It’s not enough to conduct a couple diversity and inclusion training sessions and call it a day. Most long-term diversity initiatives are often ineffective at increasing diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

In a 2017 survey of around 17,500 employees in 21 countries, BCG determined that 90% of respondent companies had a gender diversity initiative, but only 25% of women at these companies felt that they have benefited from these initiatives. 

BCG reports that most companies aren’t analyzing what diversity programs and policies are actually working. Company leaders also don’t have a good grasp of what the problem areas are. For example, only 21% of men in the survey believed that advancement was a big stumbling block toward diversity as opposed to 45% of women. 

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Problem Areas in Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity Training

Even properly-done diversity and inclusion training is not going to significantly boost the percentage of minority, female, or LGBTQ+ employees at your company. However, some researchers have found that diversity training can increase employee’s motivation to alter their behavior and attempt to reduce their implicit bias. Unfortunately, many companies are doing diversity training completely wrong and are actually increasing bias and causing a backlash from their employees (aka killing 0 birds with 1 stone).

Hiring Tests

Around 40% of companies are using hiring tests to evaluate the skills of primarily frontline job workers. Implementing skill-focused interviews can help eliminate bias in the interview, but many white managers are using hiring tests as a tool to keep diversity out of their companies. When the Harvard Business Review interviewed a new HR director at a fast-food company, the HR director said he discovered that white managers were hiring their white friends without testing them but requiring strangers, who were mostly minorities, to take the tests. Even when managers require all candidates to take hiring tests, they often ignore the results.

Investment banks, consulting firms, and other high-profile industries ask math questions or situational hypothetical problems. In her book Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs, Professor Lauren Rivera recounts how hiring managers mostly ignored when white males bombed on the test but paid close attention when women and people of color did.

In addition, the Harvard Business Review found that companies that implement written tests for candidates applying to manager positions end up decreasing the percentage of women and people of color in management by 4 to 10 per cent. White and Asian-American women usually score highly on standardized managerial tests, so these decreases probably stemmed from bias, not possible racial differences in test-taking skills. 

Performance Ratings

The goal of annual performance reviews is to help managers make fair pay and promotion decisions, but many managers are using them as a defense against discrimination lawsuits. 

However, many studies have shown that managers often underscore women and minorities, and other managers score everybody highly to avoid backlash from employees. When companies start implementing performance reviews, the percentage of minority managers doesn’t change over the next five years and the number of women in managerial positions decreases by 4% on average. 

Grievance Systems

Around 50 per cent of midsize and large companies have grievance systems, procedures that allow employees to challenge pay, promotion, and termination decisions.

However, many managers retaliate against these grievances instead of changing their decisions or addressing discrimination. 45% of the 90,000 grievances made to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission included a charge of retaliation, which means the original complaint was met with derision, demotion, or worse.

Researchers Frank Dobbin of Harvard University and Alexandra Kalev of Tel Aviv University say that accused harassers are more likely to be struck by lightning than transferred or fired, and most managers accused of discrimination don’t get any sort of punishment. Some studies have even shown that grievance systems influence people to not be as careful in blocking their bias. Employees may believe that grievance policies and company procedures will automatically ensure fairness.

How to Promote Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace?

Metrics and Tracking

Companies need to set quantifiable goals, consistently track their progress on these goals, compare them to numbers at other organizations, identify problem areas, and create new solutions. They should also inform and update important internal and external stakeholders on these diversity and inclusion metrics to increase accountability.

Alternative Complaint Systems

As mentioned earlier, grievance systems often lead to retaliation from managers. In addition, employees who complain about harassment are more likely to face career obstacles or suffer from worse physical or mental health than employees who faced harassment but didn’t complain about it. Some companies have found success with a flexible complaint system which gives the option of an informal mediation instead of only a formal hearing process.

Informal mediation can limit retaliation from managers because the situation can be resolved privately and without invoking a disciplinary body. Informal mediation shouldn’t be used when there’s a large power disparity between both parties.

Another alternative complaint system is the ombuds office. An independent party outside the chain of command that listens to victims and gives confidential advice. The ombuds have the power to deal with harassment and discrimination in many different ways. Including advising the accuser on how to speak to the accused, what to do if the accused harasses or discriminates against them again, or how to switch to another job. They can also collaborate with HR to change work conditions, assignments, or teams.

Yet another option is the Employee Assistance Plan, which gives employees free, confidential support on both workplace and personal issues that are compromising their health, wellbeing, or work performance. Outside vendors with access to counseling and mediation experts usually run Employee Assistance Plans. The key difference between EAPs and the ombuds office is that the EAP vendor does not intervene in the organization, whereas the ombuds have a lot of freedom to do workplace intervention.

Test Technology for Bias

Technology can significantly reduce bias during hiring, but it can also discriminate and make diversity problems worse. For example, a company may deploy an AI hiring tool that develops its own algorithm to predict success at the company. However, if most successful employees at that company are white and male, the AI will use that data and will likely only predict hiring white male candidates for success. This can clearly show bias against minority and female candidates.

Companies need to test new technologies for bias before implementation and then review results after implementation to make sure the technology itself isn’t biased.

Increase Visibility of People from Under-Represented Groups

Increase the visibility of minorities, women, and members of the LGBTQ+ community by adding them as speakers on panels or conferences.  

Commitment from Company Executives

Company executives must communicate why diversity and inclusion are so important and set strategic goals to increase diversity and inclusion. Have company leaders talk to a range of employees to get their input in setting these goals.

Get Managers Actively Involved in Diversity and Inclusion Efforts

Give as many opportunities as possible for managers to volunteer to get involved in diversity and inclusion efforts.

Research has demonstrated that if you ask someone to act in ways that support some position, their opinions will change along with their actions. In order words, if managers participate in diversity efforts, like visiting colleges specifically to recruit minorities and women, their own biases will change. Another way to get managers involved is by encouraging them to participate in mentoring programs. Georgetown’s business school dean David Thomas has found that many male leaders don’t feel comfortable in reaching out to young women and minority men. But will happily take on a female or minority mentee if the mentee is assigned to them.

Only 15% of companies have specialized college recruitment programs for minorities and women and only 10% have mentoring programs, but these policies can rapidly increase diversity, especially if managers are involved in them. 

Self-Managed Teams and Cross-Training

Psychologists have discovered that one of the best ways to reduce bias is by having different groups work together for a common goal. You can bring this phenomenon into the workplace by implementing self-managed teams, which put people in different roles on a project as equals. Different roles have different demographic makeup, so a team composed of people from different areas of the business will likely be diverse.

The Harvard Business Review reported that implementing self-management increased the percentage of Black, white female, and Asian-American female managers by 3 to 6 percent over 5 years. You can also decrease bias and increase inclusion by rotating employees through departments, causing different demographics to work together more often. The Harvard Business Review reports a 3 to 7 per cent increase in white females, Black men, and Asian-American managers after implementing cross-training.

Tailored and Deliberate Action

Company leaders need to tailor all the advice discussed in this article to the strengths, weaknesses, and culture of their companies. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. In addition, companies need to analyze how new initiatives will affect the day to day employee experience before implementation.

For example, sometimes companies will promote flexible work programs only for women to increase gender inclusivity. But promoting flexible work for only women will make it seem that these programs are only for mothers. And that women are contributing less to the company than men. Make sure programs like flexible work are developed for everybody and take input from men when designing them. 

Improving Gender Diversity and Inclusion

The companies in BCG’s analysis tend to spend diversity funding equally among 5 different areas: recruitment, culture, leadership, retention, and advancement. Companies need to focus on key problem areas of retention and advancement. 

BCG looked at 21 different diversity interventions and grouped them into 4 categories:

  • Hidden Gems- which are important to women but not to male executives
  • Proven Measures- which are important to women and male executives and have been proven to have high ROI
  • Baseline Measures- which don’t really affect women’s day to day experience but have some value
  • Overrated Measures- which are mere tokenisms and don’t have any real effects

What Works in Gender Diversity and Inclusion? 

The best interventions for women focus on allowing women to balance family life and career while granting career opportunities. 

Increase the Visibility of Female Leaders

44% of female respondents valued this intervention and said that seeing a female role model encourages them. It also doesn’t take a lot of work to promote a company leader. There are many ways to do this, such as including these women on panel discussions or simply celebrating their achievements.

Offer flexible-work programs for everyone

Offer opportunities like part-time work, individualized working hours, and remote work. Many firms already offer flexible-work opportunities. Women placed them as the second most effective inclusivity measure in the BCG survey.

Men also value flexible-work programs. In fact, 51% of all respondents to the survey believed flexible-work programs are one of the best inclusivity policies. Make sure you are promoting flexible-work to both men and women, or else women might face backlash for “working less”. Continually assess the effectiveness of flexible-work programs, and modify them so that they are increasing productivity and not decreasing it.

Parental Policies

Substantial parental leave, appropriate healthcare coverage and on-site childcare are basic policies to help parents. These policies help women balance family and career responsibilities. Make sure that healthcare covers the cost of pregnancy and childbirth.

Support Women During Times of Change in their Careers

Women say that their company needs to support them at certain points that affect their careers disproportionately. These points include applying for a position abroad, returning from maternity leave, or a promotion. Companies can support women during these points by offering flexible working models, more administrative support, or more meetings with leadership. 

Develop Internal and External Networks for Women

This intervention isn’t valued much by men, but it is valued by women. Having a strong female network allows women to build relationships with their peers. 

Offer Professional Development 

Professional development, like executive programs, can give women the skills they need to thrive in the long-term. It can also be altered to fit each individuals’ needs, which is more effective than a one-size-fits-all approach. 

Engage Male Employees in Inclusion Efforts

Male support for inclusion programs correlates to actual progress. Involve men when making diversity and inclusion programs to build a comprehensive one. 

Commit Publicly To Gender Diversity

Diversity must be a priority throughout the company. CEOs and leaders especially must emphasize gender diversity and work to implement new policies and programs.

What Doesn’t Work in Gender Diversity and Inclusion?

  1. One-time diversity training sessions
  2. Grievance systems
  3. Recruiting women in leadership positions from outside the company

Although externally hiring women for leadership positions seem logical, it won’t do anything. Women need internal role models to show that the company will reward their hard work and talent. 

Improving Racial and Ethnic Diversity and Inclusion

What Works in Racial and Ethnic Diversity and Inclusion?

Blind Screening of Resumes

People of color ranked blind screening of resumes as the second most effective policy change. Numerous studies have documented that people with black-sounding names like Jamaal or Letisha are less likely to get callbacks. Even if they have very similar resumes and skillsets it has an impact on their callbacks.

Include People of Color on Interview Panels 

This intervention ranked seventh. Again, like blind screening, people of color are focused on challenges during recruitment.

Sponsorship Programs

Sponsorship programs pair high-potential employees with company higher-ups who can lead them to new opportunities for promotion and development. These programs give people of color access to leadership. Doing so helps in leveling the playing field with white people who may already have substantial access to leadership just by sharing the same interests with leaders.

Reduce Implicit Bias in Day-to-Day Interactions

Although it is easy to look at policy changes, HR also needs to be closely monitoring interactions. It is very easy for people to get away with microaggressions in the workplace.

End Structurally Racist Policies

You could be enforcing structurally racist policies without even knowing these policies are racist. For example, your company could have an appearance policy that puts Black people at a disadvantage due to their curls and Afrocentric hairstyles

Improving LGBTQ+ Diversity and Inclusion

What works in LGBTQ+ Diversity and Inclusion?

Participation in External, LGBTQ+ friendly Events

Have employees participate in external events, like Pride. It is a direct message showing your commitment to LGBTQ+ inclusion. 

Give Appropriate Health Coverage 

LGBTQ+ people have faced a lot of discrimination in medicine. It makes sense that they value health coverage as an inclusion effort. In addition to health coverage, 60% of Fortune 500 companies in 2018 were providing life insurance, relocation assistance, and adoption assistance.

End Structural Roadblocks

End structural roadblocks by creating a gender-neutral bathroom or including a nonbinary gender option on company surveys. These may not seem like important details but go a long way to improving inclusivity.

Reduce implicit bias in day-to-day operations

In a 2018 BCG survey, about 50% of LGBTQ+ employees at companies with antidiscrimination policies reported being closeted at work. More than half reported hearing insensitive jokes at least once in a while.

Although we’ve tried to be as exhaustive as we possibly can, there still might be things we may have missed. Are there any other diversity and inclusion initiatives your company takes?