Diversity. It’s a hot topic in human resources right now. But it’s how you put it into practice that makes all the difference. Steve Lowisz, entrepreneur, CEO and talent acquisition specialist, joins us to discuss the right way and wrong way to embrace diversity and inclusion. We’ll cover the ways that dated diversity strategies focused on quotas are failing business, what an effective strategy looks like and how it can help your business succeed and grow.
Brandon Laws: Hey. Welcome back for another episode of the Human Resources for Small Business Podcast. I’m your host Brandon Laws. As always, thank you for all the connections recently on LinkedIn, on Twitter and all that.
I really appreciate the thoughtful notes about the podcast and how you use it throughout your day. Mostly in your community is what it sounds like. And I love the topic ideas too. Actually, today’s episode on diversity and inclusion is inspired by a listener who reached out on Twitter about it.
So more on that soon. But first, I wanted to say that we have a winner for our monthly book drawing that we do. There is a survey on our blog and in the show notes and we just ask for feedback on the podcast and ask for a couple of ratings. But Kelly is the winner and so keep on either submitting the survey or we also select from iTunes reviews or Apple Podcast. So definitely go there and give us a rating and review there. We do ask that to be considered for the drawing that you submit a written review on that, not just stars, because we wouldn’t know who you are.
If you screenshot that and either email that to me. Email address is in the show notes or you can screenshot and send it via LinkedIn or something like that. That would also work.
But anyway, thank you for support. We’ve had a lot of growth over the last year. We’ve basically doubled in size since the beginning of the year and just love the way it’s heading. So we’re going to keep on bringing you weekly content and as always, if you have topic ideas, send them to me. I want to know what’s on your mind and what you want to learn.
So for today’s episode, I interview Steve Lowisz. He joined us on the podcast to discuss diversity and inclusion strategies for businesses and I really love this discussion. Steve is super sharp. He talks on many other subjects. Diversity and inclusion just happens to be one he’s really passionate about. And really at the heart of the discussion, Steve shares why he believes businesses must start implementing diversity and inclusion strategy in their business.
We also discussed how it’s good for business, how it ties in with culture, and how to measure the success of the D & I strategies. So I really think you’re going to love this episode. If you haven’t really thought much about diversity and inclusion, this episode is for you. If you do think about it a lot and you’re just frustrated that things don’t move as fast, I think you’re really going to love this as well. And if you just want to know more about it, I think this episode is for you.
So without further ado, I will step aside and get on with the interview with Steve. Thank you.
Brandon: Hey Steve. It’s so great to have you on the podcast. Welcome.
Steve Lowisz: Thanks for the invite, Brandon. Happy to be here.
Brandon: Yeah, of course. So we’ve never touched on the subjects and I’ve actually had a couple of listeners reach out and say, “You need something on diversity.” So Steve, you’re an expert on diversity and many other things. I wanted to first ask you, is diversity good for business? I know that’s a very broad question, but maybe you can provide some examples on where diversity and inclusion can really grow a business.
Steve: Yeah. So let me kind of give you the perspective on it from some past historical so you understand the context. So when I was growing up, diversity to me when I was in grade school was really “what color tie was I wearing.”
So I grew up. I’m a white guy and I grew up in a very non-diverse area. OK? And it continued to get worse. So when I played football in high school, the adversary was always somebody who didn’t look like me. So I had somewhat of a negative connotation about what diversity meant, right?
Then ultimately when I went to college and I had roommates that happened to be diverse, it was my first real interaction with somebody that I was trained to look at very differently. So think of that in the context. OK?
Now let me fast forward to now and I will tie the two together. But from a diversity and inclusion perspective, it’s a non-negotiable. It’s something you have to have in every business. And if we talk about it all the time, the question becomes, “Well, why?” Well, think about the diversity of ideas.
So if you come from one background, I come from another background and we’re looking at the same thing. You think maybe our opinions differ on what’s important, on what we’re looking for? Of course it does.
So apply that to a small business or even a large business. So instead of having five or eight people in the room that are all from the same background, all think the exact same way, what’s going to challenge you to have better ideas if there’s people in that group that come from a different background, a different context and a different culture? Does that help?
Brandon: Yeah, it does. So I wanted to hone in on what you just said about the culture piece. So we’ve had listeners bring this up before. We’ve talked about hiring for culture fit, right? A lot of times that means let’s hire somebody that I want to hang out with, that looks exactly like I do, somebody I could be buddies with. Why is that not such a great thing? What does culture mean in your mind?
Steve: That’s actually – it’s an issue I dealt with years ago. So as I was growing our businesses, I looked at it the same way. So I had a unique culture built. At least everybody says that. I thought it was a unique culture. So I kept saying, “Hey, I got to hire somebody that has the same background, so I can keep my culture.”
But what I realized, that was very – it was the wrong way to approach this idea of culture. So think about it from this perspective. You go to a company and you say, “Describe your culture.” What kind of answers do you think you generally get, Brandon?
Brandon: Oh, we’re friendly. I don’t know.
Steve: That’s my point. So I have yet to meet very – there’s very few people that I’ve met in my 24 years in doing this where if I say, “Describe for me your culture,” they could actually describe it with a number of keywords. It’s A, B, C and D. Usually it’s this ambiguous, touchy-feely …
Brandon: They might recite some of their vision statements or values or principles or something like that, right?
Steve: Well, with vision statements, yeah. Values start to kind of get to the idea of culture. In some instances. It depends on what they are. So our culture is generally driven by values and I had to learn this as I continued the career, right? So as I made the mistake of hiring people that were just like me, having the same decisions, it was like having a bunch of robots around here, right?
When we started to really dive into culture and say, “What are the key attributes of our culture? What makes people successful here? What drives our business?” we could actually start to narrow it down. So let’s put it this way. One of our kind of key tenets to our culture is what we call “speed to execution”. So our clients expect us, when they engage with us, to get right on it.
If, in the interview process, we identify people that are too methodical in their thought process, it doesn’t mean they’re a bad person. But it might mean they don’t fit the culture we’ve created. But what happens by asking the right questions, you’re not necessarily hiring people that look and act like you. You’re focusing on a specific value or specific behavior that is across the board.
Whether you’re white or something else, it makes no difference. And that’s when you start to expand into this idea of diversity. So we have strong work ethic. We have positive attitude. We have openness to change. We have speed to execution and ownership. Those are universal.
Steve: But if you don’t have them, you will fail here. And that’s how we need to think about culture, not in terms of, “Do they fit the work style that I’ve subscribed to every day?” They don’t need to. Start thinking outside of the box.
Brandon: When looking at diversity and inclusion, you had something on your website that I love and I wanted to bring up because I think you’re kind of shedding light on why you have this out there. I think it’s great.
So you have two definitions. Definition one of diversity and inclusion, purposefully hiring a rainbow of faces and lots of women in the organization, often at lower levels, simply to meet quotas. That’s definition one.
Definition two, hiring individuals with different life experiences, opinions, world views and socio-economic factors, regardless of race or gender, because your firm truly values variety of thought. This includes both C-suite and entry-level positions. So I’m going to guess definition one really doesn’t help grow the business. It’s just sort of checking the box. There’s no strategy behind that diversity and inclusion. Definition two seems to be the way to go.
Steve: Yeah. So – and I see too many companies that unfortunately use definition one where they focus on representation, not on true diversity and inclusion. Think about the challenges it causes. I don’t care if you’re a 10-person firm or a 100,000-person firm, right? If you’re bringing in representation to say you did the good deed, you don’t understand the impact and the value of diversity. That’s kind of step one.
Step two is most people are smart enough to figure out what you’re doing and it starts to cause this resentment of, “I only got hired at this lower level because of X,” or “I’m a female and you only hired me because of Y, but it’s not part of the bigger scheme.”
If you really look at diversity and inclusion as it’s right for the business and you want to get those ideas, regardless of background, regardless of race, regardless of gender, you will automatically start to attract different race, different gender, different ethnic affiliations, different backgrounds because it’s true to who you are. You’re not just trying to fill representation. There’s a big difference between the two in my opinion.
Brandon: Go back to the last maybe two to three decades. How has the landscape shifted for a diversity and inclusion strategy?
Steve: So it has actually shifted somewhat – in some areas quite a bit, in some areas not so much. So obviously it has become more at the forefront, right? Companies are talking about it more. This idea of a chief diversity officer continues to become a bigger and bigger issue.
The problem is the education has not changed. So let me give you an example. A large financial institution, I won’t mention the name, there’s a large push. There’s a chief diversity officer and a large push for diversity. But the education of the line leaders, the managers, the senior leadership that has to hire these individuals, they’ve never been educated on the true value. And again, that resentment is there.
So, although we’re more progressive in our talk, the reality of it is, in our execution, Brandon, we’re still back where we were 20 years ago, in many instances. That’s a problem today.
Brandon: Are we just having those discussions at an executive leadership level for a lot of these companies? Is it part of that? Hopefully it’s central to these discussions.
Steve: You would think it would be. But unfortunately, it’s not. A lot of the discussions that I’m privy to still come down to representation in numbers, not value based on bringing in that diversity. That’s number one.
Number two is we have a tendency to be afraid of talking about our differences. And because of that, it kind of stalls the process. Now, let me give you an example of this, if I could, because my daughter set me up for this.
So when she graduated from high school – this is going back four years ago. Prom is at the end of the year. And all the gals gathered at our home before all the boys came over to pick them up to go to prom, right?
So Lauren and all of her friends are in front of the house and I snap a picture. There’s probably 13, 14 young ladies in the front. And the limo takes them off to prom, comes back for the parents to take us all to dinner, and I’m looking at this camera or looking at the digital photo on my camera and I show it to my wife. I say, “Hey, what do you see here?” She looks at it and she says, “Well, Lauren’s hair is a mess.”
I’m like, “No, that’s not what I’m talking about,” right? But it was the first thing she saw. I said, “Look a little bit closer.” She’s looking and looking. I said, “It looks like the United Nations.” I meant that in a very positive way, right?
So Lauren gets home the next morning and I show her the picture and I say, “Lauren, what do you see here?” and she says, “Well, my hair is a mess.” I’m like, “Just like your mother. Come on.”
But anyways, I said, “Look deeper,” and I said, “It looks like the United Nations.” Again, I said that to her and she thinks for a second. She says, “Well, we don’t really look at it that way.” But I asked her a question. I said, “Lauren, why do you all get along so well?” because literally there was – out of the group of 13 or 14, there were two that were white and everybody else was something different, which was phenomenal.
She says, “Dad, we ask each other all the time why we do the things we do and why we view things the way we view them, because it helps us understand each other. I guess today in what I’m seeing, that’s not what the world does. But we do that.” That’s coming out of a mouth of a teenager.
Brandon: Yeah, that’s crazy.
Steve: And that’s one of the issues that I think in the workplace, we have a tendency not to talk about the differences and embrace them. We only want to focus on the commonalities, which is fine. But we’re losing the value of the differences that we want diversity for in the first place.
Brandon: Yeah. Well, it seems like a lot of companies, they’re pretty good about saying what they value and stating their beliefs. You would think that would bring people together who share those same values but are different on the surface, or culturally different. It would bring them together. Is that the case or no?
Steve: Well, it should and in some instances, it does, right?
Brandon: It seems like it brought your daughter and her friends together that way.
Steve: Yes, exactly. But they have some common values and that’s why they’re friends. But they didn’t just exclude each other because of their differences. They actually went for true inclusion, which would be a great example for us as adults, right?
She’s now older than that. But if we could replicate that in the business world, our businesses would be 100 times stronger than they are today, Brandon.
Brandon: Yes. So I was honing in on that. What business problems do you think diversity and inclusion would solve? Maybe creativity could be one of them. What else?
Steve: The diversity of ideas is incredible. So there’s a story out there that I’m privy to. So there was a hospital that was being developed in an inner city – it was somewhere in Missouri, I believe – and you have to have so many parking spots in your ER or across from any hospital. But this was specific to the ER for so many patients that you anticipate coming in. OK?
So this was in the inner city. The design it, they start building it and somebody happens to come in to look at how many parking spots they made. And they start asking about the demographic makeup for the patients at this particular hospital, and it happened to consist of a large Hispanic population and a large African-American population. There was a discussion about the lack of parking spots, and the discussion that continued around this was that – and this is statistically-proven, so this is not my opinion. This is statistically proven.
When somebody who looks like you and me is in the hospital, we generally have one to two visitors who come visit us. African-Americans happen to have seven to nine visitors in this community and Hispanics happen to have 13 to 14 visitors, because of how close-knit the families are, right?
So if you’re going to build an ER that happens to cater to the African-American and Hispanic community, are you going to count two parking spots per patient, or are you going to count somewhere in the area of ten?
Brandon: Probably closer to ten.
Steve: That’s just an example. If you don’t have that diversity on staff, if you’re in that situation, how would you know? So think of that just from that perspective of it’s catering to a specific community.
Brandon: So true.
Steve: Now take it a step further. In new product development, you’re developing a product that – whatever it happens to be, whether it’s a medical device or a widget – that you think somebody needs and that they’re going to use in a specific way. Somebody coming from a different culture or background or a different socioeconomic background may experience it in a completely different way as well.
So there’s some banter that’s created to try to solve the problem for a larger audience as opposed to one segment of the audience. Business sense.
Brandon: What you’re saying makes total sense and I think what often happens is employers, business leaders, HR professionals, they know this is an issue. They know they need to address it, but probably just don’t know where to go. They don’t know what questions to ask.
So what questions should be addressed when you put together some sort of diversity and inclusion plan and strategy?
Steve: Well, I think you’ve got to start off with why are you doing it.
Steve: Because again, there are too many situations where we’re doing it because we’re told to do it.
Brandon: Yeah, it’s just the right thing to do.
Steve: Well, it’s more than just the right thing to do because the right thing to do – and I hate to say this. But the right thing to do will only get you so far.
The right thing to do because it drives the business the right way will actually take you farther in the business world. So it’s a little bit of both. But if it’s we’re doing it just because we’re told to, you’ve got a problem right there. So that’s number one. Why are we doing what we’re doing? Do we all understand the impact of that? So number one, why? Number two, do we all understand? Because, before embarking on a diversity or an inclusion initiative, you have to make sure that you’ve educated everybody on the value to it. Otherwise, they feel like it’s being shoved down their throats.
Brandon: If you’re going to talk to let’s say a group of 50 employees – you have a small business – what do you say to them as to why we need to do this? What do you tell them?
Steve: So it’s actually the reverse. I start asking the questions. What would you do differently? Do you think that diversity is something that’s important? So we can see where they are first. Where are they starting from? Because you think that most people would say, “Yes, we need to do this.” But if you really get into the conversation with a lot of these focus groups that I’ve done, it really becomes – we’re just not sure why we’re doing this. We know it’s a company initiative. But we’re not sure of the value and now it becomes an educational process of, “OK, let’s talk about your job function. And let’s talk about what your group looks like. And let’s talk about inserting different perspectives,” and ultimately they start to come around and see the value of diversity broader than just our skin color, right? Diversity of ideas, diversity of mindset, diversity of backgrounds, diversity of everything, religious views, across the board.
It starts to permeate everything that we do and ultimately they will come to the same conclusion of diversity is more than just let’s get representation. Diversity makes sense. But you’ve got to get them there.
Brandon: What are some companies that are doing this really well?
Steve: I think some of the large financial institutions and consumer products companies have begun to do this really well. They get beat up for it for not doing it well. But when you look at some of the initiatives internally, I’ve seen some real progress because of the educational piece. You’ve seen a lot in the news lately about the Silicon Valley companies and how much pressure they’re under for diversity and so forth. Yet there’s some that are doing a really, really great job. And unfortunately, we’re not bringing those to the forefront.
Now in my experience – and this is one guy’s experience – the smaller to mid-sized firms seem to be having a much easier job in creating an environment that, right from the get-go, supports diversity and inclusion. The bigger guys who hired a lot of people that look just like you and me have got to completely shift their culture, which takes longer. It’s not that they’re not doing it, because they are.
Brandon: Yeah. It seems like the smaller companies would be more nimble and can shift really fast with some of their strategy, versus the big guys. They probably shift very slowly because there are layers and layers of people, and management, and executives.
Steve: It’s kind of like remodeling a basement, Brandon. You got to go in and you got to tear it all out. If you’re doing a tear-out, versus starting from a new build, it’s a lot easier to do.
Brandon: So some of these tech firms, do you think they’re doing it for the right reasons? Are they doing it because the spotlight is on them or because they know it’s going to propel their growth?
Steve: Again, personal opinion, I think it’s both.
Steve: Because I’ve talked to some that are absolutely focused on propelling their growth and they see the value in it. And I’ve experienced some haphazard comments from others that unfortunately I think their driver is they don’t want to be exposed in the media.
Now I’m not going to say that they’re also not focused on doing it for the right reasons. It just seems that the spotlight, the potential spotlight, is a bit bigger of a driver while they’re working on the backend to do it the right way for the right reasons.
Brandon: When diversity and inclusion strategies fail, what are the main reasons why they fail?
Steve: Oh, there’s a couple of them. I mean one of the biggest ones is that there are no expectations set around it. There’s no education done around it. There’s no deliverables around it. And the C-suite doesn’t buy into it.
Brandon: Yeah. I would think that would be number one is nobody has bought into it, truly bought into it.
Steve: Generally when I get into the root of it, when organizations start asking me, “Help us out. Let’s figure this thing out. We’ve tried all these different programs. It’s not working,” under the covers, once you really start peeling back the layers of the onion, Brandon, it’s usually because there’s a specific audience that doesn’t buy into it because they don’t know the value of it. Nobody spent the time to educate them. And then where they get their education from is the media, and that’s it.
Brandon: Got to start with the why, just like Simon Sinek says, right? You’ve got to tell people why you’re doing what you’re doing.
Steve: Absolutely. And get out of them their thoughts around – you know, do they agree with the why? Do they have other reasons why? Do they have reasons why we shouldn’t? We don’t want to approach that subject. Now I don’t think there’s really any valid reason why you wouldn’t focus on diversity and inclusion. But maybe there’s something out there. Who knows? But we don’t have those discussions.
Brandon: So I’m a bit of a numbers geek. Is there a way to measure the success of diversity and inclusion strategies?
Steve: Yeah. I’ve seen it measured – the biggest thing that you can do in any business is you want to have a profit, right? You want to increase revenue. You want to have higher profit and you want to have products that are – or services that are rated very high by your consumers. So think about it this way. Your diversity number or your lack of diversity is at a certain percentage now. You’re hitting a certain revenue and you’re hitting a certain bottom line.
Increase your representation – not your representation, but your diversity and inclusion rates – and then start to track those numbers over a period of time that every business does and see the inflection point. If done correctly at the right levels – and you mentioned this earlier, right? If you’re just doing it at the lower levels for representation, this won’t work. But if you truly create an attitude of diversity, you can tie it directly into revenue and in the profitability of the company. The numbers don’t lie.
Brandon: I’ve done a lot of studying of economics and the one thing that I always hear time and time again is don’t confuse correlation with causation. How do you know that this is a cause of increased profit? How do you measure that?
Steve: Well, so I would look at it in terms of replication, right? So if you look at the number of companies that have gone from where they were in diversity inclusion to where they are now, again the numbers will show that there’s at least a partial correlation to that. I don’t think you can suck that out.
Now, some will say, “Well, it’s because the product is different.” OK. Why is the product different? Let’s trace it back to the why and the origin. Can we trace it back to new ideas that came as a result?
Steve: Can we drive it all back to that? No. There’s not one reason generally as a company continues to grow. It’s a bunch of reasons that come together to work. It’s like it’s the ingredients to that casserole that you’re making. But what if you’re missing an ingredient? There’s a flop.
Now, if you add the ingredient, can you say it’s all about that one ingredient or do you have to say they’re all working together? Well, of course you have to say they’re all working together. But without the ingredient, it doesn’t work, does it?
Brandon: No, no. I love that analogy because without those creative ideas that came maybe from the diverse strategies that you have, you never would have had that amazing casserole that you just made.
Steve: That’s right. Again, you can’t put all of it on that. But it could be that key missing ingredient. But when that ingredient is there, now you’ve got to share it with all the other ingredients in the puzzle. But it doesn’t work alone or it’s not as effective alone.
Brandon: Where do you see this going, Steve? Where do you see the landscape of diversity and inclusion going?
Steve: So I think first of all, we’ve got to understand that, in my opinion, diversity is kind of the ingredients. Inclusion is about making them all work together, right? So we’ve got to change the focus just from, “We need it, we need it, we need it,” to “Let’s understand why we need it and how we get all of us that are different to work together.”
I think if we don’t have the dialogue about our differences, it’s going to keep getting worse, Brandon, unfortunately. If we start to have the dialogue about our differences and the value of those differences and the economic value of those differences, I think over the next decade, we could have a very different world. More like the eyes of what my daughter and my son have, because of the environment they grew up in, where they embrace the differences. They don’t see the differences in skin color or in ethnic background. But if we don’t get a handle on that, it could get really – it could get worse.
Brandon: Well said. Steve, well, thank you so much for being part of the podcast. Anything you want to say about this topic, about what you’re doing from a speaking standpoint? Anything you want to say?
Steve: So this is one of my top three topics that I’m requested to speak on because of the importance of it, especially in where we are as a world today, right?
So if people want to know more about it, they can go to my website, www.SteveLowisz.com. There’s a number of PowerPoints and presentations that are up there that will give you a sense of the view and some of the solutions and some of the problems. But you can also contact me directly either on LinkedIn, at LinkedIn.com/SteveLowisz or Twitter, @slowisz. I always respond to all comments.
Brandon: Yeah. We appreciate that and I will put links up to all those resources you mentioned in the show notes. So that way, people can just get there really quick with one little click.
Steve: Wonderful. Thanks so much for the time, Brandon.
Brandon: Thank you Steve.