What Hamilton can teach us about reaching diversity goals

For years now, major tech companies have touted commitments to diversifying their teams. And for good reason. For example, only 5.5% of Google employees and under 4% of Facebook employees are Black. Recent media coverage of the Black Lives Matter movement has compelled execs to focus even more on inclusion.

But as I talk to my HR contacts around the country or hiring managers at various tech companies, I hear a common refrain: “We want to hire more diverse candidates but there doesn’t seem to be a pool of qualified candidates of color to choose from.”

Even as companies push job listings on diversity recruitment sites or diversity career fairs, the sentiment seems unchanged. So how do companies reverse the inequity that exists in their employee base – and more importantly in their leadership teams?

A lesson from Hamilton

Thanks to Disney, much of the world has finally witnessed the genius behind the most talked about musical in ages. The genius of Lin Manuel Miranda goes beyond storytelling or the fusion of rap with the musical theater tradition. What Lin created was an environment where people of color not only portray historically White personages in a way that allows you to see past race, but their diversity actually adds to the experience.

In an interview for the documentary One Shot to Broadway, Leslie Odom Jr. shares how the role of Aaron Burr felt like it was written just for him.

This is what I always felt like I was meant to be doing, but I was waiting for Lin to write it.

Jesse Green, co-chief theater critic for The New York Times, puts it best. “To me it was the combination of their exceptional qualities that was stunning,” said Green. “That they were able to find so many people who could perform very difficult work so brilliantly, and now with a second cast, and with a touring cast. It’s not like they are having trouble finding these people. They have been waiting for something to come along with which they could show who they are.

In a recent Indiewire article Casting Director Bethany Knox shared her experience casting for Hamilton.

Lin was pretty set on making sure the diversity was there to tell the story. We really just started auditioning people, and the characters sort of fell into place.

In the end, most of the leading roles went to people of color, and the result was beautiful.

What you can do to increase diversity hiring

Sure, Lin Manuel may be in a league of his own, but there are lessons that can be applied into any business whose goal it is to increase diversity hiring. 

  1. Envision people of color doing the jobs that you are currently recruiting for.
  2. Write your job descriptions and roles to not only attract people of color but embody their talents and unique contributions.
  3. Offer an environment that fosters not only a diverse hire, but a diverse team for your employees to thrive in. A Hamilton cast with only one person of color would not have been nearly the same as the experience with a stage full of diverse talent.
  4. Promote your employees of color. As companies eventually meet their diversity commitments, it’s important to see if those jobs are mostly just entry-level and middle-management or if they reach the executive team and board room.

There’s nothing more encouraging to employees of color than looking at the leadership page on their company’s website and seeing people that look like them. And as those leadership teams more closely reflect the demographics of the country as a whole, more children of color will look and see a potential path for them to the board room, and begin to break cycles and shatter ceilings.

Understand that your candidates of color may not have the connections or even the full experience that you are looking for. It’s not just inclusion but equity that you can offer in your hiring process. You will be pleasantly surprised at what can be accomplished when you take a chance on a person of color. We are not throwing away our shot.