For millions of people around the world, the beginning of fall marks the advent of a bustling holiday season. In the United States, this time of year is also meant to honor the spirit of diversity with National Coming Out Day and Day of the Girl. Yet for all the talk of diversity and inclusion, we know that challenges and biases persist. We hear them in shocking political rhetoric, we’re witnessing shamed public figures being exposed for their indiscretions, and we continue to see them in corporate boardrooms. Sometimes it feels that every step forward is met with a few stumbles back. And the absence of genuine inclusion will thwart any efforts to advance the digital technologies that will drive our futures. Any meaningful change must come from within and occur locally. So let’s look at some more unconventional ways we can foster diversity for our business cultures and clients.
Empowerment in the Face of Prejudice
Human Rights Campaign explains National Coming Out Day as “a reminder that one of our most basic tools is the power of coming out. One out of every two Americans has someone close to them who is gay or lesbian. For transgender people, that number is only one in 10. Coming out - whether it is as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or allied - STILL MATTERS. When people know someone who is LGBTQ, they are far more likely to support equality under the law. Beyond that, our stories can be powerful to each other.”
Day of the Girl, which originated in 2011, has a mission “to help galvanize worldwide enthusiasm for goals to better girls’ lives, providing an opportunity for them to show leadership and reach their full potential.”
Both of these days are important, and they share an underlying theme: empowerment for the underrepresented in the face of prejudice. The evidence of subtle discrimination in the workforce becomes evident in compensation disparities.
According to research published in The Atlantic, “Heterosexual men typically earn more than gay men, who earn more than lesbian women, who in turn earn more than heterosexual women… Gay and bisexual men earn between 10 and 32 percent less than similarly qualified heterosexual men, and other studies have found that lesbians on average out-earn straight women.”
To some, the results seem surprising. By all counts, heterosexual women consistently appear to suffer the biggest violation of pay parity. Civil rights advocates and labor experts point out that biased cultures often press members of the LGBT community to conceal their true sexual orientation. Other studies suggest that lesbian women out-earn their heterosexual counterparts because executives believe they won’t be encumbered by pregnancies, along with the requisite leaves of absence.
Separate But Equal Is Still Unequal
The reality is that anyone outside the category of straight Caucasian male has a tougher slog ahead of them on their way to the top. This became even clearer when I read PwC’s study on corporate board members’ attitudes toward gender. The piece was covered in Business Insider by Rachael Levy -- on Day of the Girl, appropriately enough. Tongue-in-cheek though it may be, her title was spot on: “A bunch of men were asked what they think about diversity on corporate boards — the answer won’t surprise you.”
PwC interviewed 884 public company directors on the issue of placing women professionals on corporate boards. The overwhelming response summed up as, “We don’t see a need?” Really? Economists would disagree. According to data from the World Economic Forum, business that fail to promote women as equal leaders effectively stifle their own profit potential. Figures revealed by McKinsey show that the issue is even more sweeping: “Every state and city in the United States has the opportunity to further gender parity, which could add $4.3 trillion to the country’s economy in 2025.”
The key discovery in PwC’s study came down to this statement: “One in ten directors believes the optimal representation of women on boards should be 20% or less, and 97% of those who believe this are male.”
Crossing the Uncanny Valley of Gender Parity
In aesthetics, the “uncanny valley” represents a theory that when computer animated figures or robots appear too lifelike -- though not exactly the same as organic beings -- a sense of eeriness or revulsion overcomes human observers. It would appear that in corporate America, a similar dread takes hold when women professionals begin to bridge the gap over the valley of equality. Business leaders in largely homogeneous cultures tend to fall back on the questionable “pipeline excuse.”
The gist is that the network of qualified applicants doesn’t represent society as a whole. In other words, according to this rationale, there just happen to be more white males with the skills that companies require. And that isn’t true.
ThinkProgress cited the influential 2014 USA Today investigation: “A 2013 report from the Census Bureau found that among college graduates with science and engineering degrees, men were employed in science, technology, engineering, or math at twice the rate of women -- 31 percent for men versus 15 percent for women. A different report found that four years after they graduate, less than a quarter of female computer science and engineering majors get a job in their field.”
“One half of the problem is on the hiring side, where white, male employees have been found to be more likely to hire people who look like them than others in all industries,” ThinkProgress wrote.
The second part of the problem is that biased environments push away qualified diversity talent, who seek work in more accommodating and welcoming companies — oftentimes outside the technology space. Corporate leaders talk so much about the skills deficit in hiring, yet do they ever consider that culture is fueling it?
Let’s explore some more creative ways that we can create the foundations of a thriving culture powered by diversity and inclusion. When executives reap the rewards of those results, they may abandon their old ideas and embrace the innovations that differences inspire.
Diversity Referral Programs
Typical referral programs seldom put enough emphasis on desired skills or characteristics. Beyond mentioning diversity in recruiting materials, contingent workforce leaders can promote diversity as a critical corporate goal. By further elaborating on specific criteria (such as the need for female web development managers), workers get a clear profile that can help them identify the ideal candidates from their networks.
After the criteria is established, reach out to your own staff and talent. Encourage them to carefully consider stellar prospects they may know based on the established needs. Empowering and engaging talent to participate will instill a sense of ownership in reaching the diversity goal, which enhances their commitment to locating the perfect people.
Use Blind Resumes
In this process, remove all contact and personal information. These details -- especially when they hint at age, gender, culture and other attributes -- can form unconscious biases in the minds of reviewers. A blind resume includes only skills, objectives, work experience and education. Truly blind resumes even edit details of education to display only academic data, such as degrees achieved and honors awarded. One of the persistent problems in hiring is the decree that working dates and graduation dates be posted on the resume. Why? Consider this unique alternative: rather than having candidates list their dates of employment, have them cite the number of years they held that position.
Explore Digital Solutions
Innovative developers are building tools that help drive inclusion. Katapult, for example, performs a comprehensive analysis to gauge the organization’s true diversity status. It relies on predictive analytics to develop a strategic plan that covers the business, the workers and the means for reaching the marketplace. Katapult then recommends the best ways to use resources toward the success of the program.
Another entrant to the space is Scoutible, a free video game open for anyone to play. As Zoe Mendelson explained for FastCompany, the game’s algorithms measure cognitive traits “including processing speeds, decision-making styles, risk tolerance, and activity-switching agility,” which can be “twice as effective at predicting job performance as work experience or interviews, according to a 2002 study by Herbert Heneman and Timothy Judge.”
“If successful,” Mendelson wrote, “Scoutible would bring qualified candidates without robust networks into talent pools for the jobs they wouldn’t otherwise hear about. It would mitigate the role of unconscious biases in hiring. It would give the opportunity for candidates to show their true skills regardless of the pedigree of the educational institution they attended.”
Conquering Bias from the Inside
By incorporating some of these more unconventional strategies to proven practices, contingent workforce leaders can get clients excited about the talent they’ve found based on objective characteristics. When hiring managers do meet candidates in person, they’re less likely to fall back on biases and more apt to discuss opportunities and contributions. In a sense, they’ve already been sold on the person, not the personal. Just as we can’t remove emotions from people, we can’t suppress their biases. However, we can help clients identify and conquer them to hire exceptional professionals -- regardless of who they are or where they came from.