Diversity & Inclusion: CEO in Action

With an increased focus on the importance and benefits of workplace diversity, organizations are experimenting to attempt to figure out the “secret sauce” to truly achieving a diverse and inclusive workforce. However, all too often, companies only tackle either training or recruitment which is a fraction of the equation. They lose sight of why they are even implementing strategies. The bottom line is organizations need to increase diversity to make better decisions that can yield excellent business results.

I met an executive deeply committed to diversity and inclusion who encounters a lot of resistance from middle managers about the implementation of diversity and inclusion (D&I) policies. To better understand the issue, I interviewed middle managers and recruiters in charge D&I strategy implementation.

First, I talked to recruiters tasked with meeting various recruitment quotas. These recruiters expressed their frustration with a perceived lack of training and accountability for middle managers to hire a more diverse workforce. They mentioned that panels are composed of primarily white managers who often argue that they are not willing to “lower their standards” when it comes to hiring. According to these recruiters, the general perception at the middle manager level is that hiring a minority candidate means lowering the bar. The same argument was given by a board of directors to the CEO of a financial institution who was attempting to diversify the board. It became clear that there is a major problem with perception. Simply put, minority candidates are perceived as less qualified compared to Caucasian candidates.

Then, I went to middle managers to hear straight from the horse’s mouth. The managers I interviewed had all attended some unconscious bias training but felt it was unnecessary because their teams were already diverse. They were more concerned with whether, and how, D&I staff could help them do the job better. They insisted that finding qualified women to fill open engineering positions is almost impossible in a male-dominated field.

The Problem

Systemic Bias

The brain is built to read patterns and create shortcuts to make rapid statistical judgments. At some level, we are all biased by design. That’s not something we can permanently change. It is counterintuitive for the brain to assess assumptions and act on logical behaviors. Therefore, we need help from our organizational environment to trigger the right behaviors.

Too many diversity strategies solely focused on training about our biases and employees are interpreting this information as something is wrong with them; naturally, they don’t want to hear it.

Minority Branding

Around the world, we are bombarded with images of successful people who are primarily white. It should not come as a surprise then that there is a statistical judgment that results in people of color being deemed less competent or successful. The underlying message is that being “white is cool” while other skin colors are deemed less so.

From the moment a person of color shows up to an interview, they have to demonstrate that their skin color has nothing to do with their intelligence or competence. It’s hard to change people’s perceptions. That’s even more certain when those perceptions are reinforced through systemic messaging. Think of a brand you love. How likely are you to open your mind to a new brand?

To compound, this is the lack of emphasis on the strength of diverse teams to make solid decisions and bring superior organizational results.

The Solution

Debiased Your Employee Experience

Map the employee’s experience, analyze and seek to remove bias from the points that are leading to skewed results. Bias can exist at any stage, including recruiting, hiring, promotion, engagement, training and benefit distribution.

Assessment

Start by reviewing all your organizational processes and policies that may be leading to biased behavior. Collect survey data, observations and interviews to get a baseline and determine the best course of action. Pay special attention to the language used throughout your policy manuals for biases.

Then, assess your physical space. Do you have images of women or minorities in positions of power or success? If you want to know how inclusive your workplace is, ask Neural Shifts to test your organization’s psychological safety.

Examine Your HR Processes for Hiring and Promotion

Recruitment

Study your hiring processes. Are you using only referral programs to recruit people? If this is the case, you may want to reach out to other universities with minority candidates to diversify your candidate pool. If your job postings are attracting only one kind of candidate learn how Johnson & Johnson utilizes technology to increase the ratio of female applicants and diversify their applicant pool. You can use Be Applied to quickly & free analyze your job descriptions and shift recruitment and interviewing processes with technology.

Interviewing

In the hiring process to avoid creating groupthink among hiring managers to ensure that feedback for candidates doesn’t get shared with other managers prior to collecting the full picture of the candidate.

Retention

Remember that Diversity &Inclusion does not end with the hiring process. Examine your promotion data for patterns of racial, gender, age, or other biases. When you are ready to promote, Iris Bohnet a behavioral professor at Harvard suggests comparing more than one candidate at the same time. [For more information read Iris Bohnet’s book “What works; Gender Equality by design]

Leadership Development

To create an immediate impact review your high potentials pool and remove any barriers that prevent diverse candidates to qualify for. Also, ensure the program provided for your female workforce offer negotiation skill training and second-generation gender bias. Want to expose your employees to the most effective training? See Neural Shifts customized offers.

Recognize and Evangelize

Analyze data that pertains to the decisions your diverse teams make and compare it to your less diverse teams. If you find positive relationships between team composition and decision making partner with your marketing department to roll out campaigns recognizing minority individuals’ contributions and team contributions as a result of the best decisions made. Was your company’s latest hit produced by a diverse team? Interview them to learn where in the product cycle they made critical decisions that led them to craft the best product. Share the team’s journey and the story of their struggle throughout the decision-making process and ultimately their success.

Raise Awareness through Training

Should you stop providing D&I training? No. People need to raise their awareness of biased behavior in order to make changes. Training should focus on learning about oneself and gaining cultural competence in others’ behaviors. Effectiveness will hinge on the facilitator’s ability to engage the whole person — not just their logical brain. We offer a power dynamics simulation training that engages the whole self were people identified their biases when being placed in positions of power or not power.

Create an Open Space for Dialogue

According to research conducted by Gordon W. Allport, the best way to counter the brain’s statistical error is to expose people to other ways of being and thinking through open dialogue, something Allport called “intergroup contact theory.” Thomas Pettigrew’s research amplified these findings through meta-analysis, finding that “intergroup contact” works because it affects us on an emotional level. Even when our logical brain remains biased, we now like the other person. [Citations: “Reducing Prejudice and Discrimination” (Erlbaum, 2000).]

Absolutely the best way to counter biases is to expose people to others’ ideas and ways of being. Research on racial biases has shown that Caucasians’ amygdalae become activated when they see images of African Americans, and vice-versa. Amygdala activation leads to a feeling of threat, activating the fight or flight response. The best way to dampen this effect is to engage pre-frontal cortex abilities like reframing to create a new meaning of the data.

Managers should seek to create opportunities for positive interactions between people from diverse backgrounds. The objective should be to facilitate the development of close relationships with people from other groups. This, in turn, is likely to lead to positive generalizations about the entire group. Are you organizing learning sessions? with the purpose to explore people’ biases, fears and drive new understanding.

Benefits

Are the benefits of your organization only ping pong tables and beer? Think about the needs of parents such as parental leave or even remote work options for more flexibility. Does your office space welcome people with disabilities? Ensure that people in wheelchairs have accessible entry points to your meetings. Have you asked your diverse candidates about their needs?

In sum, fostering a diverse and inclusive workforce requires a systematic approach to examining policies and procedures, but the potential benefits go far beyond simply checking off boxes to meet diversity quotas.

Neural Shifts
administrator
VENUS REKOW is a behavioral architect, researcher and facilitator whose passion lies on creating diverse & equitable organizations. She translates scientific insights into actionable best practices. Venus conducts research on psychological safety and inclusion practices to help her clients strengthen their organizational cultures. As the founder of Neural Shifts, she uses her behavioral analytical skills to get to the root of behavior and facilitate meaningful and lasting change. She holds a B.S. in psychology from Boise State University; a M.S. in Organizational Development form Seattle University; a M.S. in Neuroscience from University of Oberta, Spain; and a Certified executive coach form the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching and the Neuroleadership Institute.
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