Much like the ever-touted benefits of having a diversified investment portfolio, we should be diversifying our network. It’s people who open the doors to the opportunities you’re seeking, and if everyone around you looks, talks, and thinks like you do, you’re missing out on opportunities for your success, as well as opportunities to grow.
I spoke with leaders in this arena who could shed light both on the power of a diverse network as well as how to build one tactically.
If you’re seeking additional resources, I suggest digging into Scott E. Page’s work at the University of Michigan and this TED talk delivered by Mellody Hobson called “Color Blind Or Color Brave?”.
So, how do you begin to diversify your community strategically and break out of any echo-chambers you’ve created?
Go one degree further
Often, the fastest and most effective route is to tap into your current network. If you can identify a specific person you’re looking to meet, or offer an example of a personality archetype (people in different fields, with different backgrounds, and with different persuasions from your current network), your existing community can open doors for you, allowing you to ride their reputational coattails into a new connection.
SPACE sharespace & Incubator’s CEO Medina elaborates, “Check your existing network to see if there’s someone who can make an introduction, and then use that intro to make a strong impression. This is a very proactive approach. The way to build diversity is by challenging your norms.”
Intention in community building
Medina continues, “The creation of a network begins with intention. If you are seeking to bring diverse voices into your ecosystem, it begins with seeking out new communities. Ask yourself who are the most vocal in the areas where you are trying to establish connections? Who has challenged or inspired your way of thinking? Once you identify those people, connect with them on social media. A follow up paired with a professional message can go a long way.”
Extend an invitation
There are a lot of places that are invite-only and tend to perpetuate same-ness. Kathryn Finney, CEO & Managing Director of digitalundividedelaborates, “I think there’s a disproportionate amount of responsibility on the person seeking opportunities versus those in a position to create opportunities. I recently told a friend, who happens to be a young, prominent white male in tech, ‘Look. You get invited into rooms that people who look like me will NEVER be invited into. The next time you’re invited to a tech bro dinner where you know there will be no diversity, just invite someone who does not look like you to join you. And introduce that person to everyone there as someone you endorse and believe is the future of tech. It’s very simple.’ More than any woman or Black person in tech, he has the power to reach out and give someone who is ‘different-from-him’ a boost. And that boost is free. It’s time more power players do their part to diversify the rooms they’re in and the tables they’re at. It’s just good business sense.”
Look at how you hire
Take a look at your team. How could you make space for those who don’t think, act, or look like everyone else?
Kathy Martinez, head of Disability and Accessibility Strategy at Wells Fargoadds, “We hire team members with different backgrounds and abilities to reflect our varied customer base and perspectives. We believe that people with disabilities have much to contribute to the development and delivery of our products and services. They often have to innovate and be extremely strategic to succeed in a world that has not been designed for them.”
It’s great to hire someone who expands the diversity of your team. And, it’s even better to recruit and hire in cohorts.
Amy Lazarus, Founder and CEO of InclusionVentures explains, “Research shows that organizations benefit significantly when at least one-third of those in leadership positions are women or people of color. Don’t tokenize by recruiting one of any underrepresented identity (e.g., women, women of color, people of color, lower socioeconomic status, physical or mental ability, etc.). Instead, if you are looking to diversify your board or leadership team, bring new talent on in cohorts (e.g., three under-represented identities at a time). The magic number is between 30% and 35%. This helps to mitigate what Salesforce’s Chief Equality Officer, Tony Prophet, calls ‘only-ness’. It also helps to amplify and value diverse perspectives, ideas, and voices, which increases the likelihood of having a better ROI for your hiring efforts. Remember, though, that recruiting is only part of the equation; be as intentional with your inclusion and fairness strategies as you are with diversity to create spaces where everyone can thrive and all ideas can be valued.”
Focus on inclusion, then diversity
Lazarus continues, “Focus on inclusion first. During the interview process at a California-based organization, employees talked with authenticity about their ongoing work to operationalize diversity, equity, and inclusion within their culture and work. The organization’s top-choice candidates all accepted their offers. All of the new hires said that they chose to work at the organization in part because of the organization’s demonstrated commitment to inclusion; 80% of the new employees were people of color. By focusing first on inclusion, then diversity, we see several positive changes. First, staff is aware of how unconscious bias may affect interactions and decisions when interviewing people of color, and works to mitigate that. Second, effective leaders have the skills and commitment to create teams where all voices are heard and leveraged. Third, there is a visible ROI on recruiting, hiring, and reputation. In fact, people of color will start seeking you out (e.g., engineers of color flocked to work at Slack). Companies that focus on decreasing bias and enhancing inclusion create an environment where everyone belongs, avoid groupthink, and learn and practice behaviors that lead to a workplace where everyone can thrive. “
Be a minority
If you find yourself in the majority, whether that be based on your beliefs, how you look, your age, or otherwise, consider seeking out a place to spend time where you are in the minority.
For example, when I was in college, I joined the gospel choir as a white Jewish woman. I wanted to experience what it was like to be fully out of my comfort zone and see what I could learn. I gained a lot, including empathy.
Next time you’re at an event, approach someone whom you’d typically gloss over (even if you’d do so subconsciously). When I attend events and look around, I often see people who look the same talking to one another. Stretch yourself to say hello to someone new and ask questions to get to know them.
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This article was originally published on Forbes.