Correcting and Dispelling the Myths About Diversity and Inclusion Hiring -- 4 Experts Weigh in
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There’s a lot of talk about diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workplace, and with good reason. We’re inundated with real-life experiences around hot-button issues like #MeToo, the "Asian penalty" in education, age bias in hiring and others. In the business world, corporate executives are waking up to the need for change.
While more companies are involving themselves in creating a more diverse workforce, workplace inclusion issues persist and progress is slow. Myths and misconceptions associated with diversity and inclusion, meanwhile, are holding companies back from making the changes necessary to build more diverse and inclusive teams.
To dive more deeply into the reasons for the slow pace of change, I asked four experts from different backgrounds and experiences about their response to four common D&I myths.
The "diversity pipeline" covers up deeper company hiring issues -- Laura Gee
The belief that a lack of workplace diversity results from a "pipeline problem" has unfortunately been the conventional thinking over the last decade, says Laura Gee, assistant professor of economics at Tufts University. Gee characterized the pipeline problem to me as “the belief that there aren’t enough women, people of color or other individuals from underrepresented groups with the right experience applying for jobs.”
She pointed out that that's not the whole story. In fact, a 2014 USA Today report showed that top universities turned out black and Latinx computer science and computer engineering graduates at twice the rate that leading tech companies were hiring them.
Evidence points to "the pipeline problem" as an easy way to displace the responsibility for nondiverse and noninclusive workplaces onto an external factor.
"A more effective way for a company to tackle the issue is to hire differently," Gee said. "Learn what worked for others and ask whether it’ll work for your company. The changes don’t have to be huge.”
She pointed to a recent Management Science article that found that simply showing the number of current applicants on your online job posting could increase the number of underrepresented individuals who might apply. “What changes can your company make quickly, and which are more long term?" she said. "Ask yourself where your company is right now. Then articulate your goals and find the short- and long-term solutions that’ll get you there."
Transform from the inside to achieve workplace inclusion -- Joelle Emerson
There’s no such thing as an all-in-one, scalable, lasting solution that can be designed to achieve workplace inclusion, according to Joelle Emerson, founder and CEO of Paradigm. Companies must be willing to change the systems, processes and policies they have in place to tackle workplace D&I, she told me.
According to Emerson, systemic, structural barriers to inclusion stem from legacies of exclusion, and exist at every stage of the employee lifecycle, from hiring to growing and retaining employees. Systemic problems ultimately demand systemic solutions. To think that there might be a simple solution to these barriers is appealing, but unfortunately, there is no quick fix for stereotypes and bias, or the organizational processes where these patterns have long been codified.
To cultivate a diverse and inclusive company, decision-makers must evaluate how people-related decisions are made across the employee experience. “They should revisit assumptions about what talent looks like or where it might exist, and make changes to formal policies, practices and subtle organizational norms that benefit some people to the detriment of others,” said Emerson.
"The approach to this issue demands a thoughtful way to use data to identify where barriers exist, designing solutions grounded in research and measuring impact.”
Unconscious bias is widespread; decisions can change that -- Candice Morgan
Another myth came to light from my discussions with Candice Morgan, head of inclusion and diversity at Pinterest. The myth revolves around the kinds of companies that need to champion D&I. Which ones are those? All of them.
Morgan’s observation was that even the most well-intentioned interviewing, performance and promotion processes are more subjective in the decision-making process than most realize. People are unconsciously programmed with biases that pull them toward the similar or familiar, even when that means full-blown stereotypes. Even companies that invest in raising awareness about issues like harassment and mistreatment aren’t immune.
“At any company, managers can miss the things that fall outside of process," Morgan said. Those things, she said, include handing out prestigious assignments over and over to the same star performer and missing those who have yet to show their skills. Another problem: assessing promotion potential on "style" vs. abilities.
"All are reasons we see only incremental changes in the profiles and background of recruits and just modest improvements among underrepresented groups in leadership,” Morgan said. And that, she added, is costly and inefficient. Echoing Emerson’s position, Morgan offered that changing a culture means working persistently on these micro-decisions and espousing the values of equity and inclusion every single day.
Inclusion starts with the right leadership mindset -- Jolen Anderson
The final myth, and a rebuttal of it, came courtesy of Jolen Anderson, chief diversity officer and chief counsel, employment and corporate social responsibility at Visa. She said that she strives to debunk the myth that the a hiring manager's or recruiter's ability to be consciously inclusive was either a “have” or “have not” scenario.
“Inclusion is a competence. It can be learned," Anderson pointed out. "You can break it down into a set of teachable behaviors, and you can get better at it with time and practice. It’s a mindset and an intentionality that people should bring to their everyday interaction,
She said she believes that it’s simply human nature to make snap judgments about others, to make sense of our world. Biases will creep in, whether they're conscious or not.
Anderson was also convinced that leaders who can tap into conscious behavior and actively bring in the broadest range of voices aren’t necessarily born; they’re made. Organizations can help here by providing resources to employees to improve their inclusion skills.
Only when leaders focus on creating a team that values different backgrounds and points of view can the true potential of diversity unfold. As an example, Anderson cited Visa’s Diversity & Inclusion College, offered through Visa University, where employees and managers train on everything from unconscious bias to inclusive leadership.
Of course, these four myths aren't the only questionable beliefs permeating the workplace when it comes to D&I. The conversation is just getting started. So, business leaders take note: Inclusive workplaces are the future.