What we don't talk about when we talk about diverse teams

Group of young people working together on a project.

Image credit: Adobe Stock/Svitlana.

It’s widely agreed that a diverse workforce delivers both benefits for business, and for the people within the business.

What gets discussed less often, however, is that placing diverse talent in roles is just the first step in an organizational-wide transformation. We generally accept that attracting and hiring diversely requires traditional practices to be challenged and for the organization to be willing — and able — to change. That work doesn’t stop as soon as people are onboarded.

Writing for Harvard Business Review, Robin J. Ely and David A. Thomas said, “Increasing the numbers of traditionally underrepresented people in your workforce does not automatically produce benefits. Taking an ‘add diversity and stir’ approach, while business continues as usual, will not spur leaps in your firm’s effectiveness or financial performance.”

I couldn’t agree more. If we want to experience the broad spectrum of benefits that diversity brings, we need to look at how we harness diversity, and how we nurture our diverse hires throughout their time at our company.

Nurturing diverse talent: observations and opportunities

Adobe aims to leverage talent at all levels of seniority and across all stages of an employee’s career. We want to be more than an ‘inclusive employer’— we want top talent to build their careers here, and stay for the long-term, knowing that they’ll be a valued part of the company.

It’s a journey — one we need to consciously work toward one day at a time. Below is what I have found to be true about nurturing diverse talent during that process.

Progression paths need to be equitable and transparent

It’s one thing to create equal opportunities for growth and progression, but we need to ask ourselves how equitable these opportunities are. Will certain team members be exposed to opportunities that others aren’t? Do some individuals feel more able or welcome to take part in training or to put themselves forward for a promotion or new role?

At Adobe, we make learning programs available and accessible to everyone. It’s up to the individual how they choose to leverage that content to advance their career, and that’s a great first step. Just making the material available isn’t enough though. As leaders, we need to be empathetic to the employee experience and proactive in encouraging team members to upskill, while helping create space for everyone’s professional development.

Managers need to be conscious of the culture and relationship dynamics within the team, and how both contribute to individual experiences — good and bad. Only then can they work to level the playing field, paving visible and inclusive career paths for everyone.

We must combat biases: our own and everyone else’s

There’s simply no space for bias in the equitable workplace — and yet leaders need to understand the power that their biases have in shaping career paths for other people. When individuals are put forward for promotion by their manager or internal talent teams, what’s the true reason behind their selection?

Being the loudest or most forthcoming in the room shouldn’t make you eligible, nor should being last at your desk at the end of the day. Quiet, inspiring leaders do exist. Parents can perform to the highest standard in their roles, and encourage the same from others, while still being at the school gates in time for pick up.

Let’s all let go of the stereotypical template of a successful leader and make space for greater diversity at the top.

Multiplier mentors can be hugely powerful

I’ve seen the impact mentorship can have on professional development throughout my career. When these partnerships have excelled, however, it’s because the mentor has taken a truly proactive role in helping the other progress.

The ‘multiplier effect’ is a phenomenon we hear about in other aspects of leadership — multipliers “learn to ask the questions, to focus the challenges, to rattle their organization, to identify solutions”, explains Liz Wiseman, author of “Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter”.

I believe that multiplier mentors don’t stop at coaching and setting up introductions. They make a commitment that goes beyond giving career advice — choosing to walk with their mentees side-by-side, living their lived experience, understanding their challenges, and working to overcome them together.

Armed with that insight, these leaders can use their positions of influence to permeate broad change throughout the organization; multiplying the effect of what they’ve learned through the mentorship and creating similar opportunities for future mentors and mentees.

Hire diversely, nurture equitably

I find myself returning to that Harvard Business Review article when thinking about diversity and inclusion in Adobe’s Professional Services team.

Harnessing diversity is essential for us as a customer-facing organization — if our team can’t empathize with the needs of our total customer base, then we’re going to lose relevancy.

But we can’t just “add diversity and stir”. If we do, we not only miss out on the true benefits of diversity and inclusion, but we also negate what Adobe as a business is trying to achieve — and that’s creating an environment where all talent can be creative, innovative, and successful to their truest potential.

Learn more about Adobe for All here.