The first thing I want to do is acknowledge the elephant in the room. Currently, there seems to be a lot of misguided efforts by companies to hire BIPOC simply for the optics. It does not reflect well for cannabis companies to enter the BLM movement by showing support on social media or otherwise when their leadership teams are not diverse whatsoever. So, many companies that are scrambling to make diverse hires will soon learn they are missing the true purpose (and incredible benefits) that come along with having a diverse organization. Implementing an effective Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) initiative does not simply equate to hiring BIPOC. There are real and important business reasons for diverse hiring.
Beyond what is legally defined as a protected class, diversity captures race, ethnicity, origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, age, disability, and so on. The goal is to establish a team of people who think differently, have different experiences and come from different walks of life.
Hiring should not be treated as a PR move. If so, it almost always leads to making the wrong hire and when done at a leadership level, that has a ripple effect throughout the company. It can sour everything from profitability to employee retention of your best and brightest. Not to mention people are quick to call B.S. when they see it!
Hiring for D&I should be a company-wide initiative coupled with the fact that businesses have a revenue-driven duty to make the best decisions for their employees, shareholders, and consumers. Hopefully—usually, that means hiring people of diverse backgrounds because there’s lot of added value that mindful D&I hiring can bring.
THE ENERGY OF FRICTION IN THE ROOM
The reasons to ensure a strong D&I focus is a part of your hiring strategy are numerous and they didn’t begin with the recent developments in the Black Lives Matter movement.
One big reason to hire for diversity in leadership is to ensure that different voices are a part of decision making. Without it, there is not enough healthy friction which is the positive energy that results from the open discussion and thorough challenging of ideas before decisions are made.
If you’ve ever been privy to leadership meetings that are held without the (respectful) challenge of ideas, then you know how ineffective that echo chamber can be. To run a company by making unilateral decisions all the time without considering counter arguments before acting is simply irresponsible. Everything can, and often should, be challenged. That’s tough to do with only one stream of thinking, with one shared set of experiences in a lifetime, in the room.
Even in our boutique organizations of <10 people —we really value the diverse and worldly backgrounds we have here. When I’m considering making a move for us, I would likely fall short without the tough questions my business partners (one of who is my wife who relishes every opportunity to challenge me) very bluntly ask me such as: “Why? How? Are you just chasing shiny objects?” and so forth.
So being challenged by, and of course actively listening to and incorporating the thoughts of, those with different backgrounds means a stronger base for decisions and a stronger company overall. However, this only happens if everyone has a voice. Hiring diverse people and not listening to their voice will only get you into trouble. Silencing diverse hires will only shed light on how bogus your program is. By necessity, part of diversity programming has to be hearing and acknowledging the voices that come with actual inclusiveness in decision-making. It’s about challenging thoughts on one end; and hearing those challenges on the other.
Another fairly obvious reason diversity can help a company in addition to the optics is that it is very hard to create goods and services, as well as sell and market them, if the company does not reflect the populace it’s serving. If everyone is all the same, how can you collectively make educated guesses about what everyone who is not represented wants and responds to? To put it plainly: everything from product development, to packaging and branding, has to appeal to your whole market rather than just what your team likes.
This is a 1+1=3 kind of scenario, too, it’s exponential. Including more minds, with different experiences, means more ideas and more differing ways of approaching everything from new products to marketing and branding. You achieve a more balanced approach with a diverse room of people where everyone is thinking, questioning, and being heard.
So those are just some of the reasons that companies come to us with the desire to hire for D&I. But how is that done? Once you decide that this will be part of your hiring initiatives, you need to make some decisions about how you will go about it.
WORKING FOR IT
D&I does not naturally occur at the optimal levels in organizations. You have to work for it. So, what’s the best way to get that done? Keeping in mind that the driving theme should still be hiring the best person for the job.
Choosing to hire solely for diversity versus hiring the best person for the job can be disastrous. First, it places the new hire at a disadvantage by throwing them into a role they aren’t suited for. It, of course, hurts revenue when this person inevitably can’t perform. It also hurts operations and collectively these factors can drive other top-notch talent from a company that may not be performing well. Also, employees may leave, simply because the right person for a job may be sitting within their ranks and they all know why they were passed over. It’s also a disservice to the person hired who may enjoy that opportunity for a brief time, but then their career is negatively impacted when they are let go for not executing in the role. So, over the many years I’ve been doing this, I can tell you that the number one thing you hire for has to be because the person was the best candidate for the job.
Real-world example: I’ve been conducting a small informal social experiment on how cannabis companies are hiring right now for very important DEI and CSR leader roles. Tracking open roles, who is getting interviewed/hired and who’s left completely out of consideration. While there have been a couple of great recent hires, the overriding theme is that skin color dictates the decision in far too many cases. I have some extremely well-qualified pale male CSR candidates, who have been there and done that successfully on large stages in the mainstream (because these efforts are actually not a new fad in the mainstream), who cannot even win an interview due to the color of their skin. If you’re a cannabis company truly trying to make a difference on the DEI and CSR fronts, that does not happen by hiring someone to lead those efforts simply because they “look” the part. I completely endorse that someone who looks the part AND is extremely well-qualified for the role is the ideal hire, but that’s not what I am seeing unfold right now. I am seeing company’s put entire DEI and CSR programs at risk by choosing a short-term view. It makes me wonder if there’s a real plan in place with resources to support it, or if these are simply optics hires. To those cannabis companies, we know the truth will soon set you free when the cannabis media begins to sink their juicy teeth into what those people are saying about what’s happening behind the curtain.
Now, deciding to make diversity a priority and making sure you hire the best candidate are not mutually exclusive. The way you get there is through more purposeful recruiting, with the overall understanding that you’re running a business and not a charity. There are people of diverse backgrounds who are well-suited for every imaginable position out there, but it will take some work to find them.
When the goal is to gain the kind of friction you get from building a diverse team, that should be its own initiative from the start. Companies should set realistic numerical goals to foster D&I supported by initiatives that place targeted demographics within the organization as well as up and down supply chain; i.e. putting forth the effort to select vendors who help you move the D&I ball forward.
The tactics you use should actually make a difference–take things beyond concepts and theories. This means getting clear about qualifications: the must-haves about knowledge and skills needed for role being fulfilled. This is most important. Once you’ve done that, look at relevant sources to recruit those qualifications. For example, looking at different levels of other organizations, or specific search firms who can narrow the funnel for you. Also consider specific job sites, university career centers, and career fairs for minorities.
Make sure you’re realistic. Understand the percentage of qualified people that exist from the group you’re targeting and decide whether such a laser-focused search makes sense or is too limiting.
Where is your company headquartered? If meeting your D&I goals means recruiting almost entirely from outside your homogenous geography, is that feasible and will new hires be happy living there?
Finally, it may be helpful to work towards the goal of “Closing the Gap” rather than solving the entire issue all at once. Do what you can to take the steps to attain a fair and attainable goal. If you’re currently at 0% diversity, you aren’t getting to 50% tomorrow. Understand your real, concrete goals, and whether or not they’re where you are.
For what it’s worth, these are the things I’ve learned over time that can help companies achieve what has up until now been a highly overlooked push. Making sure your company’s leadership team reflects the customers it’s actually trying to serve isn’t always easy. But it’s doable and worthwhile. With intention and concrete actions these kinds of hiring initiatives mean you’re truly able to make decisions based on a multitude of voices to create the most well-thought out and vetted courses of action you can possibly take and that, to be blunt, means success.