5 Leaders Who Are Disrupting Diversity

Diversity is not just about mirroring the country's demographics

By Novid Parsi Jan 16, 2017
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​Abeer Dubey

Director, People Analytics, Google

Abeer Dubey
Collaboration is key to success in today's work environment, and yet most managers and HR professionals focus all their attention on the performance of individuals. Dubey led an effort to change that at Google. "We don't experience work as individuals; we experience it in teams," he says. In 2012, he helped launch Project Aristotle to pinpoint what distinguishes the teams that do well from the ones that struggle. His team analyzed more than 180 teams of tech and sales employees and conducted over 200 interviews.

Stronger Together

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.

Safety First

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."

Taking Action

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.

Hiring Blind

Kedar Iyer

Cofounder and CEO, GapJumpers

Kedar Iyer
In the 1970s, many directors of U.S. orchestras—which were almost entirely made up of men—began asking auditioning musicians to play behind a screen and on a carpet, so judges couldn't see them or hear whether they were wearing heels. As a result, women were 25 percent to 46 percent more likely to be hired.

It's a story that inspired Iyer. His company, GapJumpers, tackles implicit bias—the prejudice we don't realize we have—through an online blind-audition process. Applicants are given a job-related assignment—for example, Web developers are asked to create a webpage—and then hiring managers assess the completed task without seeing any personal identifiers, including name, gender, work experience or educational background.

Knowing from Experience

Iyer graduated from college 12 years ago looking for a computer science job. He had plenty of experience—but not a degree in that field. "I had to fight my way through the placement office to show companies I could actually program," he says. "It took a lot of convincing to get my first break in computer science."

Blinders On, Diversity Up

GapJumpers has conducted 1,600 auditions so far, and its clients have seen a 60 percent jump in applicants from traditionally underrepresented groups who make it through to interviews compared to resume-based screening. "Companies end up making offers to people they otherwise wouldn't even have considered," Iyer says. The process also reduces the time it takes a company to fill a position by almost 40 percent, according to Iyer.

Case in Point

At U.K. media company BBC, less than 10 percent of applicants for design and engineering jobs were from minority groups. That figure shot up to almost 40 percent after the company used GapJumpers. Moreover, applicants were more likely to have the skills the BBC required, Iyer says: By widening the pool, the BBC was "able to get more qualified applicants into the pipeline."

Bolstering Women in Tech

Alaina Percival

CEO and board chair, Women Who Code

 

Alaina Percival
Women in the male-dominated tech industry often feel isolated. The San Francisco-based nonprofit Women Who Code (WWC) offers them a professional community.

"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."

Community Building

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.

Forming Partnerships

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.

Success Stories

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.

A Brainy Approach

David Rock

Director, NeuroLeadership Institute

 

David Rock
For almost two decades, neuroscientists at the global research organization NeuroLeadership Institute have found "the signal in the incredibly noisy research about the brain," Rock says. The institute currently partners with about 40 large organizations, mostly in technology or financial services, to develop leadership and promote diversity and inclusion.

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.

Data-Driven Diversity

Kieran Snyder

Cofounder and CEO, Textio

 

Kieran Snyder
In August 2014, Snyder wrote an article for Fortune magazine about gender bias in performance reviews for tech jobs, noting that 88 percent of women's reviews had critical feedback versus 59 percent of men's. The piece generated so much interest that HR leaders at a number of companies wanted to hire her.

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.

Data Deluge

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.

Color Coding

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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