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How overwhelmed leaders can still be passionate about diversity

Diversity doesn't have to take a back seat just because we're overworked and overburdened. Here's advice on how leaders can rethink their approach to diversity in positive ways.

5 min read


How overwhelmed leaders can still be passionate about diversity


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Lead Change is a leadership media destination with a unique editorial focus on driving change within organizations, teams, and individuals. Lead Change, a division of Weaving Influence, publishes twice monthly with SmartBrief. Today’s post is by Arthur Woods.

Almost every business leader now finds themselves overworked, Zoomed out and attempting a heroic balancing act — trying to regain stability following an unprecedented year of change, bracing themselves for the potential of more change with the thought of workforce departures, all while trying to keep diversity and inclusion efforts progressing after becoming an urgent focus. 

Upwards of 40% of the workforce is now expected to change jobs in the next 12 months, and many teams who were already facing capacity issues are now struggling to fill gaps with qualified and available candidates, much less ones from diverse communities. In a climate where underrepresented job seekers are in high demand, and many leaving their jobs in the next year, organizations face a major risk of going backwards on diversity. 

Over the last two years, we studied hundreds of employers navigating their diversity hiring strategies for our new book, “Hiring for Diversity,” and we certainly noticed the most collective focus and action around diversity we’ve seen to date. But to make real progress in this moment, we recognized three vital themes that signaled to us that leaders need to change their tune on diversity altogether if they want to see real change. 

Rethink how we frame and define diversity

If we are serious about increasing representation in our organizations, we have to begin with a unified and inclusive definition of diversity. Many leaders look at diversity through a narrow lens, focusing solely on attributes they can see. But there are visible and invisible aspects of diversity. There are entire underrepresented job seeker communities that are left out of many organization goals and tracking. 

To accomplish our mission, we can’t paint diversity in broad strokes and leave people out. We need to ensure our definition of diversity encompasses all the underrepresented communities we hope to hire. In the book, we highlighted 12 underrepresented communities to shed light on the unique needs and barriers of each. 

Shift our diversity efforts from a short-term initiative to a long-term strategic imperative

Part of what will create less of a frenetic pace in this work is if we shift the framing from short term to long term. We recommend taking a deep breath and thinking about the long term. Many leaders see diversity hiring as an urgent but short-term effort, a terrible oversight that can be corrected with a handful of thoughtful hires. But if we really see growing diversity in our organizations as a strategic priority, we must acknowledge that change often comes slowly. 

Just as we would never say that growing revenue is a near-term priority that depends solely on one department, we must never approach diversity as a sprint, or a single team’s “project.” We need to pursue the work in a systematic way that persists regardless of short-term wins or losses. To do it right, we need to reframe diversity hiring as a permanent strategic imperative and an ongoing journey.

Inspire collective ownership of diversity hiring across our teams

In most organizations, people see growing diversity as someone else’s job. Most employers don’t galvanize their full organization around the shared diversity vision in a way that inspires everyone to feel a sense of responsibility. Instead, diversity hiring typically falls on the shoulders of HR and recruiting teams. 

But if the rest of your team isn’t aware of the need, they might not refer underrepresented candidates or consciously address their personal bias when participating in the hiring process. By mobilizing everyone in your organization around diversity hiring, articulating shared goals and aligning incentives to meet those goals, you unlock the capabilities and involvement of your full team. This helps the work become a collective effort and, most important, one that is ingrained in your organization’s culture and values. 

Personally take a first step

The most exciting part about this work is that it starts with each individual. As leaders, our personal stories, identities, and experiences bring important perspectives to advance diversity in our organizations, and every action is progress. Whether that action is building awareness of a new underrepresented community, determining one way to make the hiring process more fair and objective for a job seeker, or having a single conversation that shifts the perspective of a colleague in a more inclusive way, that action counts. I hope you take that step. 


Arthur Woods is co-author of “Hiring for Diversity,” the first dedicated book for leaders to navigate growing diversity in their organizations by shifting their hiring and talent practices. Woods is an LGBTQ+ leader and co-founder of the diversity hiring technology company, Mathison

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