we switched to a more competency-based…so this person has the ability to deal with ambiguity. This person has better communication skills, this person has the capacity for critical thinking, so when we switch to what kind of culture do we want, what type of learner do we want, what type of capacities do we want and competencies do we want, then that changes the methodology and changes are hard and fast orientation to you need to know this, this, this, this and this skill. It’s like we can teach you this skill, but we need you to have these levels of competency, because that’s a culture we’re trying to build. That’s the community that we’re trying to cultivate, and that’s the innovation that we’re trying to have within our organization to get to where we want to be.
A person who is not able to engage in lifelong learning, period, and lifelong professional skill development generally is not the kind of person that you want in your organization anyway. And so it’s…I think when you juxtapose diversity and or skill, that’s not even the right model or methodology for any industry really.
For the 21st century, our talent innovation does say that employees at companies with diversity and management, are 45% more likely to report growing market share for their companies, and they’re 70% likelier to report that their companies captured a new market.
Cindy Ng: Can you give us some context to this stat? In the infosec space, 58% of females who hold leadership positions have advanced degrees versus the 47% of males.
Allison Avery: This is something that we see in a lot of different industries. And I wish I had a better name for it, but what tends to happen is that there’s a luxury to convention. I would think of it this way, when a person looks the part, you assume a lot of things about them. You assume their competence, you assume their quality, you assume their…you’re not surprised. And so there’s a luxury to their average- ness, and there’s a luxury to them being good enough, correct?
I think that there generally when you do not look the part necessarily, you have to fill in things a little bit more, because they don’t just assume that you’re qualified, in the same way. And so it’s not as luxurious to just be good enough. You have to be above average in order to be considered equal, you know, there’s an adage in especially in the black community, there is this adage that you need to be twice as good to be considered just as qualified. You’re starting from a different assumption, and a different framework and then going from there.
A lot of times women, they don’t assume a level of competence, you’re proving it and then you go from there to the other man, or whatever because he looks the part, because he’s assumed to be the part. You’re assuming a level of competence and jumping out from that point. The level of work that they need to do, the level of accomplishments that they need do, and the level of performance doesn’t have to be quite the same because you’re already assuming competence. And the other person, i.e. and I think this actually harkens back to the initial question to of, do you choose diversity or skills? And that goes back to so many questions when people say things about, you know, they look around the room, let’s say you know we’ve seen this on TV.
We hear this about, you know, certain social campaigns, about like, “Oh, did you get into Harvard because you were black, or because you deserved it?” Those two things…they’re assumed to be diametrically opposed as opposed to thinking that the person…as opposed to assuming competence, and assuming quality and qualification.
Cindy Ng: How can we build a good D&I program? Or maybe a better question is what do we need to have on our radar so we can have the best possible outcome?
Allison Avery: The biggest kind of hairy fault lines that I think happen to organizations, is that they try to go too fast too soon, when it comes to D&I, or they try to go from 0 to 1,000. I think that that’s very dangerous, it can be very detrimental to D&I efforts. And so I think you want to be really, really clear on why you’re doing it, because it’s not just doing diversity for diversity’s sake. That’s a really important piece, because if you can’t explain the rationale for why you’re doing diversity, it ends up in that dichotomous form of, well, we’re doing it because we have to do it because it’s a good thing. And so I am choosing diversity over skill set, and it stays in that kind of lazy mentality, where you only do a first pass.
And that actually I think is much more harmful than having nothing. People don’t understand why you’re doing it. That’s even worse than doing it, in my opinion. And so really having a firm understanding of the actual benefits and the actual rationale is very, very helpful, and starting very, very small and clear. And then having it on multiple different registers, like I was saying. So it’s not just enough to have recruitment. So this is where people get tripped up is they think, “Okay, well, we need, you know, we need more minorities, so what are we going to do? We’re going to go recruit.”
Well, if you bring people in, that’s only one iota of what is happening. Because that’s just about diversity, that’s not inclusion. Inclusion is about okay, so if you are recruiting a diverse workforce so then you have to look at engagement, you have to look at climate, you have to look at talent management, you have to look at success in planning, you have to look at the composition along the echelon of your institution, you have to look at compensation, you have to look at, you know, who’s in upper management, who’s in middle management, who’s in below management? You have to look at, you know, all of these different arenas.
And so I think a very comprehensive strategic plan along…that’s multi-yeared, with different goals and objectives of held accountable by a nested board, that is a not just staffed, nor is it just comprised of under-represented minorities, period. That is the most dangerous thing, too. It cannot just be minorities invested for themselves and of themselves. So if you’re going to have any type of board, if you’re going to have any kind of competition, it has to be led by an executive and CEO. It has to be invested by upper management and upper leadership. It has to be really, really supported because otherwise it won’t be successful, and pairing people along different ethnic domains, you know, having different relationships forms, like mentoring programs and talent management programs, and people from outside of their…even outside of their area of expertise, social identity categories, even gender identity categories.
You know, so that there is more relationship building, going back to this point of white Americans having 91 times as many white friends black friends, to try to break down those types of prohibitive barriers that can be compensated for, if an intentional structural design is put in place within the institution, or within the organization.
Cindy Ng: Okay, we need get everyone’s buy-in, we need to build partnerships, there needs to be a multi-year long term vision. It sounds so complicated.
Allison Avery: It’s very complicated. It’s not just for one segment of the population, that’s a transformative in a sort of transcendent piece, you know, like that’s the whole idea, is that if you understand it appropriately and you really know the actual benefits to social diversity within your industry, of why does it make sense to have more social diversity within your organization, i.e., better financial gains, better product development, niche markets that can be developed, more engagement of a workforce, you know, greater capacity, enhanced creativity, better innovation.
I mean, if you really truly know that and then you see that, it betters everyone’s game and everyone’s performance in the organization. Albeit it makes things a little more challenging, because you know the more diverse…the more challenging things are, people have to work a little bit harder. But it should pay dividends, that’s the piece. It should make your company more lucrative, and then people should benefit from that who work there. So it should make your lives better, our lives better. So there really should be marketable, as well as tangible payoffs that aren’t this sort of esoteric made up social justice circumscribed idea of like its good diversity for diversity sake. It’s not as I think ambivalent or opaque as people sort of feel it is.