Ramp Up Your Workplace Diversity And Inclusion Now – Before It’s Too Late

Meghan M. Biro

Diverse workplaces have been proven to be more profitable and sustainable – they’re better for business – than less-diverse workplaces. A McKinsey diversity report found that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have higher financial returns, and those in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely.

While we’re certainly making strides in increasing diversity, we’re far from where we need to be. Look no further than Silicon Valley. Tech is the canary in the coal mine, but it’s also a major driver of disruption. It’s our worst and our best. Which means that before robotics gives “blended workforce” a whole new meaning – 2018 will be the year of the robot, according to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report – it’s time to move the needle further. It will put us in a far better position – both socially and economically – for that next major shift.

The challenge is replacing flawed approaches with better ones. We know diversity training doesn’t quite work, and unconscious bias seems as immovable as bedrock: turns out, we can’t really get over it, no matter how we may try or think we are. But that same WEF report listed women’s rising economic power and aspirations as another major driver of workplace change. And the good news is that we want to do better. Of the executives polled for a Forbes Insights report, well more than half (56%) say a more diverse workforce supports better innovation, especially for larger companies ($10 billion and up).

Recent research points to better strategies, including powerful work by Iris Bohnet, who proposes we completely rethink our approach to diversity and inclusion. We can start by applying the same rigor to people management that we apply to financial and marketing strategies. Bohnet proposes that we leverage behavioral design strategies, and I agree – if they worked with symphony orchestras, they can certainly work with multinationals. The analogy holds: Orchestras overcame gender bias by laying carpeting and putting up a screen: When they couldn’t hear women’s heels clicking on the floor or see a dress where they (consciously or not) expected a suit, they saw merit in the work itself. Now we can do it digitally.

How? SAP has been working on just that, charting the future of work and the rise of the digital workplace. A recent conversation between Bohnet and Anka Wittenberg, chief diversity officer at SAP, for the SAP Future Factor series on the future of work, posited some highly effective approaches on how to leverage digital tools to improve diversity and inclusion. One approach is data: harnessing data across the entire organization, and measuring and testing, again and again. Repeating A/B tests will truly show what’s working and what’s not (as it does in marketing). Another key: Keep all processes and procedures transparent, empowering talent to be further aligned with the organization’s efforts, and at the same time, taking speculation and guesswork off the table.

In recruiting, I propose we admit we can’t change our innate bias, but that we can change our behaviors. We can utilize software to clean out demographic indicators from resumes and applications, blinding us to age, gender, education, and socioeconomic background. And forget, once and for all, about gut. There’s an aptly titled post on this I highly recommend that focuses on how to shift to a data-driven culture – and use data, not instinct, to prove success or failure.

Some of this is simply common sense put into digital practice; after all, there are plenty of language filters to find hidden bias in text. Here, watch the guardrails, as there’s more to it than you might realize – again, we’re flawed judges of our own objectivity. Being conscious about the recruitment language you use means testing it and learning from the data as well. And then applying the same lessons to onboarding initiatives, continuous skills trainings, career growth opportunities, and even recognition and rewards platforms. Given the multichannel, ever-online digital environment we work and live in, organizations need to understand that any omission sends a powerful message.

The goal of business is profit and sustainability, and in this quicksilver, competitive economy, issues such as diversity and inclusion may seem second-tier, but they’re not. We know any company is only as good as its people, and we know we’re experiencing a talent crisis. As we face the prediction that between 1 million and 2.5 million jobs in tech will go unfilled by 2020, we need effective diversity/inclusion recruiting strategies to fill the gap. Not to put too fine a point on it, but if an organization doesn’t leverage digital innovations and smart research to drive changes in its workforce, it’s going to lose the workforce to someone who does.

For more information, watch “The Business Case for Diversity.”

This post is sponsored by SAP. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

About Meghan M. Biro

Meghan Biro is talent management and HR tech brand strategist, analyst, digital catalyst, author and speaker. I am the founder and CEO of TalentCulture and host of the #WorkTrends live podcast and Twitter Chat. Over my career, I have worked with early-stage ventures and global brands like Microsoft, IBM and Google, helping them recruit and empower stellar talent. I have been a guest on numerous radio shows and online forums, and has been a featured speaker at global conferences. I am the co-author of The Character-Based Leader: Instigating a Revolution of Leadership One Person at a Time, and a regular contributor at Forbes, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur and several other media outlets. I also serve on advisory boards for leading HR and technology brands.