Today the era of corporate social justice is dawning. With the business case for diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI) becoming more important than ever, we are beginning to see organizations truly embracing social activism.
And while social justice was rightly the first move, companies are finally waking up to the business case for diversity initiatives. Recent research from McKinsey shows that organizations with the most ethnically diverse teams are 36% more likely to outperform those with the least financially. Diversity increases turnover, stimulates innovation, stimulates creativity and leads to better decision-making.
But the truth is, the more diversity you have, the more challenging it can be.
The problem is that business leaders and diversity advocates have failed to consider an approach to diversity beyond “add and stir diversity”. Diversity isn’t a numbers game where the solution is just to increase the number of traditionally underrepresented groups in your workforce.
As the world adjusts after the pandemic, it’s time to stop pretending outdated diversity programs work. So let’s take a look at some of the steps leaders can take to eradicate bias and subjectivity from the get-go, and instead take a “radical objectivity” approach — combining data and human science to ensure that talent and merit win every time.
Inclusion is about more than hitting optics for recruiting diversity
Diversity in the workplace starts with an inclusive culture. Unfortunately, many companies see this wrong. This is because diversity is quantitative – it is the degree of heterogeneity within your workforce. On the other hand, inclusion describes the experiences of different individuals in the workforce and the extent to which they are invited to participate.
Realizing inclusion is therefore about more than hitting optics for recruiting diversity. When done right, an inclusive culture should help foster a sense of belonging and shared values. Arming themselves with data and insight rather than diversity quotas, forward-thinking organizations can create an environment in which individuals of all backgrounds can thrive.
So how do they get there?
It starts with language
Diversity initiatives often fail because they land too late in the employee journey to have a lasting impact. Change must be embedded in the talent acquisition process, which means developing the way you interact with your prospective employees, starting with language.
The words you choose to bring your business to life will make all the difference: Words are influential ambassadors of the culture in your workplace. Technology and data analytics can help you do this by providing robust insights into the messages you send.
For example, do you use gender-coded or inclusive coded language to attract people with an inclusive mind? Do you take the time to regularly update your communications to ensure they understand different cultural contexts – not just gender and ethnic, but organizational and generative as well?
And it’s not just the language you use in your marketing that matters. Have you thought about the words used by your hiring managers and recruiters? At Inbeta, we use technology that allows organizations to go beyond the basics when it comes to inclusion.
For example, we put specific questions into our hiring interviews, the answers of which can be linguistically analyzed to understand the real values and behavior of candidates, recruiters and hiring managers. This means you no longer have to rely on simplistic “bias checker” software, which is mostly based on outdated research with few data integrity checks.
Remember that the best candidates have options. So what are you going to say that makes them want to work for you?
Moving past prejudices
It is also essential to keep in mind that when it comes to language, it works both ways. When deciding to hire someone, we must disregard notions of how the ideal candidate should talk. This also leads to homogeneity. Technology and training in combination can help with this.
At Inbeta, we recently partnered with a prominent retail chain to recruit a board director and in our search came across a prominent candidate from a working-class background. However, the initial assumption of their tone and the way they articulated was that they had reached their accomplished position through “grit” and “graft” and lacked the strategic capabilities needed for the new role.
Our linguistic intelligence combined with human expertise showed early on that this was not the case and enabled us to counteract the biases at play. We were able to advocate for the individual and design a tailored coaching intervention that raised the profile within the process, demonstrated objective potential and ensured they had a fair chance. The individual is now in the final stages, despite the disadvantage that his socio-economic background would otherwise have caused him.
See where others couldn’t (or couldn’t)
Traditional approaches are too static to discover all the potential out there.
A typical executive search process typically involves significant manual desk research, reviewing historical databases that are only as up-to-date as the day each resume was written. Failing that, you’re at the mercy of the headhunter’s black knowledge book — or perhaps a combination of both. Either way, the process is far from efficient, let alone fair.
We use a range of technologies that allow us to identify ‘hidden’ talent without relying on either approach. We are currently working with a leading fashion brand to hire a client and digital director, for example, and using our tools has enabled us to quickly deliver a long list of 74 high-priority real-time candidates within 48 hours.
This is a potential talent pool that would take more traditional search processes weeks to develop – and that’s before validation. Not only are we able to identify candidates quickly and efficiently, using technology, we can also independently conduct due diligence to quantify these leads: do they exhibit typical job-seeking behaviour? What are their cultural motivations? Do they have the desired leadership qualities?
This isn’t just about speed and efficiency – although that’s a bonus, of course – this is, crucially, about turning up candidates that are usually overlooked in the search process.
Going beyond cultural fit
When addressing unconscious biases, it’s also worth considering what a truly inclusive approach to talent acquisition looks like. Companies have long hired people for “cultural fit,” but there is a huge amount of bias in these mindsets.
By striving to hire people whose characteristics align with the company’s goals and values, we create a workplace where everyone looks, thinks and acts the same. Instead, organizations should move away from a practice of molding people to meet their standards.
There is a recent story that always comes to mind. In the run-up to the pandemic, I worked with a major multinational retail group to find a group chief digital officer as part of a high-profile board restructuring.
The person we encountered had no fashion experience and limited shopping experience. Plus, their mindset couldn’t have been further than the existing C-suite, meaning they would have been completely overlooked by the majority of headhunters. But on the other hand, this person had excellent digital expertise, a career that included innovation at several FTSE100 companies. Plus, they had operated as digital nomads in remote Central Africa.
Their technical prowess, coupled with their incredibly diverse mindset, meant they were the perfect person to revolutionize a very traditional organization. But they just wouldn’t have been identified if we’d been looking for someone who was a so-called “cultural fit.” By moving past the cultural fit standard, companies are much more likely to build teams with the diversity of mindsets, experience, ethnicities and backgrounds they claim to seek.
Rewire the System
Ultimately, taking a holistic view of diversity means looking beyond the numbers; a tick-the-box program won’t cut it.
Cultural change is a challenge, perhaps even more so when the goal is to create an inclusive culture. But without a concerted effort to change organizational culture and promote inclusion, diversity initiatives are likely to fail.
The easiest way to go about this is to rethink your hiring process with a radically objective approach. Businesses today need to use technology and data to reduce implicit bias where they can and match it with human touch and cultural intelligence. The road to diversity success is continuous listening, adapting and evolving.