Over five years of writing blogs, I have noticed that posts on diversity and inclusion are often the least read. Today, are you ready to reflect on the nation’s crisis with civil rights and social unrest and the failure of corporate America to do its part? Are you prepared to take meaningful, abiding action?
The horrific videos showing the homicide of the unarmed and handcuffed George Floyd by four Minneapolis police officers and the ensuing two weeks of protests across the country have raised the consciousness of many corporate executives.
Now, how to respond? Many executives have broken their silence and posted heartfelt, moving posts either on Twitter or to their workforces, reaffirming their pledge for equality in the workplace and calling for a more just America.
But pledges and donations to human and social justice organizations only go so far. It is time for real action.
First, executives should examine their own unconscious biases and the level of unconscious bias, harassment, and discrimination that exists in their organizations. And, most importantly, to take the problematic and abiding action this month to truly create an unbiased and performance-driven organization.
This self-reflection and renewal of a truly color-and-gender blind meritocracy is justified not only on moral and legal grounds but also on improving financial performance.
Organizations that are diverse–racially, ethnically and in terms of gender–achieve better financial results than ones that are not.
The empirical evidence from McKinsey and others, such as economist at MIT and George Washington, shows that having women and people of color on boards, in leadership positions, and more diverse workforces drive improved revenue and profitability. In their latest report, released in May 2020, the McKinsey authors write:
“In 2019, top-quartile [financially performing] companies outperformed those in the fourth quarter by 36 percent in profitability, slightly up from 33 percent in 2017 and 35 percent in 2014. As previously found, the likelihood of out performance continues to be higher for diversity in ethnicity than for gender.”
But the overall progress on diversity and inclusion is stalling and uneven, slipping backwards in some companies, and accelerating in others. Again, McKinsey’s authors:
“By following the trajectories of hundreds of companies in our data set since 2014, we find that the overall slow growth in diversity often observed in fact masks a growing polarization among these organizations. While most have made little progress, are stalled or even slipping backward, some are making impressive gains in diversity, particularly in executive teams. We show that these diversity winners are adopting systematic, business-led approaches to inclusion and diversity (I&D).”
The chart below illustrates McKinsey’s findings on those companies making progress with executive diversity, those falling behind, and those “resting on their laurels”:
Clearly progress has stalled with many corporations and there is progress to be made. Now, is not the time for the resting on laurels or falling behind. It is the time to make real progress with diversity and inclusion.
Here are seven steps your company can take to renew your commitment to diversity and inclusion and drive real change.
First, assess your own unconscious bias and resolve to change it.
We all have biases. Admitting to them does not make you a bigot or sexist. The actions of bigots and sexists are conscious and deliberate.
Unconscious bias is an attitude or stereotype that affects an individual’s understanding, behavior, and decision-making without the individual consciously realizing it, most of the time. Scientists have observed such biases using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology. Psychology Today recognizes unconscious bias as real and measurable. It is demonstrated by all of us, despite our most altruistic and equitable intentions.[i]
Executives can consider their own unconscious biases during a time of deep reflection or through a facilitated group discussion, and there is a scientifically developed test for it, the Harvard Implicit Association Test (IAT). The IAT measures attitudes and beliefs that people may be unwilling or are unable to report. More than six million people have taken the IAT since 1998. Its purpose is to create awareness of unconscious bias and then enable the person to manage their implicit biases better.[ii] Awareness is one of the first steps to combat unconscious bias. Training is also effective.
Second, align diversity initiatives to your organization’s purpose and business strategies and be prepared to make a long-term commitment for your company.
History has taught us that companies can make firm commitments to diversity only to turn to another priority the next year and lose focus. When the company has aligned its focus on diversity to the purpose of the organization and its strategies, there is a higher probability that its diversity effort will be long lasting and drive financial results.
Third, address how you make hiring decisions.
Research dating back 65 years ago shows that first impressions in the initial four minutes of an interview play a dominant role in shaping an interviewer’s decision, establishing a bias that colors all subsequent interviewer-interviewee interaction. In many ways, the interview is a search for negative information, and just one unfavorable impression was followed by a rejection decision 90 percent of the time.[iii]
First impressions are influenced considerably by nonverbal cues, such as greater direct eye contact, smiling, attentive posture, smaller interpersonal distance, and a direct body orientation.[iv] A more recent study found that first impression judgments are made in the first ten seconds, and the hiring manager spends the rest of the interview trying to confirm the first impression.[v]
Research shows that unconscious biases in interviewing can be significantly reduced by using artificial intelligent platforms that search and match candidates based on the true criteria for a job. These platforms, such as ThisWay Global, often present job candidates to hiring managers without disclosing names or pictures to prevent human biases.
The use of validated assessments to measure bona fide job qualifications, skills and competencies also reduces unconscious bias. Developing structured interviews that ask questions based on the actual traits of the companies most successful performers also significantly reduces unconscious bias. Finally, allow managers to interview only after they have gone through training on how to conduct a structured interview.[vi]
Fourth, foster inclusion.
Our research at InnovationOne shows that a significant predictor of innovation and financial success for organizations is how “connected”, involved, and “heard” employees feel by their immediate manager and co-workers. Inclusion, to be sure, is not just a feel-good measure about having minorities and women, it is a predictive measure for business and financial success. Fostering inclusion at the team level means having managers who can listen and build relationships built on trust with each team member as well as focusing on goal achievement, providing performance and development feedback, and coaching on how to overcome obstacles.
Fifth, address the criteria you use to make pay, promotion, and succession planning decisions.
As with hiring, the technology exists today to significantly improve an organization’s ability to make pay, promotion, and management succession decisions based on objective information and not just the recommendation of the immediate manager. As discussed in No. 3, above, it requires understanding the true skills and competencies that drive employee success and learning how to assess them. Artificial intelligence platforms can significantly assist organizations in gathering and storing this data, identifying previously unseen correlations, and making the information readily available for decisions on pay, performance, and leadership succession. Analytical tools for performance management, such as Cultivate, point to troubling trends in written communications and judgements by managers. This learning can help correct an unconscious bias.
Equally important is to pay rigorous attention to what your affirmative action plan–which is done on analytical platforms in many companies–is telling you about the equity of these decisions. While many like to decry affirmative action plans as a quota system, that could not be further from the truth in business. Affirmative action plans, when compiled correctly, provide excellent analytical quarterly snapshots on your organization’s trends for hiring, promoting, and paying employees–and identifying areas for improvement and of potential discriminatory outcomes.
Sixth, make diversity a goal for every manager, and not just HR.
HR can and should track progress with diversity and inclusion, but its success is up to management. After executives assess their own unconscious biases, it would be an extraordinarily insightful process to ask managers to do the same. Then, all managers need to have a goal and be held accountable for advancing diversity and inclusion.
Seventh, foster transparency.
As with any business strategy to improve business outcomes and financial performance, it must be measured, and the executive team should show their diversity and inclusion scorecard to employees and shareholders. Fostering inclusion is especially tricky, but organizations that are willing to share their progress, setbacks, plans for future success, and then follow through, will always be better at achieving success.
After two weeks of protests from coast-to-coast, it is fair to say the nation is at a tipping point among today’s youth of all races. Companies that can successfully make earnest progress will have stronger, more unified diverse workforces and better financial success. Are you to reignite your diversity and inclusion effort?
Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting and managing partner of InnovationOne. He works with companies on their post-COVID19 transformations, and to improve their recruiting, HR operations, and develop extraordinary leaders, teams, and cultures of innovation. His new book is Hack Recruiting: the Best of Empirical Research, Method and Process, and Digitization. Subscribe to his weekly blogs at www.VictorHRConsultant.com.
[i] Bernard J Luskin, Ed D., LMFT, “MRIs Reveal Unconscious Biases in the Brain: Shining a Light on an Elephant in the Room,” Psychology Today (April 7, 2016).
[iii] B. I. Bolster and B. M. Springbett, “The Reaction of Interviews to Favorable and Unfavorable Information, Journal of Applied Psychology, 45 (1961): 97-103.
[iv] A. S. Imada and B. W. Hamstra, “Influence of Nonverbal Communication and Rater Proximity on Impressions and Decisions in Simulated Employment Interviews,” Journal of Applied Psychology 62 (1972): 295–300.
[v] J. T. Pricket, N. Gada-Jain, and F. J. Bernieri, “The Importance of First Impressions in a Job Interview,” paper presented at the annual meeting of the Midwestern Psychological Association, Chicago, Illinois (2000). Discovered in Lazlo Bock, Work Rules! Insights from Inside Google that Will Transform How You Live and Lead (New York, Hatchet Book Group, 2015).