Stop Trying to Fix the Water – Fix the Piping Instead

If diverse candidates are water and your organization is piping and you find yourself with leaks (e.g., retention problems), what should you do?

If you found a leak like this in your home’s plumbing, what would you do? You would try to fix the piping.  You wouldn’t try to thicken the water.

So, why are most of the diversity programs out there full of  “fix the water” solutions (e.g., “dress for success” workshops, assertiveness training, mentoring)?

My theory is that most people creating diversity programs have never thought to categorize their potential solutions to their diversity challenges like an engineer would categorize potential fixes to a plumbing problem.  If they did, they would notice that their programs are heavy on “fix the water” solutions and light on “fix the piping” solutions.

To balance the scales, I offer three actions any diversity program could implement to “fix the piping.”

First, implement blind auditions for positions.  When symphonies went to blind auditions, the numbers of diverse members jumped.  GapJumpers, a recent start-up specializing in creating blind auditions for corporate positions, has seen a similar jump in the numbers of diverse candidates getting interviews at tech companies.

Vujosevic says the company recently analyzed data from 1,200 blind auditions and learned that 54% of those who participated were women, while 46% were men. About 58% of those selected to an interview after the blind audition round were women, and 68% of those who ended up getting hired were women.

Second, level the playing field in meetings with a simple facilitator trick.

Please take the next five minutes to think independently about what the first three actions we must take to resolve Problem X.  Write down your thoughts.  After the five minutes, discuss your ideas with the person next to you.  Choose the Top 3 actions you and your partner would recommend.  Write each of your actions on these sticky notes and post them here for everyone to see.”

This method allows everyone to have an equal chance to be heard.  It’s much more likely to get diverse ideas out for consideration and prevents strong personalities from dominating the meetings.  If you don’t believe that meetings are hard for diverse members of your team, read this article about women in meetings carefully translating their thoughts so they can be heard.

Third, address pay parity by looking at the numbers and fixing the gaps. Marc Benioff, Salesforce’s CEO, did just that when he dug into his companies pay data himself and corrected pay gaps.

But women can’t do this alone, said Benioff. There are also things a company can do.”

Notice that in all of these examples that the diverse employees, which organizations are spending a ton of money to recruit and retain, aren’t expected to change anything about themselves.  They get to be their best selves, just as they are, and the organization is changing to retain them.  The water gets to be the water.  And, the leaks are fixed.

What are your organization’s diversity fixes?  Are you trying to thicken the water or are you fixing the leaks in the system?  Which one you choose will make all the difference.

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