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SHRM board member David Windley discusses how unconscious bias can derail workplace diversity efforts.
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Diversity is not just about mirroring the country's demographics
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Dubey and his fellow Googlers, as they call themselves, learned that the individuals who make up a team matter far less than the ways they interact with, and view, their collaborators and the overall project. People do their best work when they feel they have strong goals, can rely on each other and believe their work makes a difference. "On a strong team at Google, the how matters more than the who," Dubey says.
Findings from Project Aristotle also emphasized the concept of psychological safety, or the sense that people can take risks and be vulnerable with each other. "Psychological safety allows teams to harness the power of diversity," Dubey says. "That's because employees who have different points of view feel safe bringing their ideas to the table."
As a result of Project Aristotle, Googlers now assess all teams' psychological safety and have discussions about it. The company's teams have been improving their scores on measures designed to assess such safety.
Knowing from Experience
Blinders On, Diversity Up
Case in Point
"By the 10- to 15-year mark, women in the tech industry start dropping out," says Percival, who describes this attrition as "death by a thousand cuts." One cut: getting asked to take notes during meetings. Another: being encouraged to take positions in other fields. For example, women who are skilled at talking with people are advised to become recruiters. "Their male counterparts would never hear that," Percival says. "They would be viewed as leaders [in the tech arena] because they bring in additional skills."
Each year, WWC hosts 1,500 free networking events in 60 cities and 20 countries for over 80,000 members. At a typical gathering, a member will give a technical talk on, say, a mobile language or data science. "Then we sit down and just code," Percival says. WWC also has a global leadership program: "[Women] become leaders in the tech industry in their cities." Among WWC members, 80 percent report that the group has had a positive impact on their careers.
In addition to hosting a job board, WWC works directly with tech companies, helping them hire, retain and promote more women. It shares best practices with organizations, such as being transparent about the criteria for promotions and how long the process takes. "It's socially less acceptable for women to promote their professional successes, so we're creating a culture that helps counteract that societal barrier," Percival says.
After WWC supported eight women at a cloud services company, half received promotions. Then there was the woman in the leadership program in Atlanta who had a hard time speaking at her first WWC event. "She had difficulty even saying her name in front of 20 nice people," Percival says. After less than a year with WWC, she lectured at a tech conference with a standing-room-only crowd.
One key recommendation: Don't ignore thinking style as a factor in building diverse teams. "Cognitive diversity matters," Rock says. "Diverse perspectives make teams smarter." Include some people focused on the big picture and others driven by process.
Awareness Isn't Enough
Leaders often try to mitigate unconscious bias by raising awareness of it. "That doesn't do very much," Rock says. "It's called unconscious bias because it's unconscious. It's unconscious both before and after you learn about it." The solution: "Individuals can't catch themselves being biased, but teams of people can." If leaders identify their organization's biases before hiring begins, teams of employees can spot those partialities more effectively than any individual can.
Making the Case
Companies get a lot more buy-in for diversity and inclusion when they emphasize the business case for it. One company Rock worked with, Intel, realized "it needed a much more diverse and inclusive workforce"—not just for diversity's sake but also to innovate more quickly. To that end, it achieved gender pay parity.
When Inclusivity Efforts Backfire
To promote inclusion, company leaders often try to raise the profiles of minority employees. Ironically, that can make those workers feel singled out—or even excluded. And that leads the majority group to feel sensitive about approaching them. "A strange, unintended consequence is that both groups feel less comfortable with each other," Rock says. He advises instead creating "a very small set of very actionable habits" to promote inclusion. At a health care organization, for example, employees are asked to smile and greet anyone who comes within 10 feet of them. Rock also recommends focusing on the common goals that unite workers.
But she had other plans: In October of that year, she co-founded Textio, a Seattle-based company that offers client organizations a predictive engine that provides feedback on how likely a job description is to draw diverse candidates.
Textio searches more than 40 million job listings, many from its own customers, and considers the outcomes: how many people applied, how long the job stayed open, the demographic groups the description did or didn't attract. "Textio finds patterns in all that data," Snyder says.
The engine highlights words that typically perform well in green and words that don't in orange. Good performance is defined in terms of how quickly roles are filled and the proportion of qualified applicants. Purple indicates language that appeals to women (for instance, "passion for learning"); blue shows wording that speaks more to men (like "rock star").
Some companies won't post a job description until they get a gender-neutral Textio score. Textio's research indicates that a description with such a rating will result in a hire two weeks faster than one at either gender extreme. Since using the engine, tech giant Mozilla reports filling positions 17 percent more quickly.
Use Your Words
Textio finds that less-inclusive language often appears in the form of business clichés—terms like "synergy," "key performance indicators" or "stakeholders." "Every demographic group dislikes corporate jargon, but people of color are even less likely to apply to jobs that have it," Snyder says. "American corporate culture has been heavily white-dominated for decades, so this language is a cultural signifier." If a hiring manager uses "stakeholders," Textio might suggest "partners" as an alternative.
Related Story: Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Gets Innovative
Novid Parsi is a freelance writer based in the Chicago area.
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