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Inclusive Leadership Blog Series: Bolstering the Diversity Leadership Pipeline

Larry-ChatmanThis post was submitted as part of Forté’s Inclusive Leadership Blog Series spotlighting a unique course at New York University (Stern School of Business) covering diversity and inclusion and benefiting students. Read more about Forté’s work to reach campuses and men with gender diversity and inclusion efforts.

Many firms recognize the importance of building a diverse pipeline of leaders, and senior leadership must have a shared vision of the benefits of diversity and inclusion to an organization. A diverse workforce provides an organization with increased productivity and creativity in a global marketplace. A company enhances its competitive advantage and problem solving with diverse ideas and perspectives. Often times, employees with management potential and a demonstrated history of success are provided management and diversity training along with mentoring. There are just two issues with this type of training program: in some instances, it is initiated too late in an employee’s career, or it simply does not address the range of benefits that a diverse employee population brings to an organization. The latter was true for me—and I’m sharing this experience as I complete NYU Stern’s Inclusive Leadership Course to benefit my fellow classmates and others.

After graduating from college, I joined a rotational leadership program designed to provide employees with direct management experience right out of school. This opportunity proved to be invaluable but, at the time, I was not properly prepared for all aspects of management. A few weeks after the start of my role as a manager, I was tasked with hiring a new employee for the team. After reviewing resumes and conducting interviews, I narrowed the pool to two applicants: one male with prior experience similar to the vacant position with above average performance reviews, and one female with minimal relevant experience but with exceptional performance reviews indicating that she was intrinsically motivated and driven to succeed. Because I was new in this role, I consulted a more experienced colleague to hold a second round of interviews. This manager arrived at the same decision, and I hired the male candidate with the traditional relevant background. Two months later, I was asked to hire an additional employee for the team. This time, I selected the motivated, female employee previously interviewed. Within a short period of time, this female employee became a leader on the team, far exceeding the rest of the team’s performance results including the male colleague hired two months earlier. With the benefit of hindsight, I realize that my initial judgement was clouded by my own unconscious bias to select the safe, traditional choice. Fortunately, I was able to correct this mistake with the new hire. Unfortunately, not every management decision can be corrected.

I have learned that the traditional interview process does not always lead one to identify and hire the right person for the job. Diversity and inclusion involve more than just having a team of people with different races, ethnicities, genders, and age groups. The benefits of diversity can be best seen when people with different backgrounds work together to create diversity of thought to meet an organization’s global challenges. When you purposefully construct a diverse team, every person does not need to master all applicable competencies. Rather, individuals should be chosen so that, collectively, the team has all of the skills to accomplish the organization’s mission.

When I made my initial hiring decision, I did not fully appreciate the collective skill sets on the team. More important, I failed to consider how those with non-traditional work experiences could add value to the team. Managers should assess the applicability of non-traditional experiences in making hiring decisions and develop this talent to increase productivity and promote diversity in leadership positions.

Bolstering the pipeline of diverse leaders organically requires a company to not only train employees to recognize and appreciate diversity of backgrounds—but also invest in development and mentoring early in an employee’s career. Development is a two-way street. New employees should seek relevant employee networks, take an active leadership role in new opportunities, and be open to feedback and coaching. Concurrently, management must create a culture of openness to diversity, provide mentoring opportunities, hold managers accountable for developing its employees, and monitor progress with its diversity goals. When these activities occur collectively, the company and its diverse employees will have a significant competitive advantage to achieve their long-term goals.

Larry Chatman is a 2016 MBA candidate enrolled in the Inclusive Leadership Class at NYU Stern. His dream is to leverage his operations and project management expertise to work in marketing for a global medical devices company. Larry’s post is the third in Forté’s Inclusive Leadership Blog Series and will be followed by another peer post sharing more inclusive leadership lessons.

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