Diversity and racial injustice is a hot topic in corporate America. The New York Times called unconscious bias consulting a booming new industry, and Indeed shows that diversity-related job postings are up 25% over last year.
Hardly a day goes by without news reports of major companies like Facebook getting grilled on their diversity policies, or institutions like Harvard going to court to defend their admissions policies.
Intuitively, we know that diversity is important for human progress. Different perspectives lead to better innovation and create a more interesting, happier world. But diversity isn’t just a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have for businesses that want to stay competitive.
Numerous studies have shown a clear correlation between companies with diverse leadership teams and business success. One McKinsey report showed that companies in the top quartile for racial/ethnic and gender diversity were respectively 35 and 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. In the U.S., for every 10 percent increase in racial and ethnic diversity amongst leadership, earnings rose 0.8 percent.
This study shouldn’t come as a surprise. For the past two decades, scholars have been showing positive correlations between diversity and increased employee performance. But perhaps what is surprising is how little companies are doing to address their lack of diversity, given the clear economic benefit.
Talking about diversity can be challenging, and implementing organization-wide changes to create a more diverse workforce can feel insurmountable. My industry, the natural food industry, is part of the problem. Many of the people who grow, pick, and serve the food we promote are marginalized based on race and gender. And yet, the founders and executives at most natural food companies are white and generally male.
Creating a company that reflects the incredible diversity of our consumers, suppliers and our hometown of Oakland has been one of my goals since starting Kuli Kuli. Despite my diversity goals, I found that almost all Kuli Kuli’s job applicants and hires looked like me, a white woman. Companies generally hire through their networks, and these networks often reflect the race, gender and ethnicity of those in leadership positions.
Six months ago, we decided to put our money where our mouth is by joining a group of natural food leaders seeking to increase justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) within our industry through the JEDI Collaborative. Our JEDI work has increased diversity within Kuli Kuli by over 60%. We’re proud to now be 50% non-white, 70% women, and 20% LGBTQ. Though we’re proud of the progress we’ve made, we know that we still have a long way to go.
This process required many thoughtful and uncomfortable conversations amongst our team. Here’s three lessons we learned along the way:
1.Conduct an Internal Audit
The best way to attract diversity is to have an environment that welcomes diverse candidates with open arms. Kuli Kuli started as many mission-based organizations do, with predominantly white women. In order to create a more inclusive environment where non-white, and not only female-identifying candidates would feel comfortable working, we needed to recognize our own internal bias.
Through the JEDI Collaborative, we worked with The Avarna Group to hold a full-team, half-day workshop where we had frank and transparent conversations about how we could better support and celebrate diversity on our team. We reflected that our website used many photos of me, a white woman, when I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger. I started Kuli Kuli after working with moringa in the Peace Corps. This founding story is a big part of our company’s history.
However, we realized upon reflection, that the photos of me playing with children in my Peace Corps village could be seen as yet another “white savior” photo. We know that our approach is not paternalistic or savioristic; rather, we value and respect the cultural knowledge of communities who are harnessing the power of moringa and endeavor to provide these communities with access to global markets so they can share their products with the world. We changed our website to better reflect that approach by showcasing more photos of powerful women farmers and other members of the Kuli Kuli team.
We also realized that we needed an inclusive group within Kuli Kuli to spearhead efforts to create a culture welcoming to people of all backgrounds. We formed a Culture Committee with team members from both marginalized and non-marginalized groups. Having an inclusive group leading the efforts makes tough conversations more enriching and avoids an “us versus them” mentality. Our Culture Committee is putting together an action plan to make small but meaningful improvements, such as ensuring that we acknowledge and celebrate all of the holidays represented in our office community, from Ramadan and Diwali to Hanukkah and Christmas.
2. Create a Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Mission Statement and Goal
Following our team workshop, we took everyone’s ideas and turned them into a JEDI statement that we now proudly display on our website and in our job descriptions. From that visionary statement, we created goals and put together a culture plan to help us better achieve the improvements that we want to see. Companies create goals all the time about the revenue or margins they want to achieve, but rarely have we seen other companies create JEDI goals. The reason a lot of industries experience very little positive movement in diversifying their workforces is that they’re not holding themselves accountable by building holistic goals, and when they do set goals, it’s only about representation and diversity and not also about culture. Companies can set all kinds of recruiting targets, but unless they build an inclusive workplace culture that tackles bias and makes sure everyone feels they belong, that diversity won’t last because people will leave. Marginalized voices need to be heard, amplified and part of the decision making processes.
3. Change the Way You Recruit
You cannot expect to find new, unique candidates if you’re using your old recruiting tactics. In order to ensure a diverse outcome, design institutional processes to hold management accountable. First, we created a hiring metric that scored candidates against a variety of skill sets and leadership skills, including their ability to overcome challenges and bring a unique perspective to our team. We also revised our job description and took out many of the “preferred” skill sets as those can deter people from applying even if they have many of the required skills. We then made a list of places outside of our traditional networks, such as affinity groups and historically black colleges, in which to post all of our jobs. Finally, we instituted a policy of interviewing at least one person of color for each position; a tactic the National Football League used for head coaches which increased candidates of color’s chances of becoming a head coach. These, and a number of other strategies from the Avarna Group’s recruitment and hiring toolkit, helped us cast a wider net and diversify our staff in just a few months.
My employees are the lifeline of my business. It’s not enough to just think about diversity and inclusion during the hiring process. By integrating JEDI into everything you do as a company, you can allow employees to be 100% themselves, 100% of the time, which adds to their productivity and the overall company success.
It’s evident there is financial gain to be had by encouraging diversity and inclusion in your workforce. Creating a diverse business requires more than just good intentions – it takes work and accountability to be successful. By broadening recruiting tactics, making conscious internal changes and setting diversity goals, you can create a more competitive and culturally-rich office community. My hope is that by sharing our story, we’ll help inspire others to grow their companies by growing the diversity of their teams.
By Lisa Curtis
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