Data Can Help Create Fairer Workplaces

Tracking and analyzing workplace data can reveal areas of concern

Stephen Miller, CEBS By Stephen Miller, CEBS October 20, 2020
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illustration of diverse employee figures standing on bar chart bars

Uncovering data that reveals if employees are being treated unequally—and tracking and analyzing discrimination claims—hold the key to combating bias in the workplace, said Deb Muller, CEO of HR Acuity, at SHRM's INCLUSION 2020 virtual conference on Oct. 19.

"For creating inclusive workplaces, there is no substitute for data and analytics," said Muller, whose firm, based in Florham Park, N.J., offers a technology platform that helps organizations overcome workplace bias.

"To build a truly diverse and inclusive workplace is a joint effort ranging from C-suite buy-in to cross-team collaboration. It also requires data and analytics technology to make sense of it all," Muller said.

In a blog post, she called employee relations data "a gold mine that will help you drive real change."

Muller described five ways to use data to identify and root out racism and other bias in the workforce.

Assess Your Current State

If you don't start with a clear base line, you won't be able to create a map to where you need to go, Muller said. Start by understanding:

  • Where does our organization stand today with racial, gender and other bias incidents?
  • How do we compare against similar organizations?
  • Are incidents isolated to specific areas or managers?

As for discrimination related to the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations should know:

  • Are we tracking and analyzing bias allegations related to COVID-19?
  • Can we pinpoint activity related to specific events or policies?
  • How many pandemic-related accommodations have we provided?
  • How many should we have provided?

"Your employee incident data holds the answers," she said. "It's critical to track each and every incident of suspected bias so you can analyze your employee data more effectively."

Once you've assessed your current state, use it to "hold yourself accountable with your key stakeholders," Muller advised.

An HR Acuity benchmark study of more than 200 employers found that only 25 percent of organizations report information about bias investigations to their boards, and just 29 percent report any kind of employee relations statistics to their employees. "That's not enough," Muller said. Being transparent with bias findings strengthens trust between management and employees.

Use Predictive Modeling to Protect Your People

Apply predictive analytics to uncover trends and areas of concern that require deeper analysis, Muller advised. "This means reviewing incidents and remediation across your organization, making sure to analyze by race, gender and other protected groups," she noted. "For example, is your organization putting Black employees on corrective action for a specific violation or at a certain location at a proportionately higher rate than white employees?"

Used this way, predictive models help identify bias and racism so employers can make changes to ensure a fair and safe environment.

Document Bias in Everyday Interactions

It's easy to spot obvious bias when someone says, "You do such great work for a woman," Muller pointed out, but bias is more subtle when a colleague tells an older employee, as if surprised, "You're excellent with technology." Such a comment might indicate ageism, hinting that older workers aren't expected to be tech savvy, she said. Unconscious bias training can help mitigate such instances.

SHRM Resource Spotlight
Overcoming Workplace Bias

Train Your HR Leaders

Managing equity in the workforce and promoting an anti-racist environment are still fairly new concepts, so "don't assume that your HR and employee relations teams are equipped and ready to lead," Muller said. "If you are a leader who truly wants to drive change, you need to equip people with tools and the capabilities to help them serve as role models for others, as well as address allegations when brought to their attention."

Invest in the Right Data, Technology and Processes

In many organizations, there is still no required process for conducting an investigation when an allegation of bias or racism is made, Muller pointed out. Often, investigations are tracked using Excel or with no system at all, meaning cases are likely not managed consistently, fairly or confidentially.

Often an action is taken, but the facts, analysis and decision-making processes are not centrally documented, recorded and measured—"all of which can expose you to a host of compliance risks," she observed.

Fostering Change

Driving systemic change and rooting out racism and bias "takes more than words," Muller said. It takes "action informed by data specifically focused on employee behaviors and the processes that support, track and measure them."


Overcome Compensation Bias with Data

"Organizations have a responsibility to ensure compensation is aligned across the organization, while always taking fair-pay philosophies—such as determining an employee's salary based on unbiased attributes like performance history—into account," said Tanya Jansen, co-founder of beqom, a cloud-based compensation software firm, in a recent interview with SHRM Online.

Technology such as predictive analytics can eliminate unconscious bias from compensation by "letting technology take the reins and removing unconscious bias from the equation," focusing on education, experience, certifications and other objective criteria to create fair compensation, she said.

"By implementing technology that eliminates unconscious bias in hiring and promotions, incorporating transparent practices for compensation, and providing more flexibility for employees, employers can work to empower their workforce equally," Jansen said.




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