7.3 Billion Differences: Nzinga Shaw on Recruiting for Diversity

| Tags:

The first Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer in the NBA shares her insights on hiring a diverse workforce and building an inclusive workplace. Tweet it

Nzinga Shaw, Diversity & Inclusion Officer for the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks

“How can we proactively make this about strengthening our organization?”

That’s Nzinga Shaw, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer for the Atlanta Hawks and first person to hold that role in the National Basketball Association (NBA). She’s talking about the long-term perspective companies should be taking on diversity, “As opposed to looking for a fix to a temporary problem.”

Workplace diversity and inclusion continues to be top of mind for employers. From Intel’s nine-figure investments to Facebook stealing moves from the NFL playbook, companies are trying to act. But do we really understand what diversity means? How should our organizations be thinking about it? What actions should we be taking, from hiring to retention? What communities should we be engaging? How do we make diversity about strengthening our organizations for the long term?

If there’s anyone who can help us find answers, it’s Nzinga.

She kindly agreed to a little Q&A …

“There are 7.3 billion people in this world and every single one is different.”

Tweet it

Are there any common misconceptions employers have about what ‘diversity’ means?

Diversity and inclusion is a very complex subject matter that is not simplified to race, gender and sexual orientation. There are 7.3 billion people in this world and every single one is different. Even identical twins are different from each other – they don’t have the same exact personality or like the same exact food. There are so many dimensions of diversity. It could be as simple as whether someone is more analytical, or more creative. Or whether they smoke cigarettes, or they’re a non-smoker.

How can you help push these types of individuals to achieve their maximum potential? That’s really what diversity and inclusion is about from an employer perspective.

What might tackling that question look like?

There is a great case study from GE. A couple years ago, managers at the company realized a large number of engineers were leaving their desks for twenty minutes at a time, several times a day. As it turned out, many of them were practicing Muslims, and they were leaving their desks to pray. So GE made a reasonable accommodation – they built a mosque on site, at their campus. As a result, employees spent half as much going time to and from their place of prayer.

To me, that is a very unique example of how organizations can start to think about diversity and inclusion by asking, “What reasonable accommodations can we make so all our employees can bring their whole selves to work?”

How can employers determine what makes a ‘reasonable accommodation’ for employees?

It’s like every other business decision that you make. If the ROI on that accommodation looks like it will be greater than the cost, then you go for it.

The answer is going to be different and vary from organization to organization. But you can ask yourself: “Are there other ways that people can be productive, outside of our existing guidelines? If so, is it reasonable enough for us to make a small accommodation so people can be happier in their work?”

At the Hawks we recently made a reasonable accommodation by revising policy so that, with their manager’s permission, an employee can work from home a couple days a week. This change was inspired by working moms who wanted to spend more time at home with their young children.

“How can you help push these types of individuals to achieve their maximum potential? That’s really what diversity and inclusion is about …”

Tweet it

Do you target certain demographics or communities?

Yes, we have priority groups.

How do you identify and engage those priority groups?

With the Atlanta Hawks, our approach to identifying target groups is to look at the total population of people in the city, and identify groups of people we haven’t connected with yet, but who have a compelling presence here.

A great example is the Latino community. The city of Atlanta has about 6.5 million residents, and 1.2 million are Hispanic. But when you look at people who come to our games, we have traditionally had a very, very small Hispanic attendance. A lot of the people that grow in Atlanta are native speakers of Spanish, but our games are not broadcast in Spanish. If you’re not an avid fan of the game and you’re not even able to understand what is happening in your language, then nine times out of ten you won’t even think to engage. So, last year we formed a relationship with a Spanish-language FM radio station here in Atlanta, El Patron 105.3, to start broadcasting our games and to start to introduce our court to the Hispanic community. We’ve started to see an uptake in the Latino community coming to our games.

None of this is about saying that we’re ‘pro’ one group or another. It’s saying that we’re inclusive. We’re pro people. No matter who you are, you should be able to come to our game and have an amazing experience.

The Rooney Rule – the NFL created it, and Facebook recently started using its own version. Can this approach be an effective diversity-hiring tool for employers?

I honestly don’t think so.

The Rooney Rule came about in the NFL in the early 2000’s and was definitely needed at the time. The league’s players were dramatically African-American, yet only 6% of head coaches were in that demographic. It was a response that was very specifically focused on race.

When you force a particular hire through an affirmative action like the Rooney Rule, that person may not be treated fairly and equally by other employees. There may be resentment towards how they got there. That’s a negative employment experience and could lead to quick turnover – it’s the opposite of what you want.

Instead of taking that approach, organizations should educate hiring managers on how to get talent from a variety of environments. They then should hold the managers accountable – use score cards to actually look at where they’ve been sourcing and how they’ve been finding talent. That score should directly affect their performance reviews and compensation. Because a positive employment experience starts with an authentic recruitment process, and that starts with educating hiring managers to deliver one.

“… Educate hiring managers on what they need to do to get talent from a variety of environments.”

Tweet it

Some HR tech companies are claiming their software tools can help employers eliminate bias and increase diversity by selecting hires with an algorithm. Is there a role for this type of technology?

It’s an invalid approach. Software might not be able to detect race or gender or whether they wear eyeglasses, but can it detect someone’s quirkiness? Or their personal strength? People bring so many nuances to the table that a computer cannot tell you about. When you interview a person, face to face, you see someone face to face. There is something that you’re going to know about that person and learn – a computer can’t do that. You need the human touch and the human experience for certain things. Hiring is one of them.

What can recruiters do on an individual level to identify their own biases, and broaden the diversity of their candidates?

Be a researcher. Get on Google and figure out where to find people that are different than you.

For example, if you don’t know anybody who is LGBT and don’t understand that community, go find an LGBT event to go to. Go and talk to strangers – you will be enlightened. Find out what seminars are for free. There are so many. I am literally at an event every night in this city, because there is something always going on. Not necessarily topics I’m an expert in, either. That’s how I often find new and unexpected talent.

And that’s why I don’t believe in career fairs – it’s only when you see a person in their natural environment, or a setting where they are comfortable and can be themselves, that you can determine if they are a good fit for an organization or a particular role.

“Be a researcher. Get on Google and figure out where to find people that are different than you.”

Tweet it

What practical steps can leaders in corporate HR and recruitment start with to help their companies attract more diverse candidates, hire more diverse employees, and build an inclusive workplace?

First and foremost, diversity and inclusion shouldn’t be under HR or Recruitment. I’m serious – it is the worst mistake that organizations make when starting these types of initiatives.

As Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer for the Atlanta Hawks, I report to the CEO, not HR. This is the right model. Part of my job is HR-related in that I look for talent, I come up with training programs, and I partner with HR. But I also do work on the revenue side, thinking about partnerships and sponsorships and how can we start to look at women and minorities. I also partner on the fan experience and marketing side.

One of the very first things I did when I came into this role was establish a diversity and inclusion council. This is not a diversity council of the kind many organizations assemble, where employees get together and commiserate. Our members include, not only Atlanta Hawks and Philips Arena employees, but also external constituents that matter to our game. We have season ticket holders, academics from local colleges, a representative from the Mayor’s office. We also have someone from a low socio-economic background who does not have the discretionary funds to purchase tickets to games but loves basketball, is an avid fan and wants to be able to purchase tickets.

It was important for us to have a cross-section of people represented from different areas in our market and different backgrounds, but who could all provide perspective on what will create a maximum positive experience for anybody who attends our games – or is part of our organization. Because that is what it is really about. It is about reaching out to the community, reaching out to new and unexpected communities to say, “How can we make you feel wanted and valued?”

From an interview with Christian De Pape.

Share this article

On Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook