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How human resources can promote DEI efforts

Posted by Gabrielle Reed, 20th December 2020

Are you a human resource professional wondering how you can contribute to the diversity of your organization?

The human resources department is typically the front line for combatting issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. As gatekeepers of coveted positions within your company, a lot of the responsibility for ensuring that you’re filling them with competent, effective, and diverse individuals rests in your hands. Heading into 2021, you’ll continue to be under a microscope; your recruiting decisions and hiring policies will be put into question.

We asked human resources experts how bias impacts a company’s workforce, the best practices and promising solutions they’ve discovered through their roles, and how human resources professionals can shape the future talent represented in the business world. Enjoy this exclusive Q&A with Chief Human Resources Officer at the Motion Picture and Television Fund Paul Falcone, Citi Vice President, Workforce Development - Diversity and Inclusion Leah Wallace, and Managing Director of The Broad Center Chaka Booker.

Advice from a chief human resources officer

Paul Falcone, Motion Picture and Television Fund

"The whole idea of diversity metrics takes on a whole new realm once you're looking at AI, and I think artificial intelligence is going to move this much more forward. But again, like everything else, it's not an either or, it's a both and."

To transform any company, you must do something different. What are companies not doing differently, that they should be doing differently, to diversify their workforce?

It has to be intentional. The reality is that demographics is destiny in this country. Things are changing, and it's becoming much more diverse very quickly. It is a business imperative that if you do not have a workforce that understands the diversity, the cultural context of their customers, things will naturally fall by the wayside.

 

What companies are not doing differently: they aren’t quantifying what they're doing. You have to have a data driven approach to this. You have to be able to look at each step of the process. And it's like a funnel. From the very top, when you post an ad to the very thin part of the funnel at the bottom, when you hire someone, you have to know at each of those key five or six steps, where does diversity fall out of the pipeline? And what do you need to do to address that? Artificial intelligence is going to be something that's going to help us. It's not something we'll totally rely on. But it will be something that will augment the process significantly and move us steps forward.

What are possible solutions, including best practices and promising practices, that people should be aware of?

The whole idea of diversity metrics takes on a whole new realm once you're looking at AI, and I think artificial intelligence is going to move this much more forward. But again, like everything else, it's not an either or, it's a both and. You can't just look at the computer and say, the computer is going to solve the problem. At the same time, you have to be looking at the human piece of this. And the human piece of this has to go hand-in-hand with the technical.

But it's hard because there's a bias that's built into us. We know that human beings have an implicit bias, where we tend to judge people according to these subconscious stereotypes. There's also something called an in group bias where you favor people in your own circles. People tend to hire in their own image.

We have to decouple from that to a degree. We have to get to that point where we are analytically looking at the results we're getting in the process. We are training people for emotional intelligence, and selfless leadership, making them more aware of these subconscious biases, unconscious biases, and then looking to the technology.

In what ways can bias become an impediment to seeking talent (i.e. where you look) and seeing talent (i.e. who is considered qualified)?

There's bias, not just on the human side, but also on the procedural side. There can be a sourcing bias if you're relying on the same job boards and the same social media; if I only post on Indeed and only look on LinkedIn. Those are great sources (the 800 pound gorilla in the room); there's nothing wrong with that. But you have to look at the diversity of the websites you’re posting on, too. There's so much out there that can augment what you're doing and cause application bias. When they do the studies of who's got broadband at home and it's like, 80% of white Americans have broadband and 65% of African Americans have broadband. But everybody's got a digital phone these days; it evens the playing field. Make your application so that people can apply digitally via their phone, and you're going to open it up just from that spigot alone. It opens up the funnel.

Advice from a VP of diversity and inclusion

Leah Wallace, Citi

"All senior level managers down to the first level managers that manage people need to have diversity goals with metrics. Just like they have P&L goals, they need to have diversity goals."

What are the major issues and challenges as it relates to companies creating a diverse workforce?

First of all, time. There's a rush to hire, usually. When you're trying to hire individuals, a hiring manager will go up to who they know, who they're comfortable with. That’s the first issue: it’s a lack of diversity of thought.

Then, you have the management culture. So there's a lack of allyship and a lack of understanding. Managers oftentimes are unfamiliar with and they don't have knowledge of how to manage or work with diverse cultures. They haven't been taught how to do it. Another challenge is sustainability, especially when it comes to external hiring. When you're bringing in external hires, especially from competitors, you want them to be able to come in and flourish, so you have to be deliberate about the program that you set up for them.

So when they first come in, you have to have access to leadership, you have to integrate them into a strategic project, and you also have to have special projects for them outside of their roles. Also, if companies don't have examples of who's doing it, right, they may not know how to do it right.

How can bias be mitigating or eliminated from hiring practices?

So, basically, what organizations have to do is they have to examine their processes and their metrics. When it comes to the actual hiring processes, once the candidates come into the search process, we need to look for a diverse candidate slate. I'm talking about utilizing the Rooney Rule, but look at your candidates. They should be 50 percent ethnic and women. You can't just have one diverse candidate on the candidate slate; that's not going to cut it. You're never going to change your numbers.

It’s the same thing with diverse interview panels because you want people coming into your organization to be able to see people that look like themselves. You also want to have immediate calibration sessions, following your interviews. Blind resumes help mitigate bias, as well as making sure that you have metrics and goals in your hiring managers’ goal sets because people need to be held accountable. And if we don't do things like that, bias will never be mitigated.

What are possible solutions, including best practices and promising practices, that people should be aware of?

We see a lot of companies that are writing press releases and donating large dollar amounts to social justice causes. That's all great, and I'm very, very happy for that because I think that's gonna go a long, long way. However, companies need to do more to take care of their employees within their own house. They need to understand the experiences and the needs, specifically of they’re black employees.

I feel like companies are going to have to be deliberate about examining their own organizations to uncover all those processes that are there with embedded issues of systemic racism. Once they uncover them, they should address the actions to eliminate them and incorporate cultural engagement exercises and training into their plan.

And another thing is all senior level managers down to the first level managers that manage people need to have diversity goals with metrics. Just like they have P&L goals, they need to have diversity goals. All managers need to be held accountable to goals from start to finish. Recruiters need to have metrics around the number of applicants interviewed, number of hires made, the candidate slates, and interview panels. Retention and goals around talent movement, whether it's promotions or lateral moves, especially for black talent compared to their white counterparts, need to be considered.

Lastly, onboarding success criteria and making sure that when folks come in, they have access to leaders, mentors, advocates, special projects, and all of that will go a long way toward retention.

Advice from a manager

Chaka Booker, The Broad Center

"The first thing people have to realize is that bias is a natural thing. It’s a shortcut that our brains take to make a decision. And this is an issue during interviews because during an interview, you are making a judgment, you are making a decision based on judgments."

To transform any company, you must do something different. What are companies not doing differently, that they should be doing differently, to diversify their workforce?

You need to search for firms that specialize in diversity, there are many out there, you have to ask for help. It's really hard to do this on your own. There's other things like a chief diversity officer. I think it is really important to have one in your organization, but they have to report to the CEO. Often, they report to HR or general counsel, and that doesn't give them the power that they need; it doesn't signal how important this is to the organization.

In what ways can bias become an impediment to seeking talent (i.e. where you look) and seeing talent (i.e. who is considered qualified)?

The first thing people have to realize is that bias is a natural thing. It happens in our minds. We are automatically biased towards things and against things. It’s a shortcut that our brains take to make a decision. And this is an issue during interviews because during an interview, you are making a judgment, you are making a decision based on judgments. And that's what biases are; they are very quick judgments, but they're going on in the back of your mind as you're making a judgment on a person in front of you.

So what biases actually are our unspoken criteria. I need somebody who can do x, y and z, right? You've got this great list. At the same time, you've got this other criteria going on in your head, and you don't even realize that it's there. And that's a huge issue during the interview process. It makes you make decisions that are not strong, and therefore you don't actually get the best talent. You actually get the right talent into your organization when you actually talk about the unspoken criteria.

If research has found that diverse teams make better decisions, why does it not seem to be a priority for certain companies?

None of us as individuals think we are the problem, right? A majority of us, don't walk around thinking, “my decisions are driven by sexism”, or “I am really uncomfortable with people with disabilities.” It’s easy to shift the blame to our organizations. We think the organization needs to solve the diversity problem.

Another thing is a lot of organizations and a lot of people want to believe in meritocracy. So organizations will say “we only hire the most qualified people, it is a meritocracy organization.” But research shows that when you poll people on who is the most qualified, they almost always end up hiring a white male. It goes back to societal beliefs, particularly in corporate America, right? The definition of qualified, the standard for what is qualified, is a white male. Therefore, even within this idea of meritocracy, if you talk about who's most qualified, you still have societal beliefs creeping away into that.

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