Improving Diversity as an Individual Contributor

The book Getting to Diversity: What works and what doesn’t by Frank Dobbin & Alexandra Kalev is a great book for organizations to understand what the data says about common practices used to increase diversity. Surprisingly, many of the common ones don’t actually help. 

While the book is geared towards HR and other business executives who have the ability to influence company policies, there are some actionable things for individual contributors that the data shows can help improve diversity.


[From chapter 4: Open Networks Up]

Mentoring can help improve diversity at higher levels in the organization by creating intentional social networks and connections. [Figure 4.1] But all mentoring programs are not created equal and there are two things needed to successfully democratize them:

  1. Formal Programs
    Formal mentoring programs help ensure that everyone is eligible to be mentored. Informal programs often leave out under-represented groups.
  2. Make matches on interests, not gender and race.
    Only pairing under-represented mentors with mentees of the same under-represented category is a numbers problem – there simply aren’t enough under-represented mentors if our premise is that there is not the desired diversity at higher levels. It’s also a power problem because over-represented groups usually have the most influential network connections and ability to help mentees join those networks.


  • Higher-level individuals, particularly those from over-represented groups, can help improve diversity by mentoring under-represented individuals to help them grow their careers and professional networks.
  • Utilize established formal mentoring programs where available.

Leverage ERGs for hiring

[From chapter 4: Open Networks Up]

ERGs in and of themselves don’t improve diversity. While they are places for people to find community, they can also create silos – the people who need to know more about a community’s needs aren’t in the room because they aren’t in the ERG. Getting to Diversity shows that the effect of ERGs on diversity is poor and have little to no improvement for most under-represented groups. [Figure 4.5]

However, ERGs have a supercharging effect on targeted recruiting. Having ERG members lead or accompany recruiting efforts at universities and other professional groups can have an outsized impact on increasing diversity. [Figure 4.6]

ERGs can also increase diversity through referrals. Targeted referral programs – asking employees for referrals – that leveraged ERGs turbocharged those programs and increased diversity. [Figure 4.7]


  • As an ERG member, the best way to use the ERG to increase diversity is to assist with recruiting efforts, refer diverse people to jobs, and to encourage other ERG members to do likewise.
  • ERGs can encourage their members to be a mentor / mentee.
  • High-level individuals in an ERG can be a mentor for other ERG members – ideally these are cross-ERG pairings.

Use flex time

[From chapter 6: Work-life Help for Everyone]

Flex time, the ability to adjust one’s work schedule to better accommodate work/life balance, is a major contributor to increasing diversity. [Figure 6.1] Many companies, including Invitae, support some form of flex time for many roles.

The challenge is that just because a company has flex time policies does not mean that using it is culturally acceptable. People may not take advantage of flex time because they are worried that doing so will negatively impact their career. Creating a culture where it is not only acceptable but encouraged to take advantage of flex time policies can help.


  • High-level individual contributors can lead by example and take advantage of flex time and other time-off policies (PTO, parental leave, etc) and encourage others to do so.

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