Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: Because Better is BetterArticle by Maynard Brusman, September 12, 2020
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: Because Better is Better
How does your organization approach diversity, equity, and inclusion?
While many leaders believe they have taken adequate steps to correct or avoid inequalities in the workplace with policies, promotion, and training, all too often we hear about employees who experience some form of exclusion or inequity, including lack of promotion, outright harassment, and even worse.
Being excluded at work is not fun. Even in times when most people are working remotely, being left out can intensify a sense of alienation, which impacts our happiness and performance. This is even more critical for small businesses: according to a 2019 survey, 52% of small businesses report labor quality as their biggest challenge.
Imagine, then, the impact when co-workers and leaders ignore an ongoing problem.
What if the exclusion(s) were due to your ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation? How do you address diversity, equity and inclusion problems in your organization?
Social psychologist and researcher Robert Livingston, author of The Conversation: How Seeking and Speaking the Truth About Racism Can Radically Transform Individuals and Organizations, (Random House 2021) writes in the September-October 2020 issue of Harvard Business Review that the real challenge is not figuring out what to do, it’s our willingness. We’re able, but unwilling. Perhaps it’s a bit of both.
The concept that diversity will trickle up to the C-level suites is fundamentally flawed.
According to research conducted between September and November 2019 by Mercer, an HR consulting company that works with the US Census Bureau, Caucasians fill 64% of entry level positions and 85% of top executive positions, demonstrating a promotion and equity gap. “The representation of people of color (both men and women) decreases incrementally as career levels rise.” Let’s Get Real About Equality (2020, p 22.)
To be sure, a diverse and inclusive culture is critical to attract, retain, and engage employees, as well as clients. It helps to improve efficiencies, innovation, and productivity. Inclusive cultures foster stronger work performance and customer relationships. Without equity and inclusion, diversity falls short. According to new research published by Columbia Business School, people need a sense of belonging.
Given today’s challenges with an ongoing pandemic, and a polarizing political climate, is this even possible?
The biggest obstacle to hope and change is cynicism and apathy. Don’t let that happen in your organization. We can do better, and better is better.
We need to become aware of the problems, analyze the root-cause(s), practice empathy, and sometimes, make hard choices to the point of sacrifice. But in the long run, when we invest our time and effort in real strategies that work, the return on investment is worth it.
Increase Accountability and Transparency
To be sure, we are making some progress when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion. But based on the conversations I’m having with leaders and managers, this is not top of mind right now. And I understand: given the state of our economy and ongoing uncertainty, keeping the cash flowing and business open has taken focus for many leaders. However, it seems to me this is the perfect time to examine our practices, gather data, and do some honest analysis.
As Harvard University psychologists Tessa E.S. Charlesworth and Mahzarin R. Banaji found in their research and published in What Works, “New data from nearly 6 million respondents shows that implicit (and explicit) attitudes/beliefs about minority groups can and do improve over the long-term (sexuality, race, skin tone, and gender roles).” They found that over a 10-year period, a widespread change occurred across most demographic groups.
What’s going on in your organization? How do you track diversity?
The Power of Survey
A simple, anonymous employee survey works well when the same questions are asked and tabulated over a period of time. Companies such as SurveyMonkey offer templates that can be used electronically, and anonymously. This is key, especially when measuring for feelings, beliefs, and feedback on equity and inclusion.
Track your diversity and increase accountability and transparency with these steps:
- Complete a SWOT analysis:
- Collect data over time, including personnel transitions , discrimination complaints and outcomes, and employee surveys:
- Create a template of questions to be asked and answered anonymously; offer a range of answer choices from which participants can choose, as well as an opportunity for a comment.
- Ensure the survey reaches all employees and that they have adequate instructions and time to complete and return the survey anonymously.
- Tabulate the results to establish your baseline.
- Periodically, re-survey all employees asking the same questions.
- Tabulate the results.
- Analyze trends.
- Compare your data over time, and compare it to other organizations.
- Where are you seeing improvement in recruitment, hiring, promotion, pay, and retention?
- Where do you need to improve?
- Create goals. This is a critical step in the process: it lays the foundation for accountability and transparency.
- Share your anonymous results with all employees.
- Celebrate trends as they improve.
- Establish SMART goals for areas needing improvement.
- Educate all employees on how their attitudes and actions contribute to results, especially matters regarding inclusion.
- Collect data over time, including personnel transitions , discrimination complaints and outcomes, and employee surveys:
Uncover Hidden Hiring Bias
While human bias can change over time, employee surveys often reveal slow progress in perceived bias, especially when it comes to promotion and equity. Here are a few suggestions that work in any organization, regardless of size:
- Post the position in a broad range of forums, networks, or organizations, including those that work with the under-represented.
- Don’t discriminate by asking for classification-specific applicants or referrals, rather, include a mission statement and/or diversity statement in your post: how your organization is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion for all of its employees and clients: the stakeholders.
- Create a diverse interviewer panel, a consistent set of interview questions, and scoring criteria relevant to an accurate job description of essential qualifications.
- Ask every applicant for their definition of diversity. As a follow-up, ask how they have promoted diversity, equity, and inclusion through their previous work experiences.
- Document your recruiting, hiring, and promotion process. Retain copies of the job posting, applications and resumes, and notes from interviews or discussions on promotions.
If you haven’t already, identify a diversity officer or diversity task force to create hiring and promotion plans, and to review outcomes and disparities. Look to your managers, at all levels, as potential participants in the task force.
What You Need to Know about Hiring Technology
Some businesses also leverage technology to assist in their recruiting and hiring process to reduce discrimination. Of course, it must be carefully designed in order to avoid pitfalls and achieve fair hiring: absent of disparate treatment and disparate impact.
For example, when a resume is discarded because of the name (e.g., a traditionally female name, or the assumption that the person is Black) the discrimination is overt, intentional, and is a form of disparate treatment. When the overall effect of the selection process disproportionately disadvantages members of demographic group, disparate impact discrimination has occurred.
Technology can be used to promote fairer hiring practices, however, it must ensure that human biases have not been codified. In assessing technology, look for:
- Data that demonstrates fairness throughout all demographics
- Candidate assessments and selections that are relevant to job requirements
- Disparate impact testing prior to deployment
- Ability to conceal demographic indicators from decision makers to enable objective human assessment
- Tools that mitigate the risk of human bias in decision making
- Tools that audit for disparate impact
Two important notes: beware of small samplings or group sizes in data sets, and review algorithms. This is critical to demonstrate fairness, objectivity, and relevancy, especially in terms of predicting outcomes and success.
Share your employment processes with all employees. This includes the criteria for hiring, promotion, salary and bias/discrimination complaints. Share your employment composition data with the public, and if possible, how it compares to other businesses in your segment and geography.
Create Safe Reporting Alternatives
How do employees in your organization report a harassment or discrimination complaint?
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, over 39,000 retaliation-based discrimination charges were filed in 2019. Unfortunately, many of our complaint systems are not working.
In What Works, researchers Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev report that formal grievance procedures actually slow progress in diversity, equity, and inclusion of minority men and women in management. Instead, organizations and leaders can offer alternatives, including:
- A neutral party to receive confidential complaints, such as an ombudsperson. Their role is to listen and provide guidance to resolve issues. Developing a pool of well trained and skilled ombudpersons can improve potential conflict of interest risk.
- An external, third party mediator. Their role is to listen and advise. Mediators are commonly available through an employee assistance program.
- A dispute resolution department, either internal or external. Their role is to represent—or arbitrate for—both parties in mediation on a variety of issues. However, when there is a power difference between parties, or when termination is the remedy, complaints may go unresolved in a satisfactory manner.
- A transformative dispute resolution model designed to change the workplace. At its core, this model is designed to change the workplace by improving self-awareness, skills, and accountability through training, and sometimes, in policies and processes.
Of course, equity and inclusion ultimately depend on leadership attitudes. When leaders perceive complaints as threats, they miss the opportunity to gain valuable insights. By balancing speed with quality in finding solutions, they gain insights.
Engage All Stakeholders
Leaders often face pressure from clients and other stakeholders for swift change and immediate impact. When they approach change methodically, ensuring a strong foundation is in place, they may be criticized for their slow progress and perceived lack of effort. If they move too swiftly or broadly—without a full understanding of where and how their culture needs to change—their efforts may fail.
Instead, leaders can create a culture of equality and inclusivity with best practices and proven methods that can be quickly and successfully implemented with little or no customization and at low cost.
Balance Speed with Proven Strategies
- Diagnostics: Assess the local context. Your diagnostics should include research on your own business, as well as the local, or relevant, geographic demographics and statistics, including pay scales. This is important for equality comparisons and goal setting.
- Engage influencers: Invite willing and able actors, especially managers, in the design process. Rather than hiring outside experts that design and deploy, engage your stakeholders. Ask your managers to conduct reality checks: how does this impact current systems, processes, and ways of doing business?
- Create your model of change: Take local context into account when formulating a plan by identifying a target of change and where it is most likely to improve. Understand the experiences of specific groups of underrepresented minorities, that one-size-does-not-fit-all, and that minority voices are not heard until they reach 30% critical mass.
- Build momentum: Begin with the most engaged departments, teams, or individuals. Incorporate bystander training to equip and empower everyone. Celebrate accomplishments as progress is made.
The Key to Inclusion
Great leaders understand that diversity and inclusion are not the same. While companies can mandate diversity, they have to cultivate inclusion. This begins with a genuine interest in, and for, other individuals.
People instinctively yearn for inclusion; belonging is a part of our hierarchical needs to achieve our potential and peak performance. Our sense of belonging is relative to our sense of security and safety. Leaders who support diversity, equality, and inclusion provide a safe and equitable work environment.
Great leaders get to know individuals. They learn about their unique strengths, experiences, and needs. The best leaders demonstrate their understanding and care by recognizing individuals with respect.
Managers play a key role in this. As Michael Slepian writes for Harvard Business Review (August 2020), “Managers should not only signal that a social identity is valued, but also that the individual is valued, as a person, not just on the basis of the social group they represent.”
Most individuals don’t want to be asked to speak on behalf of their social group; they don’t want to be singled out in this manner. Instead, get to know the individual, and ask them to share their thoughts based on their strengths and unique experiences. People don’t want to be included solely because of their social group. People want their social group to be included and their individual self to belong.
Dr. Maynard Brusman
Consulting Psychologist & Executive Coach
Trusted Leadership Advisor
Professional Certified Coach (PCC), International Coach Federation
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Tags: diversity, emotional intelligence, equity, executive coaching, inclusion, leadership development, mindful leadership