Leading companies are taking steps to increase diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace, but progress remains tepid. What’s actually working? Here are five key insights that can serve as tools for those looking to make their workplaces more diverse, more thriving places.
1. Collect, Count, and Compare: Set goals, collect data, and assess how they change over time and in comparison, to other organisations. Many organizations use this set of strategies to maximise profits and effectiveness.
Companies can increase accountability and transparency when it comes to diversity concerns. Companies can share data on diversity with key stakeholders by analysing data over time and comparing those numbers to other organisations. This strategy will only work if the data is properly analysed and progress and obstacles are identified on a regular basis.
2. Deploy Alternative Complaint Systems: Sociologists Frank Dobbin from Harvard University and Alexandra Kalev from Tel Aviv University present an innovative way forward: alternatives to legalistic grievance mechanisms.
Employee Assistance Plans (EAPs), ombuds offices, and dispute resolution systems can play a critical role in reducing retaliation and provide fuel for organizational change. EAPs are not used very often to handle discrimination and complaint issues. Key to this type of shift is changing leadership mindsets from seeing complaints as threats to valuing them as insights that can spark positive organizational change.
3. Test for Biased Technology: Technology has become ubiquitous in the workplace. Companies need to be proactive in ensuring that they are screening out discrimination, and then check for it on the back end. This means proactively testing new technologies for disparate impacts on workers before they go into the field. It also means auditing their procedures after implementation to ensure that biases are not creeping in.
4. Beware of the Small-N Problem: Group size is an important factor that can contribute to biased decision-making. When individuals belong to groups that are seriously underrepresented in an organization, they may be subjected to stereotype-based evaluations or tokenism. These biased perceptions can have negative consequences for both individual workers and the larger organization.
Companies need not be stopped by the small numbers problem; they can provide more visibility for a larger number of underrepresented groups. One strategy is using simultaneous evaluation processes, rather than evaluating individuals one by one. Instead of hiring for a sales associate position in the winter, another in the spring and then another in summer, companies could hire for all three sales associates at the same time.
5. Involve managers from the beginning: Organizations are complex and have different internal logics, cultures, and dynamics. It does not make sense to take a one-size-fits-all policy and graft it on to different organizations. The organizational context matters when deciding how to increase diversity, equity and inclusion.
Involving managers in the design process can increase buy-in and smooth implementation, making interventions more sustainable and long-lasting. Often, organizations have experts design programs that are then deployed to the managers.
These five strategies offer an evidence-based place to start. From counting, collecting, and comparing to accounting for complex organizational contexts, progress can be made.
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