Brave Leaders and Representative Teams

This article was published in the Summer 2020 issue

by Luke Mocke, CEO, Mentorli

I was born in South Africa in 1991 — three months after Apartheid laws were officially abolished. In the years preceding the end of Apartheid, the country was on the brink of civil war. Violence and protests were frequent and there was even a point where negotiations were called off and prospects of change seemed lost.

Then, like dominoes falling, international leaders pushed for change; Mandela was released from prison and made president, local leaders built a new constitution, and the country began the process of healing and reconciliation.

In a similar way, the challenge America currently faces seems insurmountable. We’re literally in the middle of the biggest crisis since the Great Depression — unemployment is at a 100-year high, racial tensions have boiled into nation-wide protests and rioting, and a raging pandemic has killed 100,000+ Americans.

While it could be tempting to “wait it out,” brave business leaders have the opportunity of a century to stand up and topple a giant domino at the heart of the crisis: economic inequality. The only way to do this is by creating representative teams. While segregation officially ended in 1965, Black, Latino, and Native candidates have been shut out of opportunities for decades because, among other things, they lacked the network needed to break into the most desirable jobs.

While working at LinkedIn, I saw the ‘network gap’ over and over again. Employees at the most desirable, fast-growing companies always mirrored the education, network, and background of the founders and early team. If the founders were Berkeley grads, you can guess where most other employees went to school.

This pattern is all too familiar here in Utah — just skim through the employees of any well-known Utah company on LinkedIn. You’ll find that if the early team went to the University of Utah or BYU, the larger team would follow suit. Look closer and you’ll find a strong correlation with race, background, and religious (or non-religious) affiliations as well.

You might say, “What’s the harm?” Or, “Who cares? Let people work with who they want,” but while harmless and unplanned at first, the network gap creates major challenges in society and business that many don’t seem to understand — or choose to ignore. For society, the gap leads to an economic divide between races, poverty, crime, and racism. For business, it perpetuates homogeneous teams and leads to poor outcomes in recruiting, retention, and revenue.

But as conditions ripen for change, there’s light at the end of this tunnel. Here’s why the time has never been better to do the right thing and seize the opportunity of a century by creating a representative workforce:

Remote work: All talent markets are free game with COVID-19 obliterating the excuse that you’re confined to the demographic of your immediate surroundings.

More underrepresented talent: Black and Latino talent has been disproportionately affected by unemployment, meaning there are more candidates available than ever.

Backlogs in hiring: If your company has laid off employees or frozen hiring, there’s a good chance it will have a large quantity of jobs to fill at the end of the year.

Momentum for equality: Through current events, businesses and individuals have never been more unified in their call for representation in the workforce.

While no one has all the answers and it will be a continual effort companies need to make, I offer five steps brave business leaders can start taking today to create a representative workforce and take advantage of the awesome opportunity in front of them.

1. Know where you stand.

Before taking any other step, you need to understand what the current demographics of your leadership team, employees, and pipeline are. I suggest comparing these numbers to the talent pool that’s available to you. For companies with remote employees, you should be comparing your numbers to national statistics. There’s a host of candidates in new markets just waiting to be found.

2. Mobilize employee resource groups (ERGs).

If you have ERGs already, know that they have banded together for this exact purpose — to foster a sense of belonging for their community. Engage ERG leaders and members to mentor and refer candidates from their network. Partner on internal events to ensure the diverse employees you do have are your biggest advocates externally. If you haven’t formed ERGs yet, this will be your lightest lift but will pay dividends for years to come.

3. Diversify employee referrals.

Referrals have long been the top source of hires in the US, but they’ve come at the cost of diversity because employee networks tend to come from similar backgrounds. Data shows getting referred makes a candidate up to 15 times more likely to land the job. This means that with exposure to the right talent, employee referrals can have the largest effect on representation. Exposing underrepresented candidates to employees can level the recruiting playing field and ensure you are giving high-quality, diverse talent every opportunity to work with you.

4. Build a diverse recruiting team.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Outside of the leadership team, your recruiting team is the most important team to diversify. Similar to referrals, recruiters tend to attract candidates from similar backgrounds. Hiring recruiters from a diverse array of backgrounds will mitigate the effects of unconscious biases and ensure you’re thinking about every talent pool you want to hire.

5. Expand your sources of hires.

Falling into the trap of posting your job on Indeed or LinkedIn and hoping an underrepresented candidate applies is a one-way ticket to a homogeneous team. You need to look outside of your current sources to engage with top underrepresented talent. Here are a few sources you can start with:

Local diversity associations     HBCU career centers     Mentorli                 Diversity conferences

After his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela said that “the brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” Business leaders have the opportunity to be brave, conquer fear, and create real change through representative teams. There’s certainly never been a more important time to topple economic inequality, and the time to start is now.

Luke Mocke is a former LinkedIn staffer, Co-founder of the #GetHired Summit, and CEO of Mentorli. Mentorli is on a mission to help companies create a representative workforce. If you’re interested in learning more about how to create a representative team, visit today

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