Why It's Still So Difficult to Hire a Diverse Team

The biggest barrier to corporate diversity might be you.

learn more about Anka Wittenberg

By Anka Wittenberg

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More and more businesses are making a conscious effort to understand and promote the business benefits of diversity and inclusion. Their value does not lack external validation -- a recent McKinsey study shows that, "Companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians." And numerous other respected organizations around the world -- from Gallup to Credit Suisse ESG to PwC -- all provide strong evidence that link diversity to improved financial performance.

So, once we accept that the connection is clear, how do we start to improve corporate diversity? The first step is examining how we attract and hire diverse talent.

Often our greatest obstacle to embracing diversity and inclusion is not the proof of their value, but resistance to change -- both consciously and unconsciously. Tackling the obvious biases of others involves braving corporate and political turmoil and challenging the "status quo." Typically, our organizational decision-making processes follow the way things have always been done.

Another part of the problem is bias -- we hold implicit notions about the kind of person who would make an ideal candidate and/or leader, and we hire and promote accordingly. The need to think differently is critical if we want to harness the power and strength of a more diverse talent pool. According to a recent New York Times article, women make up only 20 percent of the total workforce in Silicon Valley. Additionally, a recent global study by Oxford Economics and SAP, Leaders 2020, stated that diversity has increased substantially among the general workforce over the past three years, but change has been slower to come to mid-level management, and even less evident among senior executives and corporate boards. We can -- and we must -- do better!

Sadly, impediments to recruiting diverse candidates exist in all of us. We need to stop tiptoeing around the issue of bias -- both conscious and unconscious -- and accept it. In order to directly combat both forms of bias, organizations need to re-examine their processes and redesign how they recruit, interview and hire candidates. By recognizing, identifying and working to reduce bias, companies will begin to reap the benefits of a diverse and inclusive workplace.

Here are three ways your company might be facilitating bias and without even knowing it:

1.The job description

The lack of diversity within today's workforce starts with a job posting. Certain words or phrases tend to attract male candidates versus female candidates, and vice versa, whether intentional or not. According to recent a Huffington Post article, the term "ninja" is usually skewed towards male stereotypes, attracting more male candidates to apply instead of females. While companies may not be doing this intentionally, unconscious bias is directly affecting the types of candidates who apply for the job. In order to combat unconscious bias in job postings, next-gen technology, like machine learning, can assist.

Machine learning enables the company to analyze its past job postings for gender-biased language, which might have discouraged some applicants, and offers suggestions to help future postings be more gender neutral, increasing the number of female applicants who get past the initial screenings. Recently, SAP SuccessFactors announced machine learning-based sentiment analysis of job descriptions within SAP to not only identify potentially biased language in job descriptions, but also recommend alternative language to ensure the descriptions are gender-neutral. By starting with the screening process, companies will take the initial step toward greater equality.

2.The interview

In today's society, perception is reality. Being confident and successful are considered positive and desirable traits during the interview process, but there can be a thin line between "confident" and "bossy" -- especially for women.

Research has shown that a male candidate is already more likely to get hired than a female of equal qualification, and what may be seen as confidence in a man can across as "pushy" in a woman. Companies need to reevaluate and restructure the interview process, in order to avoid favoring candidates based on gender. Iris Bohnet, author of What Works: Gender Equality by Design, and a behavioral economist and professor at Harvard Kennedy School, shared in a recent Harvard Business Review article, "work-sample tests, structured interviews and comparative evaluation allow companies to hire the best talent instead of those who look the part." By rethinking how companies interview candidates, female and male candidates will be equally vetted on their skillset.

3.The salary negotiation

According to the American Association for Women, in 2015, women working full-time in the United States typically were paid just 80 percent of what men were paid. While the number has gone up year over year, the increase was extremely small. While gender equality continues to be a hot topic, the pay gap between men and women still exists. Companies need to take a proactive approach to understand salary discrepancy numbers in an effort to attach and retain female employees. In December, the White House announced that a total of 100 employers signed the White House's Equal Pay Pledge, committing themselves to take action to advance equal pay. In addition, recently, SAP America worked with a third-party firm to complete a pay equity report, which found that 99 percent of its male and female employees in the U.S. were paid equally. Where disparity did exist, the gap was corrected. By addressing the pay equity issue in the salary negotiation process, companies will motivate the workforce and retain the best talent.

The first step to creating a more diverse and inclusive workforce is looking at ourselves -- and recognizing that we all have bias, conscious and unconscious. By understanding and accepting this, organizations can then proactively work to take corrective action that will enable them to attract and hire the best talent -- whomever they might be! -- and begin the journey toward a truly diverse, inclusive workplace.

Anka Wittenberg

Senior Vice President and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at SAP

Anka Wittenberg, inspired by purposeful leadership, is Senior Vice President and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at SAP. Follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter at @WittenbergAnka.

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