How to Create an Environment of Diversity Within Your Organization

Making one hire does not create a diverse environment on its own. While your first diverse hire is an important step, there is more that needs to be done to ensure a lasting culture of diversity in your organization. Our strategic partner, Sam Collier, is passionate about walking through this process with churches and Christian organizations to help them create an environment that lives out diversity initiatives rather than just valuing the idea of developing a diverse staff.

Whether you’re a leader at your organization, a pioneer diverse employee, or a majority team member, Sam provides tips for how you can play a role to continue the diversity efforts at your organization. I sat down with him to discuss what it means to be the first diverse hire at an organization and the role leadership plays in creating a diverse environment.

What is the difference between having a diverse environment and having a token person?

A token employee describes a symbolic hire made in order to check the box of pursuing diversity without intentions of continuing further efforts. For diversity to become a more deeply-rooted part of your culture, it’s important that you have a plan for ensuring your culture welcomes that person and attracts other people that are different from your current majority.

After your first diverse hire, the question becomes, “will there be a second,” and “are you willing to adapt your culture to meet the needs of the different members that make up your team?” These changes take time, so it might be a little while before one hire becomes two, but it is important that hiring for diversity is an ongoing process if you expect your culture to change for the long haul.

While hires are critical to diversifying, you have to expect cultural change to follow and be open to these changes. Check your heart to ensure you are looking to provide a comfortable work environment for different groups of people and not simply trying to hit ratios and quotas. While numeric goals are helpful for keeping your organization on track, it’s not enough to ensure meaningful change. It’s critical that your diversity efforts are rooted in a true desire for unity. Without the right intentions, it’ll be hard to stay focused and dedicated when challenges arise.

Our Diversity Council can help you build an assimilation plan that ensures diverse hires feel welcome in your organization. Learn more about our customized strategic plans and how a clear path forward is the key to a successful culture change.

What does it mean to be the first diverse hire?

Being the first diverse hire in any organization is a calling, not just a job. Being the first person at the table means you have a responsibility to keep the conversation going and work toward becoming a more diverse organization. There will also be many uncomfortable conversations that you have to initiate, and these discussions may or may not be welcomed by your leadership team. If you’re willing to be the first hire at an organization looking to diversify, you will need to be prepared for a challenging but rewarding path forward.

If you don’t use your position to further diversity initiatives, they cannot continue. Your leadership team will be looking to you for ideas and confirmation that the diversity efforts in place are working. This role can feel isolating as many pioneer efforts do. While it might not be easy, remember the overall goal of why you are there and what you are doing. You cannot make a difference in an organization if you are not in the room.

What should the majority do to create an environment of diversity?

It is the role of Christians to leverage whatever advantage you have to help those without as much opportunity or power. As a leader of an organization, this could mean working toward a more diverse organization by reconsidering who you hire and where you look when you hire to make sure everyone in your organization has a voice. As you make changes, it’s important to continue to gather information, continuously learn, and then use what you learn and educate others.

As a majority team member passionate about seeking diversity, it can be challenging to know where to begin the process. The best way to learn is to ask questions with an open mind. This might be one-on-one conversations with staff members to gauge morale and culture effectiveness or it could be an anonymous survey where people can freely share how included they feel at work and ideas for improvement. Genuine pursuit of understanding is the best way to take impactful steps towards improvement.

An environment of diversity requires help from everyone within the organization. If you are the first diverse hire, make sure your voice is heard and you are helping to increase diversity efforts. If you are a leader at an organization, make sure you have regular and intentional diversity conversations that allow all voices to be heard. We here at Vanderbloemen know that creating an environment of diversity in organizations can be a difficult task. As you continue to decide what the next best step for your organization is, we're here to help. Start with our free Diversity Readiness Tool if you’re still considering the first steps or reach out to us if you’re ready to receive a custom strategic plan or hire your next team member.

Diversity Readiness Checklist