Today, more than ever, business owners and managers realize the importance of creating employment opportunities for people of many different backgrounds. Companies should be seeking qualified candidates to develop a diverse workforce, but too often, invisible barriers hinder their efforts. What can you do to make diversity part of your company culture?

Start ASAP

Start addressing diversity within your company as soon as you possibly can. The first step is recognizing the need, so that you can take steps in the right direction. Begin by taking note of what the company looks like, what the market looks like, and what you are currently doing that may be impacting diversity, whether for the better or not.

Check yourself for stereotypes and biases

Determine if you, as the business leader, are guilty of holding any stereotypes or biases. Take a hard look at your own thoughts and actions and try to determine if you are ever making decisions based on these personal feelings or beliefs, no matter how unconscious they may be. Do your best to eliminate these biases and take yourself to task. Recognize that such feelings are counterproductive, and work to eliminate any lurking bias.

Think outside the box when recruiting

When looking at potential new hires, don't just stick to the obvious channels. Consider looking beyond the same old job sites and even the traditional educational credentials.

"Talk to local organizations with community connections, including churches, cultural institutions and colleges," suggests The Wall Street Journal in a guide on how to increase workplace diversity. "They can help you connect with candidates. You can also enlist help from nonprofits like the Urban League, the National Council of La Raza or from websites like that offer searchable channels of minority job hunters. But don’t limit yourself to local chapters or schools. If you have something to offer out-of-area workers, expand your search to other cities, states or countries. The Internet makes it easy to cast a wide net."1

You can ask employees and other contacts if they know of any potential candidates, and it can be beneficial not to focus as much on college credentials. People are able to learn many skills without having to get a degree. Not everyone is able to afford a higher education, especially from prestigious institutions, but that does not mean they haven't explored their education in other ways, such as interning, online courses, on-the-job experience, etc.

Take a hard look at your application and interview questions

Make sure your company appears welcoming to all qualified candidates. It doesn't hurt to note your desire for a diverse team in your job descriptions and listings. Take a look at your application. Does it require applicants to share their gender, race, age, etc.? Eliminate these questions, as they can be off-putting to someone who is worried they will be discriminated against.

It's also a good idea to have a set of interview questions that you ask every candidate regardless of their identity. Stick to these questions and do not change them based on the person you're interviewing. This helps eliminate bias in the interview process.

It can be helpful to put together a panel of people within your company, preferably as diverse as possible, to make decisions at different phases of recruitment and employee advancement so that different points of view are expressed.

Think employee retention

Diversity doesn't stop at hiring. It's something you need to be thinking about when it comes to employee retention, as well. Ensure the work environment you are providing is welcoming to all. Discuss diversity often to hold yourself accountable over time and to get others in the same mindset. Make it clear that harassment or discrimination of any type will not be tolerated.

Talk to your employees and ask for feedback about what you can be doing to make your company a better place to work. Encourage anonymous feedback, as well. Conduct exit interviews when employees leave the company,and try to get honest feedback about why they are leaving so that you can look for areas of improvement.

Remember that diversity is never a goal that will be "accomplished." In other words, you shouldn't set a quota and decide you've done enough. There is always room to improve, and as long as you are keeping diversity in mind over time and taking actions to strive for more, you will remain moving in the right direction.