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Why it matters, how to promote it, and what it means for your biz

The Montana Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) convened a panel last week to talk about diversity in the workplace. The three panelists talked about how to hire and keep diverse candidates and how to create a company culture that welcomes diversity.

Panelists included Marieke Beck, the Bureau Chief of DLI’s Human Right Bureau, who has worked in employment law and civil rights for 25 years.

“For me, diversity is about accepting and respecting differences,” Beck said. “Diversity in workplace means the employer is employing people from different protected classes. Diversity should be represented within the hierarchy of the business and in the types of jobs folks have in a corporation.”

From the Department of Public Health and Human Services’ Disability Employment Division, Chanda Hermanson-Dudley added her thoughts on why encouraging diversity means hiring employees with disabilities.

“A lack of diversity stymies innovation,” Hermanson-Dudley said. “If you want to hire qualified, competent employees, but you’re limiting your search because of assumptions, you’re missing out on a sea of qualified candidates.”

Hermanson-Dudley said that employees with a disability may need small accommodations in the workplace. The majority of those accommodations, if they cost anything at all, are under $500. These “reasonable accommodations” can help employers celebrate diversity as they hire people with seen and unseen disabilities.

Another thing Hermanson-Dudley wants employers and hiring committees to remember is not to get distracted by the disability. For example, she said, if someone enters an interview in a wheelchair or with a sign language interpreter, don’t get sidetracked and forget to focus on what the candidate is actually saying.

Beck said that trying to “hire blind” offers employers a way to hire more fairly. This idea became popular in the 1970s. Beck explained that orchestras across the United States sought to hire more women. So, they had musicians “apply” by playing behind a screen. The added anonymity led to a much healthier ratio of women to men. Tactics like these and using numbers rather than names for candidates (for as long as possible in the hiring process) can add diversity to the workplace while minimizing the impact of unconscious bias in hiring.

“Make the application process as anonymous as possible,” Beck said. “Focus on merit whenever possible.”

Donnie Wetzel Jr., a member of the Blackfeet Tribe and liaison for the Office of Public Instruction, said employing diverse candidates is good for business because it “brings in different customers.”

Kathleen O’Leary, Deputy Commissioner of the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, moderated the webinar. She seconded Wetzel Jr.’s assertion on diversity in hiring.

“Stats show that when you diversify your workforce, you reap the benefit of the diverse population you can reach out to,” O’Leary said.

So how can businesses in a state as predominately white as Montana hire diverse candidates? Beck says think about the language of your job postings.

“Consider putting in language that expresses a sincere desire to hire diverse candidates,” she said. “Convey it in the way you say it. Find language that works well for you.”

For example, Beck read a job posting from a pizza place that said its employees are as diverse as the toppings you can pick for your pizza. Though cheesy, the company made a sincere attempt, using its own signature flair, to welcome diversity among jobseekers.

Hermanson-Dudley said some job descriptions include minute aspects of the position that prevent people with a disability from applying.

“Often what we see is things included in description that are not even part of the job, and that precludes many people,” she said.

For example, a job description may say that candidates must be able to lift 50 pounds. While this accounts for only 5% of the actual job, it could scare away otherwise qualified applicants.

“Reasonable accommodations could be made to hire a candidate who might not be able to do that, but (could do) every other piece or part of the job,” Hermanson-Dudley said. “Don’t pre-screen out applicants with the job posting.”

Wetzel Jr. asserted that in Montana, it’s especially important to know about the different tribes in the state. There isn’t just one kind of American Indian and each tribe has its own traditions, stories, and rich history, Wetzel Jr. said. Getting familiar with Montana tribes can help employers connect with state’s largest minority group.

Tweaking job postings to appeal to more diverse candidates is important. It’s also important to ensure your company walks out the values they talk about.

“Permeate the workplace with valuing diversity,” Beck advised. “Incorporate it in training and emails. The trick is to do it in a sincere manner that resonates with employees. Also make sure you have a prompt process to investigate discrimination.” 

Fostering an environment that welcomes all employees is an ongoing effort. Panelists agreed that both employers and employees must continue to uncover their own unconscious biases for the benefit of entire workforce. Panelists also noted the importance of listening to and learning from people different from oneself. Ask thoughtful questions. Be humble while learning about new cultures, abilities, and proclivities.

As O’Leary said, diversity in the workplace means entire teams thrive and new customers will feel welcomed to your business.

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Written by Hannah Stiff

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