“Like attracts like”
This phrase always had positive connotations for me—I have seen its influence firsthand. Since I joined Projectline I have seen it grow over 20x in size, and all the while the mindset of “like attracts like” was instrumental in helping us maintain our culture during such rapid growth. Put bluntly, especially in a client services business like ours, the number one goal of any hiring decision can be boiled down to wanting to find people who are both smart, and nice, not just one or the other. While you can screen for “smart,” “nice” is more subtle, and harder to detect.
I’ve always felt that our organizational commitment to community service was a type of shield protecting our overall culture. People who are giving also tend to be nice, at least in my experience. The fact that smart and nice people were attracting other smart and nice people to come and work at the same company seemed like a fantastic positive feedback loop for us. We also like to hire people who are interesting and ambitious, and so this concept of “like attracts like” has definitely helped us to scale our organization by attracting these desirable qualities in future coworkers.But then I think about how the concept of “like attracts like” applies to the critically important aspect of diversity and inclusion, in both finding and hiring the best talent. The issue is, regardless of how well intentioned I am personally, I know my professional networks are filled with people that have a similar background to my own. These are smart and nice people, to be sure, but they are not cutting across a representative sample of society as a whole. And we know that 85% of jobs are filled via networking, so if my network is full of people that look more or less like me, and have more or less the same background, then there is a huge swath of potential job seekers that I am personally overlooking. Multiply these “network blind spots” by all the hiring managers that are Caucasian and male like myself, and one can start to see how gender and racial diversity issues exist, even when well-meaning people are trying their best to create the opposite outcomes.
Now let’s take it a step further. Good talent is hard to find in normal times, as any hiring manager knows. When the labor market is tight, it can feel downright impossible to find people with skills that are in high demand. This is one of the reasons why it is so important to reduce bias in the hiring process wherever you can, and to increase the size of your candidate pool by looking beyond your existing networks. By definition, if you want to find, attract, and recruit more diverse candidates, you need to network with more diverse communities where those candidates can be found in the first place. Having that wider network to begin with, when applied to the problem of finding and hiring highly skilled talent in a tight labor market, is a differentiator for hiring managers within their peer group. These diversity-networked hiring managers will have more candidates and faster time-to-hire metrics, all of which means the businesses they support will be better off than the businesses of their less-networked peers.
Unfortunately, I cannot offer an easy hack, or quick fix, that will accomplish this outcome for you. In my experience, the key to building more diverse networks is the same as the key to building any network—takes a sustained and genuine effort. It’s not a destination, it’s a journey, and in the case of diversity and inclusion, it’s a journey that requires you to get outside of your comfort zone. You have to intentionally change how and where you look for job candidates, both in the real world and online. Focus on widening your talent pool by lowering your barriers to applicant diversity. Attend job fairs or networking events targeted at groups that are distinctly different from your own. For example, this year I’ve started attending job fairs and networking events that focus on military veterans seeking civilian employment. This is a new group I am getting to know, and I’m excited to see where it leads! I also make a point to take informational interviews, even if when we don’t have an active role we are trying to fill. I’ve found that telling your story, and listening to the stories of others, also creates a positive feedback loop of its own. You might not be able to offer someone a job, but you can offer them advice and further introductions, and they can offer the same to you. Over time you develop advocates, and even if you can’t hire these advocates directly, they are part of networks you are not. Their networks comingle with your own, and given sustained effort, your network can grow into a much more diverse and interconnected web. Like can still attract like when you are growing your teams, you will just have more to choose from before you decide who you happen to like the best!