A Forbes magazine article extolling the benefits of diversity opens with a question:
“Is there still anyone out there who doesn’t think that workplace diversity is a good thing?”
The implication is clear: Intentions are noble, but practices fall short. While this may be true in many cases, I would argue that there are absolutely people in hiring positions who don’t believe workplace diversity is a good thing. At least, not enough to overcome their affinity bias and do what is required to recruit and retain PIAs. (You—an AD, a head coach, or another individual who influences hiring decisions—might be asking yourself what a PIA is. We will get to that in a minute.)
First, let’s look at a few red-flag phrases that can unmask bigots during the hiring process:
“We need to hire the best candidate regardless of all that.”
“Do you want the job to fill a diversity quota or because of your work?”
“I succeeded despite (insert transient hardship) without anyone’s help; therefore, everyone else can and should too.”
“White privilege isn’t real.”
Sadly, these are actual statements I’ve heard or seen made in reference to DEI practices within the last year. If you’re reading this, and you’ve uttered these phrases, rather than getting angry and cursing my existence, take a moment to take an implicit bias assessment or two here, then read on.
As a starting point, I want you to understand that I’m not here to diminish the hardships you’ve faced. Life is hard for everyone, but this is a discussion about hiring practices, and the fact is that the deck is very often stacked against the Jamals and Jessicas in favor of the Johns. Further, this is not an attack on those with more privilege. Far from it. This is a call to action.
You might think, “this isn’t really my fight to fight.” But it is. It has to be.
PIAS CANNOT SOLVE THIS ISSUE WITHOUT HELP FROM THE MAJORITY. If we could, don’t you think we already would have done so?
Anyway, back to our acronym, PIA: Prove It Again. These are individuals who don’t benefit from the benefit of the doubt. Stereotyped as less competent, they are required to prove themselves time and again. PIA groups include people of color, people with disabilities, women, older individuals, LBGTQ+ individuals, individuals from different religious backgrounds, and class migrants (professionals from blue-collar backgrounds).
As a member of the majority, why exactly should you want to fill your department with PIAs? Why, other than just being a decent human being, should you care?
Because it is widely established that diverse organizations experience more success. Try to find a single piece of research that demonstrates the superiority of a homogeneous workplace. (Spoiler alert: you won’t.)
Diverse workplaces have the following advantages:
- Diversity of thought.
- Increased employee engagement.
- Ability to attract and retain top talent.
- Increased innovation.
- Better understanding of customer base.
People tend to be a little less comfortable in diverse environments but more successful. Why the discomfort? Whether it’s the need to handle logistics or the demand to be purposeful in the identification and elimination of bias in our daily interactions, greater depth of thought is necessary to navigate diverse workplaces. Here’s a small example that is fairly common in athletics but often goes unnoticed by you, the well-intentioned and progressive hiring party:
You bravely go outside of your comfort zone and hire a female strength and conditioning coach. She is wildly qualified, and you recognize that she can improve the performance of your football program. All is well in the weight room, but game day cometh. Quick, grab that leftover men’s large Polo shirt and put it on her desk! That’s her size, right?
Your strength coach arrives at the game, knee-length shirt tucked into her shorts, only to be out of pocket the entire time. She can’t go into the team locker room or the coaches’ locker room, so she waits in the hallway or outside. To go to the bathroom, she has to exit the field, enter the stands, and use the general admission bathrooms. No big deal, right?! Wrong.
Having left the sidelines, she now gets to negotiate stadium re-entry with the older lady in the yellow vest who simply cannot believe that “Yes, she really is a coach for the team.” Finally, she is able to flag down a male assistant coach to vouch for her, and she stomps toward the sidelines, making sure to check her body language, facial expression, and overall affect so she isn’t accused of being “too emotional.” (Meanwhile, weeping, wailing, and the gnashing of teeth will ensue from the headset wearers anytime the yellow cloth hits the ground.)
She never mentions any of this to the head coach. Made to feel she should “be grateful to be a part” her entire career, she doesn’t want to bring it up because “he has enough on his plate.”
Employers of PIAs, the message is this: It is your responsibility to think through these types of scenarios or ask your PIA about some of these pain points. Find ways in which your employees might struggle to feel included and solve them. They may not feel comfortable asking for things since they’ve been marginalized their entire lives. In the initial phases, it will take additional effort on the part of the employer, but it will pay dividends in the end when you are able to retain a high-quality, diverse staff.It’s your responsibility to find ways in which your employees might struggle to feel included and solve them, says @missEmitche11. Click To Tweet
Seem like a lot of work? Success and winning usually are. They are also usually a product of challenging the status quo and embracing productive discomfort.*
As a coaching industry, we celebrate the concept of stepping outside of our comfort zone. Every sports movie, College Game Day feature, 30 for 30—they all feature protagonists overcoming adversity. We love these stories when they make headlines, but are we willing to live them? Are we actually willing to embrace productive discomfort, knowing it will likely increase the success of our organization?
Too often, the answer is no. We call up our friend because we can “trust” them. Because they share our belief system. Because the hire is comfortable.
But also, the hire is accessible. The number one excuse launched for not hiring a PIA?
“No one applied/we couldn’t find anyone.”
It’s truly the perfect crime. You post the job. You receive very few candidates who “check a box,” as some call it. You call up one of the 3–5 candidates you interviewed. You’re not 100% sure which one you’re calling because, when presented with a line-up, you would be hard-pressed to distinguish one candidate from the next. But you pat yourself on the back anyway, having “really made the best hire.”
In all seriousness (although, given the statistic that the NCAA strength and conditioning industry is 85% male and 77% white, the paragraph above is kinda serious), there is some truth to the above scenario. You may have difficulty finding a PIA to bring onto your staff. But if your attempt to do so has been passive (i.e., you opened the job, posted it, and waited on your friends to phone in their recommended doppelganger), the candidate pool isn’t the problem—you are the problem.
Let me tell you how to do better. I have been the recipient of others crashing into my S&C lane my entire career because they “went to CrossFit for a few months.” As such, despite never having hired a single person, I deem myself fully qualified to write this because I’ve seen people get hired.
So hit the brakes as I come barreling into your lane with three underlying issues/causes involved in your lack of a diverse candidate pool:
1. Everyone in Your Inner Circle Looks Like You
In preparing to write this piece, I consulted my friend Jeff Huebner, the Head Women’s Volleyball Coach at Texas Woman’s University. For context, TWU is the third most diverse school in the country and has the number one most diverse staff/student population in the state of Texas. Jeff is involved with the hiring process within the athletics department.
When asked what approach TWU takes to ensure a diverse candidate pool, without even a moment’s thought, Jeff stated that recruitment starts well before the job ever opens. What does that mean? Humor me and participate in a three-part exercise that I adapted from a colleague, Jeanne Rankin, Strength Coach at Coastal Carolina:
- You’re hiring a coach (you can pick the sport/support staff role). Take one minute to write down everyone you know personally who coaches in a similar role that might be a fit for the job. Not people you know of, people you know.
- Tally it up. How many of the people you wrote down fall into your demographic?
As coaches, we need to do some introspection about how we set up our circle of friends and colleagues. Are we purposeful about seeking out backgrounds and perspectives different than our own? Or does our affinity bias lead us to collaborate only with others who “look like us?”As coaches, we need to do some introspection about how we set up our circle of friends and colleagues. Are we purposeful about seeking out backgrounds and perspectives different than our own? Click To Tweet
I believe the last two sentences in that paragraph are really important. Please don’t be that white person who thinks you’re woke because you “have Black friends” or the male who fancies himself an ally because “I’m a ‘girl Dad.’” As Jeff put it, “who do you share your knowledge with, and who do you get your knowledge from?”
Put another way, are you actively seeking to learn from the experiences and perspectives of the individuals you listed in the exercise above? Or are they just acquaintances who make you feel good? When an opportunity becomes available, are you equally likely to put a PIA in your circle up for it, or are you only putting PIAs up for positions you know are earmarked for a DEI initiative? As with most things in life, intent rules the day.
Finally, as a segue into the next reason your candidate pool may not be diverse: Do you actively advocate for PIA groups? Are people aware that you are an ally?
Once again, this is about intent. If your intent is to make yourself feel good or promote yourself, you’ve missed the altruism boat. However, if your intent is to effect positive change in our industry and our world? Perfect. Are you openly an ally because you want to provide a safe and supportive space for everyone, not just some? Amazing. You’re well on your way to overcoming the next challenge in the “we couldn’t find anyone” arena…
2. The Outside Perception of You and Your Organization Is Not One of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
People want to be where they feel a sense of belonging, where they can grow and develop, and where they have opportunities. If any of these items are missing, they will seek employment somewhere else.
A starting point for this is as follows: If you want to see more diversity in your organization, you need to promote diversity within your organization. As in: You are moving existing employees up in the ranks. To phrase it another way: If you want to have a candidate pool with different races/ethnicities, then your organization should promote individuals of different races/ethnicities to open leadership positions.To have a candidate pool with different races/ethnicities, your organization needs to promote individuals of different races/ethnicities to open leadership positions, says @missEmitche11. Click To Tweet
Sounds simple, right? It should be, but this is going to require work on your part as an employer. You’re going to have to…develop your staff. If done right, you will need to take an individualized approach to staff development versus assigning everyone 62 worthless online training modules “to be completed by October 1” but “okay, really guys, we’re serious—December 1.” (Shoutout to every public school district in America.)
This means having conversations with your employees and determining what continuing education or training opportunities will best complement their existing skill set and position them to move up the chain of command. Often, employees have identified opportunities they would like to explore; they just need the support and resources to do so. (As an aside, many professional organizations have awards and scholarships designated for PIAs, some of which go unclaimed because employers fail to educate themselves on these opportunities, and nominations are sparse.)
One note here: Staff growth and development should be a common practice impacting all employees. This is not an implication that Prove It Agains need help and mentorship while Benefit of the Doubters are innately prepared for the next step. The sentiment underlying that sentence is literally the basis for the glass ceiling and the one this article seeks to discredit.
A simple litmus test for adequate staff development is as follows: The next time a position opens up within your organization, ask yourself if any of your existing employees are qualified to take on that role. If not, why not?
Reality check: Sometimes, it’s not a great move to promote from within. The staff may legitimately not be ready. But if that’s always the case? Is that an issue with your employees, or did you fail to invest in the growth and development of those employees?
Everyone was a first-year something at one point, even the head football coach. Nobody knew what to do their first year, yet most figured it out. Your PIA employees have literally been figuring out how to navigate the icy waters of a life without privilege since birth. Conversely, many BOTDs have skated along the path of least resistance to take their seat at the table. Which individual is better prepared to take on adversity?
I’ll let you mull that one over.
In the meantime, let’s segue into that proverbial table. Your PIAs might have a seat at the table but still not feel a true sense of belonging. Remember, despite improved performance in diverse environments, we all are compelled to be around others who look, sound, feel, talk, and experience like we do. A seat at the table will rarely feel inclusive if that seat’s occupant is on an island.
To foster a sense of belonging, a widely accepted practice in DEI initiatives is employee resource groups, or ERGs. These are groups dedicated to the needs of people of less privileged identities to create a culture of belonging. But it really isn’t enough to just form these groups and say, “good luck!”
If you’re going to talk about it, be about it.
As the employer, offer to help. This means dedicating time and workspace during work hours for these groups to meet. Once these groups have started, check in! Ask the leaders of the group(s) what their needs are versus making them come to you with requests. These groups already feel underrepresented and may not feel comfortable approaching you, plus your active pursuit of ways to help demonstrates support.
Help may mean providing funding and allowing ERGs to host special events if desired, but let the ERG members plan it. Too often, events planned for ERGs fall short. I’ll give an example. I personally don’t need to sit in on a breakfast that talks about the challenges faced by women in sports. I live those challenges every day. I don’t need to sit in a room with peers and nod and “feel seen” as the speaker identifies problems in a male-dominated field but never presents a viable solution.
You know how we’re all supposed to be able to walk away from an event “with at least one thing?” That one thing shouldn’t have been shouting into an echo chamber for 50 minutes. While venting can be helpful at times, actionable strategies to solve problems or develop skills are generally more valuable in the growth process.
All this to say, support your ERGs, but give them autonomy.
Still not convinced that taking these measures to promote inclusion is important? In one of the highest consensus rates seen in a decade, Deloitte’s 2020 Global Human Capital Trends Report found that:
- 93% of respondents agreed that a sense of belonging drives organizational performance.
They didn’t say winning or making more money. They said a sense of belonging. I can personally attest to leaving a position where I was made to feel like a guest of the team versus part of the team. Ironically, I had been with the program for five years, while the head coach, who openly referred to support staff members as “guests,” had only been on staff for six months. I digress. The point is, feeling like you belong is important to everyone.
By now, you’ve done deep soul-searching about expanding your network of friends and colleagues, and you’re putting an actionable plan in place to increase employee engagement and belonging. Top talent is undoubtedly lining up at your door, right? But what if, according to your job description, they aren’t qualified? Maybe, just maybe…
3. Your Entry Barriers Are…Stupid
A colleague of mine who is hands down one of the best strength and conditioning coaches in the country was once turned down for a position in a university’s strength and conditioning department because he didn’t have a master’s degree.
Okay, I get it; it’s an “institution of higher learning.” But is it really that hard to see from your HR high horse that this has absolutely zero to do with the listed job responsibilities? You just passed on one of the most talented coaches in the country for something that doesn’t even matter.
Unfortunately, irrelevant entry barriers aren’t an anomaly in athletic departments. I see them all the time at the high school level, where strength and conditioning coaches aren’t considered candidates for non-teaching S&C positions because they lack teaching certification.
Meaningless entry barriers eliminate good candidates before they even enter the hiring funnel.Meaningless entry barriers eliminate good candidates before they even enter the hiring funnel, says @missEmitche11. Click To Tweet
This may disparately affect those from less privileged backgrounds. There is some conjecture that PIAs are less likely to apply for positions where they don’t meet every listed requirement. In contrast, individuals with more privilege will apply even if they only meet a few requirements. Given that, I’d take a long, hard look at the job descriptions you’re posting if I were you and determine whether or not they are necessary for the role in question.
“Well, they should just go get that (insert inane “qualification”).”
Let’s go back to our “Benefit of the Doubt” crew. They are called that because even when they don’t meet a given qualification, they are often given the benefit of the doubt and hired anyway, while the PIA is turned down for lacking the same qualification. In other words, BOTDs are judged based on their potential, while PIAs are judged strictly on what they have accomplished.
Here are two simple workarounds:
- Remove useless “qualifications” from job descriptions/requirements.
- Give everyone a free pass on not meeting a certain requirement, or give no one a free pass.
Anecdotally, in talking to Jeff at TWU, he said they recently reviewed some of their job descriptions and decided to remove a master’s degree as a required qualification for an assistant coach. Their candidate pool became more diverse immediately—food for thought in today’s competitive hiring landscape.
Cultivate an Authentically Diverse Network
Many articles have been written about the benefits of diversity and ways to promote recruitment and retention in the workplace. I’ve included some of those practices in this article, but if you checked out for a bit, the take-home message is this:Your network is your network. If that network is diverse, your hiring practices likely will be too. If not? You need to determine what’s preventing you from having a diverse network and fix it. Click To Tweet
Your network is your network. If that network is diverse, your hiring practices likely will be as well. If not? You need to reflect and determine what it is that’s preventing you from having a diverse network and fix it.
Be the change, or something like that.
In my conversation with Jeff, he closed with this:
“TWU doesn’t talk about diversity as something to be accomplished. It’s a byproduct of doing the right things over a long period of time, and part of doing things the right way is having the most diverse perspectives and experiences. It’s not a box to be checked; it’s authentic.”
Don’t talk about it; be about it.
*Giving credit where credit is due, the phrase “productive discomfort” is the tagline of Coach Luiza Andrade, Jeff Huebner’s assistant coach at TWU. It was, however, too early in the storyline to introduce Luiza, Jeff, or TWU.
Since you’re here…
…we have a small favor to ask. More people are reading SimpliFaster than ever, and each week we bring you compelling content from coaches, sport scientists, and physiotherapists who are devoted to building better athletes. Please take a moment to share the articles on social media, engage the authors with questions and comments below, and link to articles when appropriate if you have a blog or participate on forums of related topics. — SF