When diversity efforts backfire: Advice to avoid legal trouble


Many employers support the idea that diversity is good for business. 
Increased productivity and innovation are just a couple of the benefits that come with employing people from different backgrounds.
So, it’s no surprise many HR pros are making diversity and inclusion efforts a top priority.

How inclusion efforts go wrong

But despite their best intentions, companies can end up in legal trouble if they go about diversity the wrong way. One major mistake? Focusing so much on inclusion that others feel excluded.
This misstep is exactly why Google is currently facing a discrimination lawsuit from two ex-employees – both white men.
In Damore v. Google, James Damore claims he was fired from the tech company after expressing his conservative political views, which employees have allegedly been mistreated or punished for having.
He further claims Google takes its diversity efforts so seriously that white men like himself are often overlooked in hiring and promotions simply because they aren’t female or minority employees. He claims the company has diversity quotas it must fill.
Damore pointed to Google’s Diversity and Inclusion Summit – something open to only minority workers – as additional evidence of white male employees being excluded from initiatives and company culture.

Discrimination is discrimination

While the case has yet to go to trial and Damore’s claims remain unsubstantiated, it highlights the potential discrimination dangers that come with intense diversity and inclusion strategies.
Though it doesn’t happen as often, non-minority employees can be discriminated against, too.
For example, in Palmer v. CSC Covansys Corp., a white male worker claimed his IT firm laid him off because it favored Indian employees. A court allowed this claim to continue, emphasizing Caucasian-American is a protected class just like any other race.

Diverse hiring the right way

Failing to hire a white candidate due to their race is just as illegal as not hiring a minority candidate because of their race. And many employers unknowingly open themselves up to legal risks by going about diversity efforts the wrong way.
Google’s mistake was attempting to increase diversity by filling hiring quotas. This practice is both discriminatory toward non-minority candidates and won’t ensure you hire the most qualified people.
But there are more effective ways to build diversity at your workplace, straight from Addie Swartz, CEO of ReacHIRE, and Dianne Shaddock, President of Easy Small Business HR:
1. Cast a wide net in recruiting. The first step to a more diverse workforce is attracting diverse candidates. Examine your website and marketing materials. Do you have people from a variety of backgrounds representing your company? If your company’s image isn’t diverse enough, it could discourage minority candidates from applying.
2. Interview a variety of candidates. Employers should always hire the most qualified person. But companies can’t increase diversity if they never even interview minority candidates. By always having a variety of applicants in the mix, you can ensure everyone gets a fair shot at the job, and diversity will steadily improve.
3. Examine your company culture. Another great strategy is to look at your company from the inside out. Ask your current employees about the company culture and if any improvements can be made to create a more inclusive, welcoming environment for all.

Rachel Mucha
Rachel writes about Human Resource management and has been a member of the HRMorning staff since 2017. She is a graduate of Ithaca College.