Ask the White Guy: Should There Be an Award to Recruit & Promote ‘Minorities’?

A reader asks if awards for promoting diversity and inclusion are incentives for not hiring white men.

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Luke Visconti’s Ask the White Guy column is a top draw on Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his popular column, readers who ask Visconti tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.

Ask the White Guy Diversity Award

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Question: A colleague said to me, “I don’t like that my company awards managers/executives for promoting/hiring minorities since it incentivizes them to overlook candidates that are not minorities.” In your view, does the award create such an incentive? Do you have any indication of what percentage of DiversityInc Top 50 companies have such awards?

Answer: We don’t ask a question in the DiversityInc Top 50 survey about “awards” for “hiring/promoting ‘minorities’” because it didn’t occur to me that it would be necessary to have an award to do your job—namely hiring/promoting the best, brightest and most qualified from every group, including majority people. Frankly, it’s distasteful to me to have an award for recruiting/promoting “minorities,” and I can see how that could probably lead to behavior that your colleague is worried about.

In my opinion, if goals are properly set and accountability established, there shouldn’t be a problem—and indeed, the DiversityInc Top 50 companies are significantly better than average in recruiting and promoting more people than the national average in every group we can measure. Even in management ranks, the DiversityInc Top 50 average exceeds the available labor force for race, with many companies having double the representation available in the labor pool.

That said, most companies in the DiversityInc Top 50 have room for improvement in senior-management ranks when it comes to representation of women (our data shows that gender is still a greater axis of discrimination than race).

This year marked the first time that non-white American births were greater than white births— and we’re still on track to becoming a country with less than 50 percent white people by 2043. Therefore, overrepresenting current available labor-pool demographics gives a company a distinct advantage for future recruiting as Black, Latino and Asian graduation rates from high school, college and post-graduate schools exceeds the growth rates of Black, Latino and Asian people in our population (although educational attainment still lags in Black and Latino households, but it is growing).

In simple terms, if you have the best and brightest from every group, it will be easier to recruit the best and brightest from every group. It’s a winning strategy to precede expected trends. Moreover, this workforce diversity is a market advantage in relating to the consumer marketplace, which is commensurately increasing in diversity.

This concept has to be sensitively communicated. The natural reaction from the majority culture (defined in our country as white, male, heterosexual and without disabilities) is to think that more opportunities for people other than white men mean diminished opportunities for white men. This simply isn’t true; optimum recruiting and talent development is key to business success, and success ensures opportunities for everyone and is the fiduciary responsibility of top management.

I think it would be an excellent idea to have an award for inclusive hiring—and inclusive promotions and for innovative talent development—with the goal of doing things better than they’ve been done in the past. The award should be inclusive of all groups, including white, heterosexual men with no disabilities. There are plenty of white men who have a demonstrated ability to excel in diverse environments; it makes absolute sense for a company to assess that ability in the hiring process.

My experience as a trustee of Bennett College (eight years) and Rutgers University (four years) and board member of the New Jersey City University Foundation (five years; NJCU is a Hispanic-serving institution) has given me insight to the challenges that poverty brings to talent achieving its potential. Although it is clear that race and poverty are connected in our country—Black and Latino households have roughly one-twentieth the wealth of white households—talent is not restricted to wealthy people.

It is in a company’s best interest to build its own pipeline in a proactive hands-on way. Winning companies take control of their future. It’s fiducially responsible for senior management to establish a vision, set appropriate goals, provide the diversity training and budget to accomplish the mission, and hold people accountable who cannot/will not get the job done. Awards should be reserved for excellence.

In conclusion, I feel that pride in your work and the desire to be measured go hand in hand. In that light, I encourage you to read You Really Are No. 1, which will give you a foundational understanding of how diversity management can be quantified and evaluated. A main component of the DiversityInc Top 50 methodology is balance. To be on our list, a company must have consistent performance across the four areas we measure: CEO commitment to diversity management, human capital, corporate and organizational communications, and supplier diversity. Our methodology does not reward over-indexing for one group or another. That should be the case for individual performance as well.


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