Diversity - why goo intentions are clearly not enough

Diversity - why good intentions are clearly not enough

 15 Oct 2018

The diversity and inclusivity agenda has gathered great momentum and overwhelming support – so why is it stalling?

We all agree it’s the right thing to do, we all talk about wanting to attract a more diverse workforce and we set targets but the numbers are flat lining.

Perhaps it’s time to take a good long look at unconscious bias and the powerful barrier built by our own intuition and decision-making.  And we need to realise that Diversity is not a thing – it’s an action.  Whilst we are busy looking for a ‘thing’, for a magic bullet to fix our ‘problem’ actually it’s about day to day individual actions which are incumbent on all of us that manage teams and all of us that are involved in hiring to consciously do something different. 

Let’s just look at a couple of examples…

A US study of science departments found that applicants for a lab manager position with a male name were rated significantly more competent and hireable than an identical application from a candidate with a female name. 

Similarly recent research in the UK reveals that a candidate with a Muslim sounding name is 3 times less likely to be offered an interview for a management role.  A team of social scientists sent out identical CVs for different candidates called ‘Adam’ and ‘Mohamed’. 

If you’re overweight, research tell us that people think you’re a less capable leader - the research found that executives with wider girths and higher BMI readings were perceived as “less effective in the workplace, both in performance and interpersonal relationships.”

No matter how unbiased we think we are, we are all unconsciously biased regarding things such as race, gender, age, social class, weight, accent and dress sense.  Our brains are hard-wired to make unconscious decisions because the number of choices we face each day would be overwhelming if we had to consciously assess every one. 

There is no suggestion here that any discrimination is deliberate.  This is accidental, unwitting discrimination.  Too often we defer to those we feel affinity to. 

We need to ask ourselves whether we engage with people of all backgrounds equally, to acknowledge our own innate bias and make a conscious and bold effort to conquer it. 

Take a deep and objective look around your own team and see how diverse it is in all its forms.  Many of us recruit those a bit like us, those that will easily ‘fit right in’ and we feel comfortable with.  This is the crux of the diversity challenge.  If we continue to fish in a small, exclusive pond looking only at those that meet our current definition of ‘fit’, then the talent pool will continue to diminish.

There are many things we can each do, and should be doing.  For example, simple changes like looking at CVs and resumes alongside each other side by side in groups not one at a time – it encourages us to focus on performance and skills not building a picture of someone taking into  account information such as gender and educational background.  Considering whether job essentials are really ‘essential’ is important as well as being flexible on educational background – if a candidate can demonstrate a successful track record and meets other criteria, is their educational choice at 18 not to pursue a degree really that important?

We can also introduce data into the process.  We use a behaviourally based assessment which taps into a candidate’s innate abilities and strengths and challenges our intuitively-driven, very-human assessment of them.  A case study at Siemens demonstrated how the organisation was aiming to increase the numbers of female engineers attracted into its graduate scheme.  Try as they may the numbers just weren’t moving substantially until they introduced the same behaviourally based assessment which post-introduction led to a doubling of females reaching the final stages and being offered roles.   Another suggestion is to use one of the video-interviewing tools which now incorporates an innovative feedback mechanism which assesses your decision-making to reveal back to you your own unconscious bias to challenge your decisions and increase your own self-awareness. 

But AI and big data analytics isn’t necessarily fool proof – Amazon recently ditched its AI recruiting tool that, it discovered, favoured men for software developer and technical jobs.  That’s because Amazon’s computer models ‘learnt’ from previous recruitment patterns taking on board the ‘human’ bias exhibited over the past 10 years!

We keep waiting for a ‘thing’ to happen, a magic wand to be waved and diversity challenges to be fixed.  It’s incumbent on all of us to do our bit and consciously change of actions. 

Joanne McTiffin, Tindall Perry Insights



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