Diversity and inclusion aren’t just corporate buzzwords; they’re statistically proven competitive advantages. “More diverse companies are better able to attract top talent; to improve their customer orientation, employee satisfaction, and decision making; and to secure their license to operate,” says global research firm McKinsey and Company. Their most recent study confirmed a significant correlation between diversity and financial performance.
That’s why companies are scrambling to hire diverse teams (LinkedIn called it one of 2018’s biggest recruitment trends) and trumpeting their commitment to being an equal-opportunity workplace. However, experts say that it takes more than a company motto and hiring memo to break down a bias -- especially since it’s part of human nature.
Our brain is built to play favorites
Psychologists have studied biases for decades, filling journals with studies proving that people have subconscious, unarticulated preferences and assumptions. For example, we tend to seek those who share our beliefs, background and cognitive styles (similarity attraction effect), we favor information that confirms our beliefs (confirmation bias), or we assume that someone who is good in one area will succeed at everything else (halo effect).
So to create diversity, it’s not enough to put a bunch of different people into the same team. “Organizations should consider making structural changes, implementing transparent, data-driven solutions, and [giving] a visceral understanding of how bias impacts decision making, talent decisions, and business outcomes,” says this Deloitte report on Diversity and Inclusion: The Reality Gap.
Here are some steps that companies have taken to create authentic diversity and get concrete and measurable results.
“Discrimination is still a reality,” said Sonia Kang, who led a two-year study that revealed that bias begins even before a person is hired. She and her colleagues sent out 1,600 resumes to employers. Those they had “whitened” -- removed names or information that revealed their African American or Asian ethnicity -- were twice as likely to get called for an interview.
For a fairer recruitment process, companies are turning to artificial intelligence tools that can rank resumes for relevant skills and backgrounds, or are programmed to ignore information known to skew human decisions: demographics like age, gender, schools attended or home address. AI tools can also highlight candidates who meet diversity targets.
Pay gap reporting
In 2018, Iceland and the United Kingdom became the first countries to require companies to publish their gender pay gaps. The transparency and accountability created by pay gap reporting are a step forward in protecting women’s right to receive equal pay for equal work.
But according to Business Insider, companies shouldn’t stop there. Women often have limited work opportunities and hours because they need to care for their children. They may also be denied promotions because management measures commitment and productivity by the hours they spend at the office. “Closing the gender wage gap involves changing how jobs are structured and remunerated in a way that enhances flexible work schedules,” says Harvard University professor Claudia Goldin.
Nevertheless, gender pay gap reporting can be extended to include race and disability, and begins a discussion on what women face in the workplace.
“Building an inclusive culture takes research, thought, and even a willingness to be uncomfortable. Too often, though, companies settle for lip service, stating goals first and asking questions later — or not at all,” says Ciara Trinidad, former head of D&I for Lever.
Trinidad used a dashboard that analyzed data points that were relevant to the company’s diversity and inclusion goals. “My favorite cut of the data was hires by month, by team. That really showed me how recruiters were faring against our diversity and inclusion strategies,” says Trinidad. “It also showed me how their recruiting climate worked.” Other filters revealed hires by race, tenure and team.
Trinidad would then analyze this information with stakeholders to understand the reasons for the numbers and to clarify the next steps. For example, they saw that most of their tech hires were white. The company responded by posting openings on job boards at historically black colleges.
Hiring diversity specialists
Diversity involves breaking down a lot of barriers that most people aren’t aware of: subconscious personal biases, a toxic company culture that undermines psychological safety and honest conversation, training for leaders, evaluation of hiring and performance management processes, and many more.
That’s why ISHN predicts that more companies will engage industrial organization and diversity specialists who can implement these programs in a systematic and consistent way. In many cases, they work with the communications department and the individual team leaders so that diversity and inclusion permeate what people think and how they work.
Without this strategic approach, diversity and inclusion programs can be slapstick, band-aid measures that overlook the real problem or fail to reap the full benefits of a diverse team.
Diversity specialists can diagnose issues and make recommendations, but the organization’s managers and team leaders need to champion the cause in their own sphere of influence.
That means a whole new breed of leaders who understand why diversity and inclusion are important and are then held accountable for outcomes, as well as their own behavior. “We identify commitment, courage, cognizance of bias, curiosity, cultural intelligence and collaboration as the six traits of an inclusive leader. We encourage companies to include these capabilities in their leadership assessment and leadership development procedures,” says Deloitte on Diversity and Inclusion at the Workplace.
In an interview with The Economist, leadership consultant Art Hopkins says executives need to challenge the status quo. Ask yourself:
- Is my environment ready to embrace a diverse workforce?
- Do I value diversity of background and thought?
- Am I aware of biases and willing to confront them?
Management plays a critical role in developing these leadership traits, through training programs or platforms that allow mentoring, discussion, and feedback.
“[Leaders] must see business sense in diversity, act as authentic role models, have the courage to address employees’ fear around discussing diversity, and finally, create an environment where employees feel like they belong,” says Hopkins.