To many people, the focus on diversity is synonymous with the hiring of inferior quality for the sake of meeting quotas. But companies have found that there is long-term business value associated with a diverse workforce. Why is diversity awareness needed to begin with? Let’s assume your project team has an opening. You want to hire the best candidate available, right? In many cases there is a clear "best" candidate based on experience and skill level. However, if there are many such people to choose from, the hiring manager may rate a candidate’s qualifications using his own background as a measuring stick. After all, if a project manager has a certain background and ended up in the position he is in today, wouldn’t it make sense to him to look for those same traits in another person? Wouldn’t he tend to pick a person that physically looks like him as well?
Project managers also want to make sure they hire someone that will get along with the rest of the team. Again, if there are multiple candidates with close qualifications, the project team may choose a candidate who is "more like themselves".
If teams are left on their own, these two sets of natural biases tend to result in a like group of people hiring a similar candidate. In some organisations and on some projects, this results in a bias against workers of the opposite sex. In other businesses, there’s a bias based on culture and race.
Companies, especially large ones, have tried to formalise and standardise the recruiting and hiring process in a way that allows each candidate to be judged based on the same set of criteria. The goal of a standardised process is usually not to hire diverse workers. The goal is to remove as many of the subconscious biases as possible and to ensure that the most qualified candidate is hired.
Diversity awareness lets you:
1. Make better decisions. People from the same types of backgrounds can have a tendency to think alike and this can affect the decisions that people make. Project managers need a diverse set of opinions to make the best technical decisions, to communicate more effectively with all of your clients, and to design and build the most creative solutions.
2. Hire better people. Ultimately there is value in being able to hire the best person, regardless of the person’s background. In many cases, organisations that do not value diversity end up not hiring a group of people that all look and act the same. They will tell you that they are always hiring the "best". But is it really true that the best people all look and act the same as each other?
3. Running better projects. You have to be experienced managing diverse people to excel in today’s global marketplace. Can your project team really develop software that is used around the world, for instance, with an entire team that all comes from the same background? Can a project manager manage a worldwide distributed team if he has never managed people that are different from him? Can you service your diverse customer community effectively without a diverse project team?
The bottom line is that there is value in having a diverse workforce and a diverse project team. If this was an artificial feel-good idea, it would not be so important to so many companies. However, companies have found that valuing diversity results in hiring better people and provides real business benefit.