Diversify or die - a how-to article.

Why should you hire diverse teams and how do you start?

I have thought about diversity and inclusion a lot over the last 10 years of my career and over time my opinion was shaped into what it is today.

Diverse teams work better than homogeneously staffed teams, but diversity does not function without inclusion.

Since you are here I assume you also care about diversity for your team and also within your company. Imagine a team where everyone has the same opinion, the same background and the same ideas - you surely would be able to run fast into the same direction. But! How do you make sure that you run into the right direction? More often than not I don't know which direction is the best and only through iteration am I able to pinpoint the correct one. Thus, I have learned to value and look for different opinions - the ones with different ideas.

Why should you listen to me? I am white, cisgender, hetero, between 30-40, come from an academic household, I am privileged and probably always will have the benefit of the doubt when it comes to expectations if I can do a job that does not align strictly with my resume. But. I am also human. I am of the opinion that I don't have to experience something negative before I can care about it and try to improve the situation. For example - I don't have to be subject to racism in order to know of and act against it.

Diversity is something that is very dear to me and has been for my entire professional life.

Diversity & Inclusion - a definition

For those of you new to the topic - diverse teams perform better according to research (1) and there is one story that I always cite when evangelizing for diversity - the biased automatic soap dispenser. Here, the technology was unable to detect the hands of people of color and they had to use white tissues in order to be able to receive soap, slight inconvenience to some, a failed product to others - me for example.

I hope this example illustrates why you should invest in diverse teams - yes, it is an investment that needs nurturing and quite a lot of attention. The wonderful Tara Robertson framed it this way: diversity is the mix of people, while inclusion is getting the mix to work. You will, most likely, have more tasks with a group of people that per definition have different opinions, ideas and backgrounds. There will be additional need for mediation, deescalation and conflict management in general and this is exactly why diversity does not work without inclusion. It is hard, but worth it. You will gain access to a larger candidate pool, your products will be more successful because you reach a broader audience, your employees will face and overcome challenges, helping them grow. It is something to look forward to and work towards, together.

How to start?!

Change your mindset and establish a baseline of your current efforts. There is a multitude of things that could be done to improve diversity and this can feel overwhelming, it did for me. The first step I took was to evaluate how we promote people from within the organization. How do we acknowledge great work, do we even know how people want to be praised (in public or rather in a 1on1 setting)? - and subsequently who do we give promotions to and why?

The nitty-gritty

Unfortunately, gate-keeping is least obvious to those that should be most aware. If your interview and/or promotion process evaluates people based on their typing speed, the keyboard shortcuts they use, or if they are able to answer questions like "How many gravediggers are currently working in Germany?" you might suffer from a perception problem.

Here are some additional questions that could potentially help you identify and describe the status-quo: Do you have a company code of conduct? Are you supporting/protecting minorities openly? Do you have gender-neutral bathrooms? Has the skill matrix you use for promotions been checked for unconscious biases? Do you have equal pay? Are you aware of issues in general? - ageism, sexism, racism and more could be a serious issue and it's worse if you don't know they exist in your organization. Does the language you use in your job ads appeal to someone other than the person who wrote it? Is asking for/identifying your pronouns a standard-process or something that causes an odd gut-feeling?

Those questions might seem overwhelming, so let us focus on something tangible - the first interaction of almost anyone with your company - Job openings. I want to support you with writing more inclusive job openings, specifically focusing on removing gender bias and something called 'pipeline-problem'.

"Men apply for jobs when they meet ~60% of the criteria, while women wait until they feel they meet 100% of the criteria.”

When I first started hiring new people for my team I came across a phenomenon - we almost exclusively received applications from male applicants and I started to wonder, why?

The todo-list

Fast forward to today - even though I cannot disclose the number of applications and the female/male ratio, I can tell you that it improved a lot (more than doubled). We achieved this by first of all acknowledging that it was indeed an issue and subsequently proceeding with the following steps:

  1. start by removing all the 'requirements' from the posting (e.g. computer science bachelor, 10 years of experience, design aficionado, etc.)
  2. read the paper by Danielle Gaucher (2)
  3. check the wording of the current job-opening with the gender decoder by Kat Matfield
  4. realize that the words used until now could have an impact on the number of female applicants
  5. rewrite the job-opening to use more inclusive language
  6. be sure to also check for ableism terms, such as 'blind spot' and replace them with inclusive phrases - e.g. dead angle
  7. think about the order of your paragraphs (usually job-ads are something like: what you would do, what qualifications are we looking for, what do we offer)
  8. potentially reorder the paragraphs and stress the what do we offer part (please make sure that you actually offer the things you promise)
  9. ask for feedback (e.g. via twitter or asking candidates in the interviews) and incorporate the feedback

sidenote: I also focused on making sure that the organization was ready to make diversity a priority and that hiring more women also meant that we would promote more women. I will link to the blog post here once it is done.

Once you have written the new job-ad and made the conscious decision to care about diversity - now comes the hard part. As previously mentioned inclusion is a necessity to help your diverse teams and inclusion is a ton of work. But! if done well it will be one of the most rewarding things you have ever done and you can soon see the results of the "signalling-effect". I recently joined a new company and using the approach above we received approximately 50-60% applications from women in the first weeks - it works.

I am proud that you have made it this far and I would love to hear about your experience and also about the blockers and potential shortcomings of this approach. Feel free to reach out here or on twitter via @maikroservice.


  1. Ankita Saxena: Workforce diversity: A key to improve productivity (Procedia Economics and Finance, 2014, Vol 11(1), p76-85)
  2. Danielle Gaucher, Justin Friesen, and Aaron C. Kay: Evidence That Gendered Wording in Job Advertisements Exists and Sustains Gender Inequality (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2011, Vol 101(1), p109-128)

No Comments Yet