Your Diversity Policy Shouldn’t Focus on One or Two Groups

The best way to attract LGBTQ+ candidates is by elevating diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging in the workplace – for everyone.
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Illustration: Getty Images

Hawaii Business Magazine asked Sarah Guay, CEO of the Hawai‘i Employers Council, for an article with advice on recruiting in the LGBTQ+ community. After wrestling with the topic, Guay says, she sought insights from Ku‘ulani Keohokalole, founder of People Strategies Hawai‘i, an organizational development consultancy.

Keohokalole emphasized that recruiting people who identify as LGBTQ+ is one part of a larger necessary discussion on diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging in the workplace, DEIB. The following excerpt from their discussion explains how the two concepts are importantly related.


Guay: It’s clear that strategic recruiting to build diversity in Hawai‘i’s workplaces does have a role in this equation – but it can’t be done in isolation, right?

Keohokalole: Right. Bringing more diverse perspectives into the workplace through recruiting is the right thing to do. It’s just not the only thing organizations need to do around DEIB, and it’s often not the first thing they need to do. In the DEIB conversation, the organization needs to first fundamentally think about who it is and who it represents. For example, take an arts organization whose board members were used to holding exclusive private fundraising soirees extended to wealthy donors who enjoy art. One day the organization looked around and realized those actions were out of alignment with their desire to increase access to art for kids who are from underserved communities.

That realization led the executive director to rethink their board makeup, and start to rethink who they fundamentally are, from the top-down – their mission, values, leadership and alignment all the way through. That’s the real work we’re talking about. It’s not just about recruiting.

Guay: Got it. But it feels like if we don’t start bringing in diverse perspectives, we’ll never get there. What comes first? It feels like a chicken and egg conversation.

Keohokalole: It goes back to the question: What problem is your organization trying to solve through DEIB work? Instead of asking about recruiting a certain number of LGBTQ+ employees or employees of any underrepresented identity for that matter, a better first question might be, how well does an organization’s workforce reflect the communities their mission says they exist to serve.

Bringing in more diverse voices is the right thing to do, but if they are in the small minority numbers-wise, it’s going to be an uphill struggle. All of us can think of times when we had to advocate for an alternative perspective and got pushback. That happens a lot for people who are brought in to support diversity efforts and then their perspective gets dismissed.

On the flip side, leaders need to be careful not to hold up an individual as a representative of every voice out there. Not only is that unfair, it’s tokenism.

Guay: Sometimes diversity recruiting efforts are criticized because there’s a belief it requires lowering qualifications to recruit diverse populations.

Keohokalole: Right. And actually, no one is asking you to lower your qualifications to diversify your workplace. In fact, recruiting for a diverse workforce requires you, in some ways, to become more stringent about certain position qualifications – rethinking them to be aligned to what your organization really needs.

For example, if you’ve got people whose job it is to build community relationships, then they likely need experience engaging with the community here in Hawai‘i, right? To do that, they will likely need to be grounded in the community they serve and able to speak the language of those stakeholders. It’s not enough to just say, “Must have X years of education and know about Hawai‘i’s communities.” You’ll need to rethink the need for that person’s connections, the quality of relationships they bring, etc. Those are the qualifications you’re looking for.

It’s not at all about lowering qualifications, it’s about redefining them intentionally to garner a workforce that reflects who the organization serves.

Guay: One strategy we hear a lot about are referral programs. Are they helpful or harmful when it comes to supporting DEIB in organizations?

Keohokalole: The risk with blanket referral programs is that they incentivize folks to recruit people within their own network – who likely have similar experiences and perspectives. This can reinforce a lack of diversity by relying on the networks of the dominant demographic in the organization, and can proliferate the status quo, making it systemically difficult to break the mold.

Another way to go about it would be to create specific referral programs for what you’re looking for and target the program to those most likely to have those skills or backgrounds in their network.

Guay:: The discussion of strategic referrals brings up the relationship between fairness, equality and equity. How are these concepts related?

Keohokalole: Equity is about understanding there have been historical imbalances our society has accepted as “just the way it is,” and we are now trying to address those imbalances through our actions and decisions.

An example was an organization that recently completed its performance reviews and was now figuring out employee pay increases. The organization realized it couldn’t afford across-the-board raises. Instead, they deferred highly compensated employees’ raises in favor of providing increases to the lowest-paid employees. They made that decision in the name of equity. Was it equal? No. But was it equitably fair? Yes.

Equity is about understanding what the problem is, what’s created the problem historically, and then what’s our role in addressing it systemically – versus focusing on isolated activities or tasks.

Guay: It strikes me this conversation about building DEIB is similar to building other fundamentals of an organization’s culture. An organization that values service, for example, can’t just say they value service. That value has to come alive through their actions.

Similarly, the commitment to DEIB needs to live and be reinforced regularly through practices, policies and systems. Specific tactics to support the desired culture include training, supportive benefit programs and employee resource groups. Organizations should invest in training staff on their DEIB values, including specific policies and practices that support diversity. Managers need to deeply understand the issues surrounding DEIB in the workplace and be ambassadors of the values.

Employers should ensure inclusivity with employee benefits, offering gender-affirming health care benefits or transgender-inclusive policies for parental leave. Employee resource groups, which are voluntary employee-led groups that serve traditionally underrepresented employees, can provide a supportive community for employees to mitigate for tokenism.

Keohokalole: Exactly. A healthy workplace is the outcome of organizational DNA that empowers, respects, supports and engages its employees. These values are reflected in a myriad of ways within the organization – through policies, procedures, and systems.

Too often, DEIB efforts are set aside as “HR initiatives” and recruiting is an action taken in support of the overall experience for an employee. This is what we mean when we say instead of starting with recruiting, start with what you’re recruiting them into.

DEIB is not a certification or an achievement. This work doesn’t have a finish line. It’s a mindset that informs the way we approach the mission of our organization. It’s an ongoing journey to continually assess our alignment, course correcting as we go, and getting better every day through intentional focus and transformation.



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