diversity dividend

April 1, 2019

We all have bias. Bias is an inclination or prejudice in favor or against something, someone or a group, usually considered unfair. Unconscious bias happens out of our awareness. Neuroscience shows our brains are bombarded with up to 11 million bits of information and can only process 40 bits of information per moment (M Zimmermann, Neurophysiology of Sensory Systems, as referred to in Google’s Unconscious Bias Training). The remaining 10 million plus bits get unconsciously slotted into thousands of different categories, influenced by our background, cultural environment, and personal experience. This unconscious slotting forms unconscious bias. Thus, unconscious bias happens automatically and is triggered by our brains making quick judgments and assessments of people and situations, especially in the like/dislike and safe/unsafe categories involved in hiring. (Michael Gazzaniga, The Mind’s Past, 2000; Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow, 2011)

Awareness is not enough. In fact, bias training that emphasizes we all have bias can leave participants and organizations with the sense that because it is how our brains work they no longer have to concern themselves with it. Identifying, preventing, and managing bias need to be incorporated in strategic planning on an ongoing basis for successful results.

Companies with greater diversity (gender, race, ethnicity) are up to 35 percent more profitable, according to McKinsey & Company’s global Diversity Matters report, 2015. It confirms that diverse companies enjoy greater success winning top talent as well as improving customer orientation, employee satisfaction, and decision-making. In an article about the report, the authors write: “and all that leads to a virtuous cycle of increasing returns. This in turn suggests that other kinds of diversity—for example, in age, sexual orientation, and experience (such as a global mind-set and cultural fluency)—are also likely to bring some level of competitive advantage for (these) companies…” (Vivian Hunt, Dennis Layton, and Sara Prince, Why Diversity Matters, January 2015)

How can you and your organization be part of the solution of minimizing bias in the workplace, particularly regarding hiring decisions? Can artificial intelligence programs eliminate biased hiring?

As a global executive, leadership, and team coach since 1998, I frequently partner with human resources professionals to develop leaders and teams as well as identify and manage bias. One of my human resources partners described how predominately male, and of one ethnicity and skin color, his organization was when he was hired. Within six months, he was not only invited to the leadership table, but also his hiring of outstanding young Hispanic women had prompted the organization to consider posting for jobs in the local Hispanic media rather than the usual city-wide media. Workplace culture began to shift along with improved talent recruitment and retention.

All of this resulted in a bottom line lift, which contributed to his place at the leadership table. He first broke free from the bias against human resources professionals by moving beyond tactical expectations to leadership. Second, he broke free from a hiring bias against different ethnicities, gender, and skin color. Higher diversity and inclusion mean greater profit, as we have seen. This is partially due to expanding perspectives on teams which leads to greater innovation. What departmental bias might exist in your organization and how might that impact hiring? Where and how are you seeking new talent?

Other companies are also experimenting with managing hiring bias. Deloitte UK is hiding the names of universities during the hiring process. This was after realizing that a bias existed towards hiring from certain universities. They also teamed up with the company, Rare, to incorporate a new screening process called ‘contextualisation’ into their hiring process. Rare built an algorithm to highlight students who have overcome tough situations… which “allows us to look for potential, instead of always focusing on past performance. We are supporting social mobility and changing the way we recruit and support our people, to enhance the service we can provide to our clients and to make an impact that matters to our clients and to society,” says Victoria Lawes, Head of UK Resourcing at Deloitte.

Pinterest implemented a Rooney Rule-type requirement where at least one person from an underrepresented background and one female candidate is interviewed for every open leadership position. This was to increase their hiring rate for full-time engineering roles to 30 percent female and to 8 percent male for people who are from ‘underrepresented ethnic backgrounds’,” and for non-engineering roles to 12 percent for people who are from under-represented ethnic backgrounds. For every open position that becomes available within Facebook, at least one member of an underrepresented group must be interviewed. Walgreens made it their priority to hire differently-abled workers—which now account for 10 percent of their employees in their distribution centers. (Siofra Pratt, 6 Companies Doing Their Bit to Improve Diversity & Inclusion, socialtalent, October 5, 2016)

Artificial intelligence is being used with the intention of reducing hiring bias, but any bias the programmer has unfortunately becomes part of the app.

To keep the thinking fresh and innovative, team inclusion goals may also be set:

This was the team composition objective in Arla Foods, 2010-15.

“Max 70 percent of team members with the same national/ethnic background. Max 70 percent of team members with the same gender. Max 70 percent of team members from the same generation. Max 70 percent of team members from the same educational/professional background.”

This example comes from the non-profit initiative, The Global Inclusion Nudges Initiative and the Inclusion Nudges Guidebook. “The mission is to accelerate more inclusive workplaces, communities, societies, and make the world a greater place for everyone! Inclusion nudges are practical interventions designed based on behavioral insights to increase inclusion and equity in systems, processes, cultures, and behavior in an easy and impactful way. The purpose of the initiative is to design, educate, collect, and share inclusion nudge examples from practitioners to practitioners worldwide to enable them to make changes for inclusion and equality in their sphere of influence.”

Hiring objectives such as this or a points system can curb hiring bias that may otherwise go unnoticed. A close call shared during one of my Breaking Free from Bias presentations that could have ended in a lawsuit occurred when the employees of one branch requested the candidate that scored 19 points lower on their competency-based point system than the higher scoring candidate be hired. When asked why, the employees said they were concerned that the higher-scoring candidate would not fit in based on others like them in their branch. When pressed further, the branch’s young employees did not want to hire another midlife employee due to age bias. The organization’s point system, designed to prevent such discrimination, prevailed and the higher scoring midlife employee was hired.

Of course, age bias can go the opposite way, against millennials. These biases can include beliefs that millennials are lazy, unpredictable, unreliable, unprofessional, and are resistant to workplace conduct rules. Employers may fear millennials will not stay long enough to get a return on their investment.

“The common theme is a fear or a reluctance to hire people under 30, because they are unpredictable, and, ‘they don’t know how to work’,” says Cam Marston, author and founder of Generational Insights, a consulting firm that works with companies and employees on generational issues. “It’s a life stage, not a character flaw,” Scott Wooldridge concludes in Millennials: The new victims of age discrimination? (BenefitsPRO Magazine, September 30, 2015).

Once you have a more diverse, profitable workforce through identifying, preventing, and managing hiring bias, how do you keep them? Giving frequent feedback rather than waiting for a yearly or semi-annual performance review works well for younger generations and avoids recency bias. With recency bias, only the most recent accomplishments or failures are remembered. Instant performance feedback systems can either be designed in-house or purchased from an external partner.

From my coaching and bias work with leaders, teams and organizations, the most successful, profitable organizations have leadership teams that are representative of the population. Whether as a woman or any cultural identity (religion, disability, skin color, etc,) your potential employees see others like them advancing, being valued, and compensated fairly financially, that will motivate them to join and stay. How will you continue to identify and manage bias and inclusion for greater prosperity?


(This article was adapted from Breaking Free from Bias: Preventing Costly Complaints, Conflict and Talent Loss, Marilyn O’Hearne, PNP Press.)

* https://www.kornferry.com/institute/understanding-bias-and-brain