How to build a strong company culture and a diverse workforce
For every article we read about how important company culture is we also read an article concerned that by strengthening culture, companies are also creating homogenous employee populations devoid of diversity. These concerns are very real and justified. As a technology company based in San Francisco, we think about diversity every day whether we choose to or not.
The challenge of untangling the concepts of company culture and diversity comes from the many different variations of diversity that spring to mind. We find that companies are typically trying to maintain three broad categories of diversity, demographic diversity, personality diversity and skills diversity. By clearly defining these categories and understanding their relationship to company culture, companies can cultivate both diversity and a strong culture.
Gender, ethnic and racial diversity are what most commonly jumps to mind during our discussions with companies. We’d also include sexual identity, religious, and age diversity in this category. Companies monitor this type of demographic diversity closely because creating adverse outcomes for specific groups is often illegal and is always unethical. It’s also challenging to create good outcomes because it’s a multi-faceted problem.
The companies who manage this best have a couple of common characteristics. First, they start thinking about demographic diversity early. It’s a lot harder to recruit minorities when you are already a sizeable company. Subconsciously or consciously job candidates will notice whether they are joining an already diverse workforce. Second, companies manage all aspects of the employee lifecycle with diversity in mind. Everything from the recruiting pipeline, the interview process, onboarding, and performance management and leadership development are viewed from the perspective of the minority. Third, companies create real open lines of communication for discussing demographic diversity in the workplace. It has to be a priority for the leadership team.
Diversity in personality types can be harder to identify at first glance, but is important to foster within your company because it is an extension of recognizing that some differences enhance the overall abilities of your team. For example having people who are aggressive and people who are more soft-spoken allows for your team to relate to a broader range of individuals as customers or strategic partners. Depending on the situation you may want a different personality running point.
The challenge in cultivating this type of diversity is that leaders can have a tendency to hire candidates who have the same personality or communications styles as themselves. It can be hard to recognize the value of a having a variety of personality types in your organization, and it’s even harder to manage these differences effectively. That said, the best leaders prioritize this, and are able to recognize the value of a variety of approaches to everyday work.
Lastly, the most obvious and least controversial form of diversity is the diversity your company requires around skills. Even on the same team, having people who are good at different things tends to make for a work environment where everyone feels valued for their work.
The key in building a team for skills diversity is to anticipate the skills that you will require in six months to a year, not just the skills you need now. The reason you want to think ahead is to allow for onboarding time where new employees are able to adjust to their new work environment before becoming fully productive.
How Does Company Culture Fit In?
So we’ve described three different types of diversity that are desirable in an organization, but with regard to company culture we want to turn this logic on its head. While supporting all these various forms of diversity, you need a unifying force to keep all your employee aligned. This is your company culture. Shared values are the foundation of your culture. It is possible and desirable to have shared values across your organization while promoting demographic, personality and skills diversity.
Research on workplace values shows that these guiding principles are not correlated with demographic, personality or skills, which means that it is possible to promote a strong set of core values without sacrificing diversity. If you are paying attention to both your company culture and diversity you are likely on the right course. Creating a diverse workforce and cultivating a strong culture are both difficult tasks which require active attention from leadership. So ask yourselves the tough questions and don’t shy away striving for both.