Why Your Diversity Programs Are Not Working
As a minority woman, I have been part of several different ‘Diversity/Affinity programs across a number of companies and industries. As a manager and leader, I have also been an active member of the recruitment processes, and know that most organizations have rigorous processes and policies in place to attract candidates from diverse backgrounds. Out of all these programs though, only one stands out as being actually effective in attracting and retaining diverse top talent from top schools — The others faltered for a variety of reasons, and either had a hard time attracting diverse top talent or would see high levels of attrition within this small population.
So why did most fail while another seemingly succeeded? How can we replicate this success within our our teams?
We all know the benefits of diverse employees stretch much farther than just the reduction of legal/reputation risk or the benefits of staying “on trend” with the rest of the market. The 2015 McKinsey study proves yet again that being diverse actually increases productivity and profits. Companies with diverse populations are up to 35% more likely to outperform their competitors, and are more likely to retain their employees for an average of 3–5 years, compared with 18 months average for non-diverse companies.
Companies with diverse populations are up to 35% more likely to outperform their competitors, and are more likely to retain their employees for an average of 3–5 years, compared with 18 months average for non-diverse companies.
However not every company achieves these diversity goals and the subsequent benefits to profitability and productivity. Even companies in the Silicon Valley who are greatly focused on People Strategy and Analytics struggle with lack of diversity and the ensuing toxic culture of discrimination and harassment. This issue is sadly not unique to the dynamic Silicon Valley and as the recent viral #MeToo campaign has shown, the issue of implicit discrimination and toxic culture is not an isolated incident in just one type of industry or function or region.
So why did these Diversity programs not work? Was it the programs or something broader?
One main reason is that companies and leaders have historically focused on Diverse Populations, not Inclusive Teams. The thinking has been that if we have a large community of people from diverse backgrounds, then we must be a diverse and inclusive workplace, else all those people would not work here. The problem with this thought process is three-fold:
Firstly, this metric ignores the situations where employees from diverse backgrounds are employed but self-segregate into homogenous clusters with very little interaction with the broader community. This inhibits the ability for companies to take advantage of the diverse population and in fact inadvertently condones the ‘exclusive’ culture and norms, instead of promoting Inclusivity.
Secondly, this metric also ignores that there are two sides of this equation. Not only is there a candidate who has been hired, and is being paid to contribute to the company and team success, but there is also an existing team who have to be welcoming, open-minded, and inclusive towards the new employee to ensure that their ideas are heard and acted upon with the same urgency as those of everyone else in the team. If the second part of the equation is not focused on, then no matter how smart, capable, or innovative the new hire is, he/she will not be utilized appropriately by the team, and this team behavior in fact can lead to higher attrition amongst the broader team, since team culture does not promote trust and integrity.
Thirdly, these metrics are typically backward-looking and present a significant lag for leaders making conscious decisions on how to build trust and inclusive teams. A manager can hire employees from diverse backgrounds, but often doesn’t know if they have been welcomed and have been able to contribute at the average or above average amount — until the annual engagement survey cycle, which can be 15–18 months from the time of hire. This feedback loop is too long, especially with today’s workforce, who no longer work loyally for one company for few years, but rather move from company to company till they find the right fit. This attrition rate due to the lag causes further uncertainty and avoidable operational risk in the team.
All of these risks and short-comings can be easily minimized with a more active management of the team culture, and an ability to track and measure inclusivity.
However, the current tools available to managers and leaders to measure success of a ‘Diversity Program’ are similarly either numbers-based (how many employees recruited, promoted, etc.) or are opinion-based, focused on how well the employee with diverse background is “fitting in” or conforming to the standards set and the culture propagated by the “traditional” (aka non-diverse) workforce.
These tools are categorically inadequate measures to assess and track whether a workplace is a welcoming place for people from diverse backgrounds and does not help managers actively promote an environment that fosters the best, most creative, highest quality output from their employees. Managers instead need tools to understand how inclusive their teams are and how they interact with each other, particularly with those from diverse backgrounds.
Managers instead need tools to understand how inclusive their teams are and how they interact with each other, particularly with those from diverse backgrounds.
As a recent Harvard Business Review article argued, the way to build inclusive teams is to first map out how they interact with each other. This is where Network science is at its most useful — and new-age tools, such as Lean DEI, can help leaders can use this powerful science and algorithms to finally make lasting improvements to their diverse organizations.
The Lean DEI Story
Lean DEI was created with the mission of promoting inclusive cultures across all types of organizations. Over the past few years we have worked with academic advisors who specialize in Network Science & Organizational Behavior and have hired AI specialists to simplify the complex network algorithms using state-of-the-art machine learning systems, and provide a quick, easy, and actionable tool for leaders looking to make lasting improvement in their teams and organizational culture.
Create inclusive cultures in your teams, not just hire diverse candidates — learn more at www.leandei.com