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Creating Workforce Diversity in Self-Storage: Your Hiring Attitudes and Practices

Creating Workforce Diversity in Self-Storage: Your Hiring Attitudes and Practices
Diversity has become a character of some of the world’s best corporate cultures. You know what it is, but perhaps not how to establish it as part of your self-storage workforce. It all starts with examining and challenging your hiring attitudes and practices.

Years ago, I was sitting in a meeting with a past employer, discussing our goals in making new hires. We talked about desirable traits to seek in job candidates such as leadership, organization and self-motivation—all good characteristics to find in an employee. Then my boss busted out with, “What I mean is, we need to find a good family man.”

I responded by saying we shouldn’t unfairly pigeonhole people and hire based on superficial factors, or we’d pass over many qualified applicants. He then cracked a couple of tasteless jokes. I lost a lot of respect for him that day.

Workplace diversity is so much more than a multi-cultural photo proudly displayed on a website. There’s no easy way to accomplish it, but it has true benefits for a company. In fact, some of the most successful businesses in the world are so because of their commitment to team diversity. So, how do you achieve it in your self-storage operation? Here are a few ways to begin.

Examine Your Hiring Practices

The best place to start is to scrutinize your approach to hiring. In self-storage, our customers come to us from all walks of life and all types of backgrounds. To best serve those patrons and ensure company success, you don’t want a staff of homogenized clones.

Employers sometimes make the mistake of hiring for a specific “fit,” meaning they look for people who make them feel comfortable but often add very little diversity to the job pool. But the fact is, hiring people from different circumstances ensures a richer combined history of experience. Every employee should bring a unique perspective to his or her role, so the company can benefit from that matchless insight.

Hiring for diversity also helps create a culture of inclusion. Have you ever been the one person in a group who whose culture, faith, political ideology, etc., didn’t align with everyone else’s? It’s lonely and awkward, isn’t it?

So, take a long, hard look at your hiring practices. Ask someone from outside your company to serve as an independent auditor and look at the process from a candidate’s perspective. Would a person of color, or a transgender person, or a disabled person have a fair shot? Would they even want to apply after reading your employment ad? What challenges are there? Is there something you can do to improve your approach to hiring?

Address Company Bias

As humans, we all have prejudices. If you’re serious about reducing the biases in your self-storage hiring process, you have to first discover what they are. Here are a few examples:

  • Glare bias: During the interview, you put too much weight on how the candidate looks and dresses.
  • Overconfidence bias: You have a good gut feeling about this person, believing you’re a good reader of people.
  • Similarity bias: You hire people who are most like you. Be careful of this one!
  • Stereotype bias: You discriminate (knowingly or unknowingly) based on gender, age, race, ethnicity, sexual preference, etc.
  • Confirmation bias: Your impression of the candidate is based on your assumption of the church or some other organization to which he belongs. All the person’s comments enforce your belief.

Answer this honestly: Have you ever rejected a job application based solely on the candidate’s name? For example, have you passed over a DeShawn in favor of a Scott or a Juanita in favor of a Katie?

In the spirit of full transparency, I’ve passed over an “ethnic” name in favor of one that was easier for me. I don’t consider myself racist, but by that very small action, I denied an individual an opportunity to grow and progress in his life. That humble pie has been eaten, the pill swallowed. Now, I recognize how easy it is to let unconscious bias interfere in hiring and have put safeguards in place to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Challenge Yourself

Today’s job pool is much different than the one of 20 years ago. You need to ask yourself hard questions around your self-storage staff practices. How do you handle it when someone from a different race, cultural background or sexual orientation applies for a job with your company? Do you treat that person the same as someone who might “fit right in”? If you or others on your leadership team aren’t as open to diversity as you should be, start making changes—now.

You must consistently challenge your approach to ensure you’re making the best decisions for your self-storage operation. If you aren’t directly involved in hiring, challenge those who are. Push yourselves to define what qualifications the “best” candidate possesses, focusing on capability and skills. Of course, it’s important that applicants meet your expectations, but it’s also vital that those expectations are legitimately job-related.

Finally, always hire people who can make positive contributions to your company culture rather than those who are an “easy fit.” Don’t look for those who blend in. Create an inclusive workplace, one where employees’ thoughts, opinions and suggestions are valued, especially when they deviate from the norm. It should be a place where staff feel safe to be themselves without fear of being ostracized. When you truly hire the best contender, regardless of how he or she looks or sounds, that’s when you achieve true diversity in the workplace and the best possible version of your self-storage company.

Rick Beal is a co-founder of Atomic Storage Group, a third-party management and consulting firm for the self-storage industry. To contact him, email rick@atomicstoragegroup.com. To stay up-to-date with his publications and speaking engagements, visit www.linkedin.com/in/storagerick.

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