The Myth of Diversity vs. Quality

April 30, 2019

In hiring committee meetings, we’ve all heard the common refrain, “We want diversity, but there are just no qualified candidates out there!” or even, “We can’t sacrifice quality for diversity.”

Although they may sound harmless at first (after all, we all want the best and brightest on our teams!), such statements are a product of societal myths about the competence and abilities of marginalized groups.

For example, people with disabilities are often subject to the myth that their specific disability means they are less capable in general. People of color and women are often subject to the myth that they are less competent than white people and men, intellectually and otherwise.

Take, for instance, some of the public response to the news that the NFL assigned its first female referee to a playoff game:

Behind comments like these is an assumption that women don’t earn their achievements because they are generally less capable than men.

Shift the conversation from perceived problems with candidates' qualifications to previously unrecognized problems with your recruiting practices.

With a better understanding of these myths, it’s easier to see that the real reason you may be having difficulty finding a diverse candidate pool is because of flaws in your current search process, not because candidates from marginalized backgrounds are inherently less qualified. So what can you do when you hear colleagues equating diversity with lower quality?

•   Acknowledge and re-state the more accurate fact that there are qualified diverse candidates out there. Shift the conversation from perceived problems with candidates’ qualifications to previously unrecognized problems with your recruiting practices.

One example of what you can do differently? Seek out new sources of recruitment and follow different avenues to find candidates. This can include consulting diversity-focused recruitment services and job boards, hiring a community outreach coordinator, expanding the list of where you post job openings, and sponsoring identity group-based networking events with local organizations and groups, including women’s and historically Black colleges and universities.

•   Plan ahead. Even if your organization isn’t actively searching for new talent right now, consider sponsoring internship and shadowing programs in schools that have diverse student bodies. Maintaining a campus presence as a champion of diversity will help you “fill the pipeline” with the promising candidates you seek, and make your organization attractive to a diverse group of graduates for years to come.

The next time the “quality versus diversity” myth pops up in selection discussions or creeps into your long-term recruitment practices, make an effort to recognize and debunk it. Even in casual discussions, share the research-based notion that diversity is associated with rather than opposed to quality.

Considering different ways to recruit and search will widen your pool of candidates, giving you a better chance of finding the best candidate for the job. And once you have a diverse pool of candidates to choose from, it’s time to consider how those candidates may view your organization.

Want to know what else hinders diversity in the workplace?
Learn more fundamental skills for diversifying your team with our courses:
DiversityEdu: Inclusive Hiring and DiversityEdu: Building Inclusive Culture.

This post is part of a series addressed to HR and other hiring managers about integrating diversity competence into each step of the employment lifecycle, from recruitment and hiring, to creating an inclusive workplace, to evaluating and cultivating leaders who will take inclusive excellence at your enterprise to the next level.