Diverse teams produce better business outcomes, yet companies have struggled for years to implement practices that have resulted in noticeable improvements. While progress in most sectors has been minimal, tech companies in particular have struggled to hire and retain women and minorities.
It is well-documented that diversity has many benefits on a company’s financial performance. Studies published by the Harvard Business Review showed that companies with more diverse representation also had 19% higher revenues and 2.3 times higher cash flow per employee. Research by McKinsey demonstrates that companies in the top quartile for gender and racial diversity were more likely to have above-average financial returns compared with other industry players.
Despite the evidence linking workplace diversity to enhanced profitability, companies have been hesitant to allocate the energy and resources necessary to support sustained diversity efforts. The #MeToo Movement that gathered momentum in 2018 and the recent Black Lives Matters protests have helped propel forward diversity and inclusion efforts. In response, citizens have been vocal in calling out companies that perpetuate unconscious biases and do not place restraints on discriminatory behaviors. Some public campaigns have resulted in consumers and companies alike teaming up to boycott certain brands.
Many companies focus on diversity initiatives, but fail to also focus on inclusion. There has been enhanced emphasis on efforts that promote both diversity as well as inclusion. If diverse employees are hired, but they then don’t feel supported at work, over time their engagement levels will decline and they will seek out other opportunities. It is especially problematic when companies have homogenous leadership teams, leading women and minorities to perceive their prospects of exceling up the corporate ranks as limited. Without an inclusive work environment that supports workers from underrepresented backgrounds over the long term, diversity recruitment alone will not have lasting effects. There is a positive feedback loop between diversity and inclusion. Fortunately, businesses are increasingly realizing that these goals complement each other.
Increased attention has been drawn to the unconscious biases that riddle the hiring process and are deeply embedded within workplace cultures. Starting from the interview stage, quick judgments about candidates and an affinity bias for candidates who the interviewer finds relatable creates subjectivity. Unconscious biases can also seep into the interview questions themselves. Companies are addressing these issues by providing better training to interviewers and more standardization of the interview process. To address unconscious biases that can impact the day-to-day comfort of diverse employees at work, companies have devoted more resources to educational programming. Through a systematic approach to education, the hope is that employees will develop heightened awareness of implicit biases. Employees can then use the knowledge obtained to modify their behaviors and increased their sensitivity.
A subtle yet impactful way that companies can unknowingly steer qualified candidates away is through language and imagery. Specifically, the word choice and graphics in marketing materials, job descriptions, social media posts and other communications by the company can convey a message of cultural conformity that can be unwelcoming to individuals from diverse communities. Jennifer Walden, director of operations at WikiLawn Lawn Care, remarks that “if the entirety of your C-suite and mid-level management consists of white men, you’re sending a message to diverse employees that there’s no real future for them at your company.”
Software products have been developed to enable companies to focus on skillsets rather than background in the hiring process. Predictive Index offers a talent optimization platform to curb biases in hiring, management and employee engagement. Vervoe offers an AI product to increase efficiency in identifying top performers based on merit while filtering out background factors. Vervoe’s AI produces real-time rankings of candidates based on data-driven metrics. It also integrates with other workflow applications such as Slack, Airtable and Google Sheets. Another AI optimized platform, Toggl Hire provides tools to anonymously test candidates’ skills first without revealing identifying information on gender or race.
Another strategy being embraced to retain minority workers is actively making sure minority voices are being heard by the top levels of leadership. SimplyWise Chief Operating Officer Allie Fleder suggests that companies to need to “actively seek minority voices for company decisions. It’s not enough to have a seat at the table.”
While the past has been riddled with failures in workplace diversity programs, it is important to keep focused on solutions rather than dwelling on the failures. Some strategies companies are deploying to improve the recruitment process include seeking referrals from diverse employees, blind resume reviews, wording job descriptions so that diverse individuals are not discouraged from applying for lacking a specific skillset, and hosting programs that target multicultural professional organizations.
Ultimately, creating and nurturing an environment comes down to humanizing the workplace. When employees’ individual needs are recognized and they are valued as human beings beyond the skillsets they bring to the table, they are more likely to remain happy. By celebrating and accommodating differences, businesses get more productive employees, more innovative workplaces and higher retention rates.