What is a diverse candidate? Hint, it’s not an old, old wooden ship.

October 23, 2016

I will be the first to admit, my sense of humor might sometimes comes across as snarky. Especially when it comes to someone not making a concerted effort to say what they really mean and mean what they say. So, if someone says to me they are looking for a ‘diverse’ candidate, I’ll typically respond to the effect of asking, “Are you looking for someone in the LGBT community, someone with a defined disability, a military veteran, a millennial, a White male over the age of 50, someone from a different industry, an immigrant, a non-White person, a member of Mensa?” Okay, you get the point.

The reason I ask for that level of specificity is the language we use does matter. One of the ongoing barriers to making real progress on issues considered to be diversity-related is that we seldom really know or express what we mean when we use the term. It could mean different things to different people. I’ve always said that if you were to walk down the street and ask 10 different people how they define diversity, you’ll get 14 different answers (yes, that’s the new Common Core math).

In this recruiting scenario, I could deliver 5 candidates to you who are all White males under the age of 40 and still have a good amount of diversity along any number of the dimensions above, and then some. What I would be lacking is a representative candidate pool, inclusive of gender and ethnicity. If gender and ethnic representation, for example, are what you believe you need and want in a candidate slate, you should say that. And by the way, you should also be clear as to why you feel you need it and how much you believe you need. In this recruiting scenario, I could deliver 5 candidates to you who are all White males under the age of 40 and still have a good amount of diversity along any number of the dimensions above, and then some. What I would be lacking is a representative candidate pool, inclusive of gender and ethnicity. If gender and ethnic representation, for example, are what you believe you need and want in a candidate slate, you should say that. And by the way, you should also be clear as to why you feel you need it and how much you believe you need.

Every candidate is a diverse candidate.

Folks who do what I do for a living are often accused of being politically correct. And the overly broad use of the word ‘diverse’, instead of what you really want, is one of the reasons. I can’t speak for everyone in my profession, but in the words of one of our current Presidential candidates, if you accuse me of working to be politically correct, I will swiftly and emphatically inform you that you are, “WRONG!” I believe political correctness is one of the biggest barriers to productive dialogue about diversity. I do believe in respectful, courteous and educated dialogue. And within those guard rails, you should always, always, always say what you mean and mean what you say. Otherwise, I promise you, we will be having the same tired, confused and unproductive conversations about ‘diversity’ 20 years from now that we have been having for the past 20 years. You all know one of the definitions of insanity is to continue to do the same things while expecting a different outcome. Such is true for not putting in the effort to be clear in the language we use.

If you are looking to add to your team an LGBT, female veteran, over the age of 50, with a prosthetic arm, who’s never worked in your industry before, then be clear about that when you fill out your recruiting requisition. Now, if you’re not sure that’s who you want or you’re not sure why you want them, then I suggest taking a step back and starting over before simply stating you would like a diverse candidate.

And, by the way, there are other dimensions to diversity beyond the workforce and workplace. I’ll come back to that later.

© 2016 David Casey Diversity, LLC