Being aware of the similarity bias: Clients tend to feel warm and fuzzy when candidates share a similar alma mater, affiliation, hobby, etc. Often these similarities are rooted in social capital which can favor candidates that are “in-group” or on the flip-side disadvantage candidates that are “out-group.”
It’s amazing to me that the similarity bias is a barrier against the inclusion of diversity instead of a strong argument for diversity. Few organizations operate in a total vacuum. Most businesses, startups, non-profits, academic institutions, and so on are part of a giant network of businesses and clients that come from many backgrounds, so internal diversity in your own business should be seen as an advantage for negotiating this diverse external network.
I’ll use a concrete example. Suppose you run a non-profit aimed at providing a service to small businesses. Because of the similarity bias, if you just have a bunch of white guys from the University of Wherever in your office, you’re not going to be able to connect as effectively with the entirety of the small business world as you could with a diverse set of officemates. Did you know black women represent the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in America? Did you know that the fastest growing sector of small business owners with businesses that have paid employees is Asian American women, followed by Hispanic women?
What all this says to me is that the similarity bias means that, for any business operating in the real world, you should try to take on a diversity of talent so that you can interact with a diversity of other businesses and clients, and so that you can better understand and connect with those clients. The world isn’t just white people. There are entire countries where there are almost no white people, yet almost all of them have businesses and opportunities. Similarly, enterprises in America are owned and managed by immigrants from all over the world. If all you do is hire white people, you may miss the boat on countless opportunities. If you have a diverse workforce, not only will you fully capitalize on the similarity bias present out in the world in which your business operates, but you may literally speak the same language as a potential client or business partner.
This is all in addition to the myriad internal benefits that come from a diverse workforce.