Today, the age of corporate social justice is dawning. With the business case for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) now more vital than ever, we’re beginning to see organizations truly embrace social activism.
And while social justice was, rightly, the initial impetus, companies are finally waking up to the business case for diversity initiatives. Recent research by McKinsey shows that organizations with the most ethnically diverse teams are 36% more likely to financially outperform those with the least. This is because diversity increases revenue, boosts innovation, sparks 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 that goes beyond “add diversity and stir.” Diversity is not a numbers game wherein the solution is to merely increase the numbers of traditionally underrepresented groups in your workforce.
Now, as the world adjusts following the pandemic, it’s time to stop pretending that outdated diversity programs work. So let’s explore some of the measures leaders can take to root out bias and subjectivity from the outset, and instead adopt an approach of “radical objectivity” — combining data and human science to ensure that talent and merit win every time.
Inclusion is about more than hitting diversity recruiting optics
Diversity in the workplace starts with an inclusive culture. Unfortunately, many companies get this wrong. This is because diversity is quantitative — it’s the extent of heterogeneity within your workforce. On the other hand, inclusion describes the experiences of different individuals in the workforce and the degree to which they’re invited to participate.
Delivering on inclusion, therefore, is about more than hitting diversity recruiting optics. Done right, an inclusive culture should help to foster a sense of belonging and shared values. By arming themselves with data and insight instead of 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 needs to be embedded in the talent acquisition process, which means evolving the way that you engage with your prospective employees — starting with language.
The words you choose to bring your business to life will make the difference: Words are influential ambassadors of your workplace’s culture. Technology and data analysis can help you here, providing robust insights on the messages you’re sending.
For example, are you using gender-coded or inclusive-coded language to attract inclusion-minded people? Are you taking the time to update your communications regularly to make sure they’re understanding of different cultural contexts — not just gender and ethnic but organizational and generational, too?
And it’s not just the language that you use in your marketing that matters. Have you considered the words used by your hiring managers and recruiters? At Inbeta, we use technology that enables organizations to move beyond the basics when it comes to inclusion.
For example, we bury specific questions in our recruitment interviews, the answers to which can be linguistically analyzed to understand the genuine values and behaviors of candidates, recruiters and hiring managers. This means you no longer need to rely on simplistic “bias checker” software, which tends to be based on outdated research with few controls on data integrity.
Remember, the best candidates have options. So what will you say that makes them want to work for you?
Moving past preconceptions
It’s also essential to bear in mind that, when it comes to language, it works both ways. When deciding whether to hire someone, we need to move past conceptions of how the ideal candidate should talk. That, too, leads to homogeneity. Technology and training in tandem can help with that.
At Inbeta, we recently partnered with a prominent high-street retailer to recruit a board director and encountered in our search a prominent candidate from a working-class background. However, the initial assumption from their tone and the way they articulated was that they had got to their accomplished position through “grit” and “graft” and lacked the strategic capability required for the new role.
Our linguistic intelligence coupled with human expertise surfaced early on that this was not the case and allowed us to counteract the biases at play. We were able to advocate for the individual and design a bespoke coaching intervention that raised the profile within the process, showcasing objective potential and ensuring they were given an equitable chance. The individual is now in the final stage, despite the disadvantage their socioeconomic background would have otherwise caused them.
Looking where others wouldn’t (or couldn’t)
Traditional approaches are too static to uncover all the potential that’s out there.
A standard executive search process will typically entail significant manual desk research reviewing historical databases that are only as up-to-date as the day each CV was written. Failing that, you’re at the mercy of the headhunter’s black book of acquaintances — or perhaps a combination of the two. Either way, the process is far from efficient, let alone equitable.
We use a suite of technologies that allows us to identify “hidden” talent without relying on either approach. We’re currently working with a leading fashion brand to hire a customer and digital director, for example, and the use of our tools has meant that we’ve been able to rapidly 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 map candidates quickly and efficiently, by leveraging technology, we can independently execute due diligence to quantify these leads: Are they exhibiting typical job-seeking behaviors? What are their cultural drivers? Do they have the desired leadership qualities?
This isn’t just about speed and efficiency — although, of course, that’s a bonus — this is, crucially, about surfacing candidates that would usually be overlooked in the search process.
Moving beyond cultural fit
In tackling unconscious bias, it’s also worth considering what a truly inclusive approach to talent acquisition looks like. Companies have long hired for “cultural fit,” but there’s a tremendous amount of bias in these mindsets.
By aiming to hire people whose attributes mesh with the company’s goals and values, your resulting workplace is one in which everyone looks, thinks and acts alike. Instead, organizations must move away from a practice that aims to mold people to fit their norms.
There’s a recent story that always springs to mind. In the run-up to the pandemic, I was working with a significant multinational retail group to source a group chief digital officer as part of a very high-profile board restructure.
The individual we surfaced had no fashion experience and limited retail experience. Furthermore, their mindset couldn’t have been further from that of the existing C-suite, meaning they would have been entirely overlooked by the majority of headhunters. But, on the other hand, this individual had outstanding digital expertise, a career spanning innovation across several FTSE100 companies. And on top of all this, they’d been operating as a digital nomad in remote central Africa.
Their technical proficiency, coupled with their incredibly diverse mindset, meant that they were the perfect person to revolutionize a very traditional organization. But they simply wouldn’t have been identified had we been seeking out somebody who was a so-called “cultural fit.” By getting past the cultural fit default, companies are far more likely to build teams with the diversity of mindset, experience, ethnicities and backgrounds that they claim to be seeking.
Rewiring the system
Ultimately, taking a holistic view of diversity means looking beyond numbers; a tick-the-box program doesn’t cut it.
Cultural change is challenging, perhaps even more so when the objective is creating an inclusive culture. But without a concerted effort to change organizational culture and foster inclusion, diversity initiatives are likely to fail.
The easiest way to address this is to re-examine your hiring process with a radically objective approach. Companies today need to leverage technology and data to mitigate implicit bias wherever they can and match that with human touch and cultural intelligence. The route to diversity success is to perpetually listen, adapt and develop.