How Inclusive Is Your Network? Driving Business Results Through Selection, Retention, and Inclusion

Most of our networks are not as broad as we think they are. A diverse network should encompass more than just race and gender.

I was recently sitting in a brainstorming session with a group of female executives, and we were not making much progress. It then occurred to me that nearly all of us had comparable backgrounds and experiences and came from similar organizations — thus, the reason for our less productive outcomes. 

In a TED Talk titled “The secret to great opportunities? The person you haven’t met yet,” Tanya Menon, a professor at The Ohio State University, argued that we are socially narrow in our personal and work lives and filter out the diversity in front of us. She said that on the first day of class, her MBA students inevitably sit and socialize with people like themselves. By doing this, they risk squandering their chance to develop diverse and international networks. Instead, those they create are composed of people similar to themselves. This approach can work fine — until they need new ideas, new jobs, new resources, and new forms of innovation and creativity. 

Similarly, a 2016 case study analyzing gender connections at international recruitment firm Heidrick & Struggles — conducted by Bogdan Yakovenko, a Towson University professor and Facebook executive, and Stephen Tavares, a Heidrick & Struggles partner — found that men interacted mostly with men and women with women. This tendency is problematic when attempting to build a diverse and inclusive workplace, which is necessary to achieve maximum results. 

Selection, Retention, and Inclusion

People are the driving force of organizations, and thus the selection and retention of the right individuals can make or break an organization. To find the right people, you must accurately assess their skills, experience, and ability to create broad networks. How can you do this? Be intentional with your processes and actions and focus on the how and the what. 

As leaders fill positions in their organizations, expected outcomes for those roles must be clearly defined, and appropriate behavioral questions must be designed in order to assess abilities and select people who are also inclusive (i.e., assessing their ability to connect with others). Asking the right questions — those that are outside of the individual’s direct experience — can be accomplished legally and ethically. 

Effectively exploring the background of those you hire can provide insight into whether they will bring new thinking to the team. You should always ask what diverse skills employees bring to the table and whether they could deliver the necessary performance to drive results. In a December 2017 article in Fast Company titled “Ask This Interview Question to Hire a More Inclusive Workforce,” Yewande Ige recommends asking the question, “Are you willing to be wrong about your view of the world?” While there is no right or wrong answer to this question, it starts a conversation.   

Many human resources (HR) professionals focus on supporting the leader instead of challenging their own thinking about selection. However, by redirecting this person to focus on business outcomes, the HR professional can avoid the pitfall of selecting for the elusive “fit” — a concept discussed by professor Lauren Rivera in her book Pedigree. Recruiting to reach business goals rather than to support the leader’s agenda results in more balanced and bias-free hiring.

Succession, development, and retention processes should be clearly established and allow HR professionals to push back when leaders’ choices are not supported by objective data. 

I acknowledge that not all HR staff believe they have their organizations’ support to push back against biased direction. This pushback would also require that HR departments be data-driven, nontraditional, and transformational. The data must be focused on how performance drives business results. If growth is a goal, this diversity-influenced and business-focused approach to finding talent can positively affect the upward trajectory of your organization. 

How to Broaden Your Network

The power of proximity in relationships means that you like the people whom you are the closest to, and often, you are closest to those who are most like you. This makes the intentional selection, inclusion, and retention of diverse talent even more important. Leaders must be open to finding new ways to get close to people they don’t know or who are different from them in order to understand the value that difference can bring to organizations. 

Does your organization have resource groups? If so and you are not a member, join one. For leaders, it’s important to join groups that do not directly coincide with your affinity. Being a supporter of diversity or a member of an underrepresented community does not equate to having a broad network. 

A diverse and inclusive network can be powerful. Try the following simple exercise: Think about the 10 people closest to you — outside of your immediate family — and assess how different or similar they are to you. Consider the following basic attributes: gender identity, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, and disability. Is your inner circle diverse? How inclusive are you? Do the people around you always agree with you and think like you?

Diverse networks drive creative results. Broad networks are an indication of inclusivity. Hiring people with an inclusive personality, meaning they are welcoming of all types of people, will progressively make your organization more diverse and inclusive as well, as they will attract more individuals like themselves to your organization. 

I recently networked with an Asian male CEO who was concerned that, despite his business’s advancement, he had not been successful in attracting a diverse team. The reason was that his network was not vast enough. By diversifying, he could increase his team’s effectiveness and thus grow his results. Harvard Business Review addressed this issue in an April 2018 article titled “CEOs with Diverse Networks Create Higher Firm Value.” The research showed that CEOs with strong, diverse connections had better business results, which likely proves true down the leadership chain as well. 

HR and diversity leaders must build the blueprint for organizations to follow. Ensure that your networks are diverse enough to hire the right people to execute the organization’s business plans, ultimately driving organizational success and profit.”

Anise Wiley-Little is the author of Profitable Diversity and former chief human capital and diversity officer for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. She is also a member of the INSIGHT Into Diversity Editorial Board. This article ran in our October 2018 issue.