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Utah Business

Your company is not diverse. Here's what you can do about it.

Your Company Is Not Diverse

A couple of years ago, I met a young, Black professor who was recruited from Michigan by the University of Utah. I was impressed with her vision and the goals she had for the University, but less than a year into the position, she moved away. She just didn’t see herself settling down and starting a family in Utah. 

Throughout my professional career, I have seen this scenario play out over and over again. Many people of color move to Utah for a short period of time, only to leave for the next available out-of-state opportunity. As a result, I have found myself connecting best with older professionals of color―those I know will be around for a while. 

Most people are more comfortable when they are surrounded by people like them. Whether you’re white, Black, Hispanic, Asian, young, or not so young, we naturally connect with others who have similar backgrounds. So, how does a company attract diverse talent in an environment that is not diverse to begin with?

Admit Your Company Is Not Diverse

Understanding that your company is not designed to attract a diverse workforce is the first step. Just because you aren’t racist or don’t discriminate doesn’t mean your company will attract diversity. Chances are, if your company is not diverse, diverse individuals won’t want to work there. 

Your company is not diverse. Here's what you can do about it.

To find those diverse individuals, employers need to become more visible to diverse communities. That’s why I cofounded the Utah Diversity Career Fair. This event is hosted and promoted by Utah’s five diverse chambers; Black, Hispanic, Asian, LGBTQ+, as well as the Pacific Island Business Alliance, and has grown to attract more than 50 employers and 200 job seekers each year.

Investing and engaging in these kinds of organizations will help companies connect to diverse communities and better identify those qualified candidates. This also provides an outlet for a company’s diverse workforce to connect with their own community socially, an important factor for those who are new to Utah. 

One job seeker shared in a recent Deseret News article: “What’s going on in the world today, it makes me a little bit nervous. Being at a job event where companies expect to find people of different backgrounds helped alleviate some of those fears.” 

Educate Your Employees Against Unintentional Bias

One day, a coworker at Zions Bank let me know that a “colored lady” was looking for me. I was taken aback by what she said, but I also understood why she felt that it was okay to say it. She meant no harm―it was how she was taught. She hadn’t been around diversity most of her life and spent her professional career in rural parts of Utah, she simply didn’t know.

A couple of months later―after Zions Bank hosted a diversity and inclusion training―she approached me to apologize for her remark, realizing that she had made a mistake. Now that she is aware, she’s been more conscious about how she communicates towards people of color. 

I’ve shared this story during several talks I have given, and some respond with, “how can she not know that is not okay? This is 2019!” This kind of response usually comes from people of color, or those who have come from diverse communities. It’s hard for them to realize that people living in a place that has lacked diversity for so long require more education on how to communicate with people of different backgrounds.

That means that before a company focuses on recruiting diverse talent, they must first have some sort of continuing education system in place. It’s important to build an infrastructure that values (and recognizes) diversity and is inclusive of the gifts, talents, ideas, and innovation diversity brings. I heard recently, “diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.” 

Recruit With Retention In Mind

Utah’s economy is booming. However, many businesses, especially those who have recently relocated here, struggle to recruit and retain personnel, especially when it comes to diverse talent. 

Diversity is important to business. It comes with dividends. And many companies talk about the need for recruiting diverse talent in Utah. But it starts at the top. What does your leadership team look like? Is it attractive to diverse candidates? 

How are you recruiting your talent base? Are there biases deterring certain groups of people? In a recent panel discussion on diversity and inclusion, one of the panelists remarked that how a job description is written can push away potential candidates. 

Your company is not diverse. Here's what you can do about it.

Certain words and phrases resonate with more men than women, and vice versa. Also, men are more likely to apply for jobs when they meet 60 percent of the job qualifications, while women are more likely to apply when they meet 100 percent of the job qualifications. Companies would do well to limit the number of “must-haves” itemized in a job description. 

Before even beginning recruiting, a company must have a strategic plan in place for its diverse workforce. Many companies hire a diversity officer to help build this strategy while connecting and engaging with the diverse communities and promoting not only the opportunities but the values of an organization. 

Create An Inclusive Environment

Hiring people of color is not going to diversify your workforce if the culture is not set up to retain them. That’s where creating an inclusive work environment is absolutely essential. 

One way to do this is to create affinity groups so employees feel valued, included, and empowered to succeed. eBay, for example, has the Black Employees of eBay (or the BEEs). There are nearly 200 active members and 80 percent of them are non-Blacks who support the cause.

These groups provide a forum for diverse employees to share their struggles and successes with one another while helping allies gain an understanding of their perspective. One of my fellow colleagues at Zion’s Bank shared that having an LGBTQ+ Forum provided a safe space for them to share stories on coming out in the workplace as well as the challenges they experience internally and externally. 

In a company that has a relatively small diverse population, it’s important that those employees feel a sense of belonging. The worst thing a company can do is make an employee feel that he or she is there to fill an affirmative action quota. If the company recruited an employee through effective channels and is confident that employee is the best fit for the position, it should be simple to appreciate the employee’s gifts, talent, and ideas without leading from that employee’s race or gender.

The need for a diverse workforce is greater than ever, especially in Utah. But recruiting diverse talent in a non-diverse state is possible. Implementing the steps above will lay the right foundation, now all we have to do is start hiring. 

Your company is not diverse. Here's what you can do about it.

James Jackson is the supplier diversity program manager of Zions Bancorporation’s supply chain management and founder of the Utah Black Chamber.