What is the right diversity mix of employees for your organization?

This is a question I think many executives and HR and TA leaders struggle with. SHRM hasn’t come out and given guidance. ATAP has not told us at what levels we should be at with our diversity mix. So, how do we come up with this answer?

Seems like we should probably be roughly 50/50 when it comes to male and female employees. Again, that’s a broad figure, because your customer base probably makes a difference. If you’re selling products and services mostly women buy, you probably want more women on your team.

The more difficult mix to figure is when it comes to race. Should we be 50/50 when it comes to race in our hiring? Apple has taken it on the chin the last few years because of their demographic employee mix, and even as of this week, are still catching criticism for having only 1/3 of their leadership team is female, and only 17% of their entire team being black and Hispanic. 55% of Apple’s tech employees are white, 77% are male.

So, what should you diversity mix be?

The most recent demographics of race in America show this:

  • 61.3% are white
  • 17.8% are Hispanic/Latino
  • 13.3 are black
  • 4.8% Asian

Some other interesting facts about American race demographics:

  • 55% of black Americans live in the south
  • White Americans are the majority in every region
  • 79% of the Midwest is white Americans
  • The West is the most overall diverse part of America (where 46% of the American Asian population live, 42% of Hispanic/Latino, 48% of American Indian, 37% of multi-race)

So, what does this all mean when it comes to hiring a more diverse workforce? 

If 61.3% of the American population is white, is it realistic for Apple to hire a 50/50 mix of diversity across its workforce? I go back to my master’s research project when looking at female hiring in leadership. What you find in most service-oriented, retail, restaurants, etc. organizations are more male leaders than female leaders, but more female employees than male employees.

What I found was as organizations with a higher population of female employees hired a higher density of male employees as leaders, they were actually pulling from a smaller and smaller pool of talent. Meaning, organizations that don’t match the overall demographics of their employee base have the tendency to hire weaker leadership talent when they hire from a minority of their employee base, once those ratios are met.

In this case, if you have 70% female employees and 30% male, but you have 70% male leaders and only 30% female leaders, every single additional male you hire is statistically more likely to be a weaker leader than hiring from your female employee population for that position.

Makes sense, right!

If this example of females in leadership is true, it gives you a guide for your entire organization in what your mixes should be across your organization. If you have 60% white employees and 50% female. Your leadership team should be 60% female leaders.


What about special skill sets and demographics?

This throws are demographics off. What if your employee population is 18% black, but you can’t find 18% of the black employees you need in a certain skill set? This happened in a large health system I worked for when it came to nurse hiring. Within our market, we only had 7% of the nursing population that was black, and we struggled to get above that percentage in our overall population.

Apple runs into this same concept when it comes to hiring technical employees because more of the Asian and Indian population have the skill sets they need, so they can’t meet the overall demographics of their employee population, without incurring great cost in attracting the population they would need from other parts of the country to California.

Also, many organization’s leaders will say instead of looking at the employee base we have, let’s match the demographic makeup of the markets where are organizations work. At that point, you are looking at market demographics to match your employee demographics. Again, this can be difficult based on the skill sets you need to hire.

If I’m Apple, I think the one demographic that is way out of whack for them is female hiring. 50% of their customers are female. 77% of their employees are male, but only 33% of their leadership is female. It would seem to make demographic sense that 50% of Apple’s leadership team should be female.

Thoughts? This is a really difficult problem for so many organizations, and I see organizations attempting to get more ‘diverse’ in skin color without really knowing what that means in terms of raw numbers and percentages.

What are you using in your own shops?

8 thoughts on “What is the right diversity mix of employees for your organization?

  1. Indeed, fellow Tim. The fact that so many more people are out has, in my opinion, been a major contributor to the progress we have made in LGBT* civil rights in the recent past. It’s more difficult (but not impossible, sadly) to hate or vilify someone who is your brother, sister, uncle, aunt, friend or neighbor.

  2. Mike, the unfortunate reality in America is that we will continuously see white, heterosexual men from “top” schools in leadership if we are not purposeful about diversity wrt race and gender. Sure, we must drill down into other categories of diversity. But we DO automatically interject diverse thinking and opinions just by ensuring there are more POC and women. I think age is often overlooked as well!

    I’m in a 2-person HR department. The VP is a white, male Boomer, with a PhD from the East coast. I’m a black, female Gen Xer with a BS in Chemistry, from Chicago (actual Chicago–south side, not a burb).

    We have VERY different takes on most situations and we always learn from each other.

  3. Diversity is visible and invisible. I’m an out gay man, Mr. Sackett, I’m even “gay married” and happily so. Being gay is only one aspect of who I am, but it has had a major influence on how I view life, work, acceptance, fitting in, being honest and authentic. I bet there are differences you bring that I know nothing about too.

  4. I worked in recruiting (now with a fancier name and acronym) years 25+ ago at Procter & Gamble, leading R&D recruiting below PhD level. The diversity goals we set then were to meet or exceed the representation by gender and race/ethnicity in the fields of study from which we hired, primarily Chemical Engineering, Chemistry and similar fields. We took all kinds of steps to increase the number of women and minorities pursuing study in those fields, including significant time and investment. There were also major efforts inside the company to welcome everyone, provide opportunity to learn, grow and advance, mentoring, coaching, sponsoring, and on. We always met or exceeded our recruiting goals, progression and retention were outside my scope and I don’t have the data to share.

    When I left that role, my focus for the rest of my career was primarily on international HR. There I learned that the “rest of the world” is befuddled about the American construct of diversity being limited (primarily) to gender and race / ethnicity. My ROW friends said, what about language, country of origin, country of education, socioeconomic status, religious background, thinking style, caste and dozens of other visible and invisible differences. I agree with them. I also believe that diversity is a strength, that businesses and organizations prosper when they are diverse and everyone has the opportunity to achieve and contribute.

    Hiring the best people, no question that should be the goal. But we should also hire the best people who are representative of the customers or consumers that the business or organization serves, and can therefore help it to be more successful.

    • Tim,

      I’ve found the exact same thing when I travel around the world to speak. But, I’ve also found in many parts that while they don’t understand why we think the way we think in America, many parts are way behind the U.S. in terms of diversity equality in race and gender.

      Nothing like white guys talking diversity! 😉


  5. Tim – I understand why you used Apple because of the press they’ve been receiving. Like you, I’m in the Midwest. If you take the numbers you used above, we try to tailor those numbers to our organization.
    What pains me the most is that we (USA) look at diversity from a gender & skin color point of view & not experience, thought-process, skills POV. If you have a picture of 4 white men, people will sarcastically say, “Look at the Diversity.” If you have a picture of four black men/women, people will say that’s diverse. It’s actually segregating our population against each other. My solution: find the very best talent regardless of what they look like. People should be hired upon merit & qualifications & nothing else.

    • MT –

      Totally agree! 100 black men working at a company of 100 employees is not a ‘diverse’ company, in fact, it’s the exact opposite of diverse, it’s homogeneous. That’s partially my point in the post, is what should the right mix be for an organization. It’s not enough to say we need to become ‘more’ diverse. “More” means a number. What is that number? Of course, this also forces you to ‘define’ diversity for your organization. When I was at Applebee’s we did not count “Asian” or “American Indian” as diverse when measuring diversity in our manager hiring. The organization said we need to increase three segments: Female, Hispanic, and Black. If a management hire fit one of those three categories, then your diversity hiring metrics increased. Those were the underrepresented segments of our employee population that we needed to have a better representation of in management. It made sense, then, for us to keep that focus.

      Like I said, this is very specific for each employer to figure out. I think, though, most leaders would like some guidance.


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