By Stacey A. Gordon
A financial study of 1,000 large companies by McKinsey & Co. found that the more diverse the management, the higher the profits, compared with companies composed of less diversity.
Companies in the top 25 percent with the most ethnic executives outperformed other firms with profits 33 percent higher than those in the bottom 25 percent with fewer ethnic workers. Firms more inclusive of women in management showed 21 percent more revenue than those with fewer women in executive roles.
Corporate hiring and training in the field of Unconscious Bias and Diversity and Inclusion is on the rise. Before Virgin America was purchased by Alaska Airlines, they offered my LinkedIn Learning course on Unconscious Bias in their in-flight entertainment to spread awareness of workplace diversity—which can be a difficult subject to talk about at work.
Approximately 96 percent of men enjoy executive positions where they unconsciously promote other men. Given even a slight 1 percent bias in favor of males, research shown in the Unconscious Bias course determines that promoting men over and over due to unconscious bias can leave women and minorities losing out approximately 60 percent via promotions over 20 years. This costs companies not only money, multicultural expertise, and outlook in our global economy, but also compels experienced female employees to opt out when they learn how certain companies select candidates. The Unconscious Bias course opens our minds to how we filter out the biases we’ve grown up with and the complicity of the treatment we see happening in the workplace.
So how do we succeed in hiring a more diverse workforce, while ensuring employees feel like they belong in the environment?
The first step is to be aware of language. As an example, I participated in a Diversity and Inclusion Summit where one of the speakers, a CEO of a large insurance company, was asked how she ensures the company’s recruiters employ hiring practices that result in diverse candidates. She stated there was no need to do anything differently because experienced and skilled candidates will apply and make their way through the system—because those hiring look solely at skills—not race or ethnicity. Yet, the fact that there are so few black, Latino or LGBT employees at her company is not due to a lack of skill. The meritocracy argument has been proven time and time again to be a feeble excuse for maintaining the status quo. Unconscious bias creeps into our review process as well as our decision-making by giving us the impression we’re being fair, when really, we are making assumptions. Assuming a candidate deliberately omitted information rather than simply forgot is one way our language betrays us. As an alternative, to “It’s unfortunate that you lied,” try, “This probably was an oversight.”
The second step in gaining greater awareness is to stop assuming that hiring women and hiring professionals of color check the same box. If every time the word “diversity” is mentioned at your company, you are actually talking about “women,” then it’s time to broaden your outlook.
When I was a manager at a Fortune 100 financial services company, I was the only black female manager on the entire west coast, and only one of three black managers. I dreaded participating in the management retreats because the only time anyone would listen to me was when I spoke about the Women in Financial Services annual event. No one seemed to care that my management style resulted in the recruitment and retention of one of the most diverse and profitable teams in our division. I wanted to be recognized for my successful contribution to the company’s bottom line, not simply because I was spearheading a women’s event. Our voices need to be heard, and we want to be noticed for our contributions, not merely for the box we check at a company gathering or on an EEOC report.
Third, don’t be the organization that makes statements like “I don’t want to lower the bar.” It’s insulting and racist by definition. What can be inferred from this statement is that the person hiring does not want to deviate from the current organizational structure or process because “It has worked so far.”
The bonus phrase, “We just want a good fit” is just as disastrous. It can be replaced with “We can’t find any qualified [Black, Latino, Asian, female, LGBT, disabled or veteran] applicants.” But the result is the same. No change.
Why change at all? To avoid the blunders we see repeated around the globe, to reap the financial benefits of diverse workforce and to create an inclusive organization that isn’t lowering the bar, but raising standards of behavior for everyone, leadership included.
We all want to work somewhere that makes us feel that we belong. If you’d like your company to be one of those workplaces, maybe it’s time to review your policies, your goals and your behavior toward current and future employees. By stopping to reflect on how you can think and act differently, you will be well on your way to cultivating a more diverse workforce.