The #1 objection to diversity, and how to overcome it

Author: Inge Woudstra

How can we get more people on board with diversity and overcome the #1 objection to diversity? When you are starting – or ramping up – your efforts on diversity and inclusion, you may come up against a lot of objections.

Once you start to have conversations, you may well feel like you have opened a can of worms. We’ve been talking about that a lot this month, as it can be both daunting and lonely. You may feel ready to give up or take the safe and comfortable option, and only speak with those in your networks, allies and supporters. While that is a good start, to get results there’s no point just speaking to the converted. You need to get others on board.

So let’s have a closer look at the #1 objection to diversity, after which I will show you what others have done to overcome it.

What is the #1 objection to diversity?

When I work with clients, one of the first concerns they mention is: ‘Of course we are in favour of diversity, but we don’t want to lose out on quality, we don’t want to lower the bar.’ Other ways clients phrase it include: ‘we don’t want to compromise on quality’, ‘there is fierce resistance here to positive discrimination’ and ‘in the end we still do want the best fit for the job’.

What’s behind the #1 objection to diversity?

All of these objections are linked to a persistent belief that in organisations the best rise to the top. However, that belief in a true meritocracy is a myth.

In addition though, there is real fear behind this objection, and it’s important to address that. It’s a fear that springs from a genuine concern about delivering quality work. It’s a desire to achieve the best for stakeholders and clients. And that can only be a good thing.

How to overcome the #1 objection to diversity?

The most powerful way to overcome this objection is to think, ‘Seeing is believing’. How can you show the doubters that they are missing out on real quality? Or better even, that there’s a real benefit to hiring and promoting for diversity? Here are 3 ways people I have worked with have tackled that.

  1. Invite the ‘old guard’ to the selection process, highlight achievements, show it can be done

The Manchester Fire Service invited current firefighters to help shape interview questions and design role plays. Next they were invited to take part in or observe the new assessment process. Once current firefighters saw a diverse range of candidates performing really well in role plays, they could see the value of diversity.

2. Start with a small change

Empiric – a boutique recruitment firm in tech – offer internships in tech firms to girls aged 14-16. The recruitment firm matches schools with their clients. In the feedback from their clients, they hear that adding a teenage girl to an – often all-male – tech team works very well. Often the girls make a significant contribution, and team members see how adding diversity of thought brings new perspectives and new ideas.

3. Start where it is easy

SpringboardPro – an all-male engineering consultancy – started by hiring for diversity where there was a higher chance to find diverse candidates: graduate internships. As a result of targeted and more inclusive recruitment, half the new interns were female. The team appreciated how the new recruits improved work culture, brought new ways of working and a wider variety of perspectives.

What you can do yourself to overcome the #1 objection to diversity

If you are looking for ways to overcome objections to diversity in your organisation, remember to take people’s fears seriously. Listen carefully to what those fears are and what’s behind them, without judgement. You may feel your colleagues should understand that everyone is just as capable, even if they look different. However, if someone has never seen this in action, it may be hard to imagine. So, find a way to help them see it.

After all, ‘Seeing is believing’

If you liked this article, you might also like Inclusion! Backing up our words with our actions.