The “Diversity Hire”: A Problem Acknowledged, But Not Addressed

Adithi Iyer, Grade 12 Student, Investments and Finance

In December 2020, Nasdaq announced it wants the boards of the companies on its exchange to comprise at least one woman and one underrepresented or LGBTQ member in a push for diversity. If a company doesn’t fulfil this requirement of two “diverse” members, they have to explain why or be delisted.

Several companies have already jumped in to meet these demands. Goldman Sachs is aiming for better diversity representation in its vice presidents by 2025 by ensuring 40% are women, 7% are Black and 9% are Latinx. BlackRock pronounced it will increase its Black workforce by 30% by 2024. So on, and so forth. 

This is all great in terms of progress and representation. As summarized in a Medium article by Jessica Lim, we don’t see women or BIPOC in positions of power, hence we cannot conceptualize women or BIPOC in positions of power, hence we don’t hire women or BIPOC in positions of power. Most companies like Nasdaq are now acknowledging that this is a problem, hence requiring a certain number of their board members to be women or BIPOC.

I’m all for this change, but only if it is for the right reasons. Instead of working towards long-term equality and egalitarianism, what is often happening is that companies are treating these diversity requirements as quotas to be filled, or PR stunts.

As soon as this number or percentage is met, recruiters are too busy congratulating themselves on these surface-level changes, to actually address the problem by focusing on details such as retention rates and building inclusive environments. Due to these quotas, women and BIPOC are seen first as “the diversity hires,” and only then as able employees. 

The Diversity Hire

Definition: someone who is hired not necessarily due to their qualifications, but because they “tick the boxes” that will help a company achieve its diversity quota.

Why is this problematic?

  • No one wants to be the token Black/Brown/Asian/Woman at their company. These labels are essentially saying that you were hired for your gender and/or race, instead of your talent. It doesn’t matter if this was the company’s intention; it is what your coworkers will be thinking, which only adds to the prejudice around minorities and our talents
  • It makes us doubt ourselves and our skills. Tomorrow, when I’m interviewing for a job, I don’t want employers to see me and think: Female? Check. Person of colour? Check. Immigrant? Check and check.

I don’t want to feel like my only contribution to the company is my gender and skin colour. No progress is being made here since I’m just filling in their boxes for the diversity hire. Have they even read my resume and seen what I have to offer to the company?

Going Beyond the Quota

Requiring all boards to have women and BIPOC members should go beyond meeting a quota set by superiors. We have so much to offer in addition to our backgrounds:

  • Companies can benefit from several diverse perspectives, thought processes, and skills
  • Encouraging these unique viewpoints helps build an inclusive culture where innovation and collaboration thrive as people become more comfortable sharing their ideas
  • Women and BIPOC themselves represent an important consumer base, and companies will profit from understanding how to build and market products to these target audiences
  • Companies with more culturally and ethnically diverse executive teams are 33% more likely to see better-than-average profits
Data from a report by McKinsey & Company reveals how diverse companies are more likely to achieve above-average profits.

Diversity For Tomorrow

  • Diversity is more than just race and gender. It goes in hand with inclusivity and encompasses differences in thinking and communication styles, sexuality, disability, religion, socioeconomic status, etc. We need to reach a point where a “diversity hire” is no longer required. There should be no second looks or hushed whispers when you see BIPOC or women in positions of power.
  • Requiring a certain number of minorities on the board is a great first step. However, as Jori Ford outlines in a Fast Company article, all organizations should be working towards developing an interviewing process that treats each potential candidate as a human being who can’t be defined by a specific set of attributes that are “boxes” just waiting to be ticked.

When I enter the workforce, I want to be a part of a culture where I feel like I belong, not due to or despite my gender and ethnicity, but because I earned it with my skills and viewpoint. I want to have the confidence that I will belong. 


Works Cited List

Adegoke, Yomi. “Quotas alone can’t fix diversity – it’s time to go further.” The Guardian, 11 March 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2020/mar/11/quotas-alone-cant-fix-diversity-its-time-to-go-further 

Carrazana, Chabeli. “Nasdaq wants to require companies to have women, minority and LGBTQ+ board members.” The 19th News, 1 December 2020, https://19thnews.org/2020/12/nasdaq-proposes-companies-have-women-minority-lgbtq-board-members/ 

Ford, Jori. “I’m every employer’s dream “diversity hire,” and it’s the worst.” Fast Company, 9 July 2018, https://www.fastcompany.com/90178508/im-every-employers-dream-diversity-hire-and-its-the-worst 

Lim, Jessica. “Do Diversity Hires Really Make Us More Diverse?” Medium, 25 August 2020, https://medium.com/the-ascent/do-diversity-hires-really-make-us-more-diverse-e95543a5f77c

Strauss, Karsten. “More Evidence That Company Diversity Leads to Better Profits.” Forbes, 25 January 2018, https://www.forbes.com/sites/karstenstrauss/2018/01/25/more-evidence-that-company-diversity-leads-to-better-profits/?sh=63aab7a61bc7

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