David Pedulla, associate professor of sociology at Stanford University, has shared five key insights that could help organizations to make progress in their diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts.
In 2018, Pedulla and Harvard University professor Devah Pager brought together experts on bias, technology, discrimination, and organizational design. Instead of focusing on the problems, Pedulla and Pager asked the group to focus on solutions and answer one simple question: what works?
Of course, there is no single solution, but the group identified promising areas where investment, focus, and experimentation have the ability to serve as engines of change. They produced a report, titled “What Works? Evidence-Based Ideas to Increase Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Workplace.” In an article for Harvard Business Review, Pedulla highlights five key insights.
We believe the following recommendations are extremely useful, and it is well worth organizations taking note and aiming to implement some of Pedulla’s suggestions into their D&I strategies.
1. Collect, Count, and Compare.
“Set goals, collect data, and examine change over time and in comparison to other organizations. When it comes to maximizing profits and effectiveness, many businesses deploy this set of strategies. Why not do the same for issues of diversity and inclusion?
“By collecting and analyzing data on diversity over time, comparing those numbers to the numbers at other organizations, and sharing them with key stakeholders, companies can increase accountability and transparency around diversity issues. Say a company has low representation of women in managerial positions. This identified shortfall can lead to concrete goal-setting about numbers and timelines. In turn, these goals can be made available to key internal and external stakeholders to promote accountability. Of course, this strategy will only work if the data are appropriately analyzed, progress and roadblocks are continually identified, and key stakeholders are able to weigh in.”
2. Deploy Alternative Complaint Systems.
“Approximately half of all discrimination and harassment complaints lead to some type of retaliation. And workers who complain about harassment are more likely to end up facing career challenges or experiencing worse mental and physical health compared to similar workers who were harassed, but did not complain about it. Clearly, something is not working.
“Sociologists Frank Dobbin from Harvard University and Alexandra Kalev from Tel Aviv University present an innovative way forward: alternatives to legalistic grievance mechanisms. Employee Assistance Plans (EAPs), ombuds offices, and transformative dispute resolution systems can play a critical role in not only reducing retaliation but also provide fuel for organizational change. EAPs, for example, are frequently run by vendors outside the organization and offer free and confidential advice to employees, often over the phone. Yet, EAPs are not used very often to handle discrimination and harassment issues. By expanding their scope to provide valuable support and guidance to employees on strategies and tactics to deploy around harassment and discrimination, EAPs can serve as an important resource for employees, although they do not generally intervene in organizations. Key to this type of shift is changing leadership mindsets from seeing complaints as threats to valuing them as insights that can spark positive organizational change.”
3. Test for Biased Technology.
“While holding powerful potential to increase efficiency, there is also significant concern that technologies can reproduce and even exacerbate group-based inequalities by race, gender, or other social categories. Business leaders Kelly Trindel and Frida Polli of pymetrics and Kate Glazebrook of Applied offer strategies to reduce the likelihood that biases and discrimination creep in to new technologies.
“First, technologies that get deployed for corporate screening, hiring, and evaluation processes have to be built on data that is fair to socio-demographic groups – such as different racial groups – in the aggregate and that is relevant and predictive of success for the particular role being evaluated. But, that alone is not enough. Companies need to proactively test new technologies for disparate impacts on workers before they go in the field and need to audit their procedures after implementation to ensure that biases are not creeping in.”
4. Beware of the Small-N Problem.
“The ways we think about and perceive others can also hamper progress. They present a subtle, yet important, factor that can contribute to biased decision-making: group size. When individuals belong to groups that are seriously underrepresented in the organizational context – such as racial minorities or women – they may be subjected to stereotype-based evaluations or tokenism. These biased perceptions can then have negative consequences for both individual workers and the larger organization, resulting in limited progress.
“What can be done to combat these biases? Bohnet and Chilazi suggest that companies need not be stopped by the small numbers problem. In addition to increasing the representation of particular groups, companies can provide more visibility for a larger number and diverse set of underrepresented individuals. These efforts can counteract stereotyping and tokenism over time. Companies can also shift how assessments are run to counteract the impact of bias. One strategy is using simultaneous evaluation processes, rather than evaluating individuals one by one.”
5. Involve Managers from the Start.
“While Mackenzie and Wehner look at the whole cycle of change, they suggest one step in particular that is often overlooked by change agents: get managers and other leaders involved from the start. Often, organizations have experts design programs that are then deployed to the managers. This strategy often lacks a reality check: does this program fit into the way managers already work, or are managers now required to add something into their already complex days? Involving managers in the design process can increase buy-in and smooth implementation, making interventions more sustainable and long-lasting.”
Pedulla concludes: “As the common goals of diversity, equity, and inclusion become even more widespread, companies have the daunting task of figuring out what works. These five strategies — while far from comprehensive — offer an evidence-based place to start. From counting, collecting, and comparing to accounting for complex organizational contexts, progress is possible.”