23 January 2020

Stop hiring for ‘diversity’. Do this instead.

It’s 2020, folks. There should be no room for doubt about the business case for diversity in the workplace anymore. Besides the obvious reasons for not wanting any person to be discriminated against, there’s plenty of research proving recruiting for diversity and inclusion is, simply put, good for business.

When we say “diversity”, what most of us think about are gender, race, and age. These are undoubtedly all important types of diversity. A 2016 study on more than 20,000 companies across 91 countries has shown a higher profitability for companies with more female executives. Seven full years before this study, a separate analysis of 506 companies found a strong correlation between racial diversity and higher revenue, profits, and market share. And if if you’re not convinced by “simple” correlations, there are several experiments proving the direct impact of diversity on performance. A well-known example is a 2006 study of mock juries: when black people were added to the jury, white jurors processed the case facts more carefully and deliberated more effectively.

With all of this in mind, it’s time we all stop hiring for diversity. Or better said, it’s time we stop hiring for this kind of diversity alone. Hiring a team that is diverse in terms of gender and race certainly is a necessary first step towards creating a company that hits or even exceeds its performance goals, but it’s far from enough.


A new kind of diversity.

What do you know about your team’s skills? Have you hired a perfect combination of diverse skills and personalities, or have you created a team incapable of achieving its goals? Could a lack of certain skills be the reason why the company is under-performing?

Unless you’ve been consciously mapping out the specific cognitive and personality traits required for each and every position you’ve ever hired for, and unless you’ve been objectively hiring for these skills while avoiding cognitive biases to create a perfectly balanced skill set throughout the entire organisation, the answer is, simply put, “yes”.

We all have our strengths and weaknesses. You might have a fantastic talent for identifying a candidate’s critical thinking and problem solving, but struggle in judging their unconscious and daily behaviour. You might be a wonderful multitasker, but a lousy manager. Even the brightest of your colleagues has a “dark side”, and that’s perfectly fine. It’s what makes them, and yourself, human. I’m a huge advocate of leveraging on our strengths rather than spending time and effort correcting our weaknesses. However, it’s when we all have the same strengths and weaknesses that trouble starts.

Think about the Sales team you just hired. Did you focus on hiring strong negotiators that will get your business the best deals? But what if these negotiation sharks have a very poor eye for detail and keep messing up the contracts they send out, undermining their previous work? What about your Engineering team? The QA Engineer you just hired demonstrates superb accuracy, but does he have the flexibility to cope with the dynamic environment of a scale-up?

It has been proven over and over again that companies of any size that embrace skill set diversity see a sharp increase in their productivity. Skill set diversity boosts innovation, problem-solving and creativity, leading to higher profits and faster growth.

Your entire workforce will benefit from working with colleagues that possess a variety of talents and personalities. By sharing different abilities, complementary skills and previous experiences, your teams will broaden their perspective towards the different situations and issues they encounter on a daily basis.

Having different opinions and skill sets will encourage interaction among colleagues and promote creativity, allowing teams to develop more comprehensive and higher-impact projects while also finding new and more effective ways to tackle problems.


Easier done than said.

“This is all very interesting, but how doable is this in the real world? I can easily spot demographic diversity, but how am I supposed to spot skill diversity?” I won’t lie to you, you will have to do a little homework to make sure you can create a diverse set of skills and personalities, but it requires much less effort and time than you might think. And it boils down to only 3 steps:

  1. Nail your job description: make sure that both the hiring manager and yourself have a clear picture of the tasks and responsibilities for the vacancy in question. If you’re hiring a Sales Rep that will have to spend their day cold calling, for instance, resilience and logical reasoning are two key traits to look for in candidates. Make sure you have mapped out the skills and personality traits required to be a top performer (if you need a little help with this, we’ve created a series of Hiring Playbooks for some additional guidance).
  2. Take a look at your team: once you’re clear on the necessary skills and personality traits, it’s always a great idea to see which of the above are already available within your existing team. After you have carried out this internal benchmark, you will be able to see the strong points and weak points of your team. Which skills does it already have covered? Which skills are necessary but currently lacking? Finding out is simpler than you might think; there are plenty of assessment tools that can help with that (but why not make it a fun experience, too?).
  3. Assess your candidates: when you evaluate your candidates’ skills and traits, it’s essential that you use the same tool used for the internal benchmark. This will guarantee the consistency of your results, insights, and, ultimately, of your hiring decisions. You will be able to see how well your candidates score on the skills your team and company need the most.


By following these simple 3 steps, you will quickly be hiring teams of diverse and complementary skills that will regularly outperform themselves. Next time you’re looking for your newest colleagues, just remember that they will not be working in isolation. How their skills relate to and complement the ones of your existing team is what will ultimately determine whether they are a valuable hire or not.