A new survey of ethnic minority business leaders in the UK from the consultancy Green Park shows that racial discrimination remains a serious challenge in the British workplaces, while UK businesses are not making sufficient progress toward meeting diversity and inclusion goals. The survey’s headline findings include that 18 percent of these leaders have personally experienced workplace discrimination in the past two years and that 82 percent of them do not trust their organizations and believe that there is institutional prejudice against minorities in the UK, People Management’s Emily Burt reports:
Meanwhile, just 2 per cent of companies surveyed by Green Park reported that they were meeting their targets for ethnic minority board-level representation, while more than a tenth (13 per cent) said they had an ethnic diversity target but no strategy for meeting it. …
However, nearly three-quarters (73 per cent) of those surveyed felt most workplace prejudice was unconscious. In light of this, the researchers recommended that changes in attitudes towards institutional racism must come from the top and not just left to HR to “sort out”. But while 60 per cent of the surveyed ethnic minority leaders said they believed tackling institutional racism had moved up the organisational agenda in recent months, two-thirds of these respondents said workplace language around racism was emotive and made people uncomfortable.
Burt also points to a study published earlier in the year by the University of Manchester, which reviewed 25,000 incidents of racism in the workplace and came to the conclusion “that workplace racism was increasingly normalised,” with nearly 30 percent of surveyed employees saying they had “either witnessed or experienced racism from managers, colleagues, customers or suppliers.”
Meanwhile, the BBC reports on another new study conducted by the Trades Union Congress, which also found that more than one third of black or minority ethnic workers have experienced racism in the workplace:
HR leaders from dozens of organizations attended a session on women in leadership at our ReimagineHR event last week in London. Participants in the session, a majority of whom were women, expressed frustration with the fact that so many organizations worldwide are still having trouble advancing gender balance in their leadership. When asked why they thought this was the case, the attendees identified two main themes: bias and flexibility.
The Impact of Bias on Talent Management
According to our research, if you are human, you are biased: The human mind takes in 11 million pieces of information per second, yet we can only consciously process 40 pieces of information per second. Because of this discrepancy, bias is inevitable, particularly unconscious bias. People cannot be counted on to effectively and consistently catch their own biases. To solve this problem, organizations should focus not only on removing bias at the individual level, but also at the level of process. You can’t prevent people from having biases, but you can mitigate the impact of those biases on the decisions your organization makes.
Many of the participants at ReimagineHR are taking new approaches to addressing bias in talent management. We often hear about organizations working to remove bias from the hiring process by removing any identifying characteristics from an individual’s application or resume, but some participants in our session said the opposite approach had been working for their organizations. These participants shared examples of how they actually leveraged data on women’s representation in their talent pipelines to raise awareness of gender gaps.
CEB's Clare Moncrieff (L) and Mazars CLO Tyra Malzy (Simon Meyer)
According to recent research from CEB (now Gartner), in order to create an inclusive climate for teams, organizations need to focus not only on climate quality (the average level of inclusion that employees feel) but also on climate strength (the variation between how different employees perceive the inclusivity of their team). In a session on building inclusive leaders at our ReimagineHR conference in London on Thursday, we heard from Tyra Malzy, Chief Learning Officer at Mazars, about her experience integrating inclusion into her company’s business practices and engaging its younger workforce in decision-making. Here are some of the strategies she shared:
Normalize Inclusion in Leadership
As Malzy explained, Mazars needed to reach out to its millennial employees and help senior leadership see the business value of including these employees in its decisions. To meet these goals, the company made several key choices.
- Start with saying “yes”: Mazars found that when leaders were concerned with the impact of change, they often responded in a risk-averse manner, usually resulting in saying “no” to ideas that deviated from the organization’s typical decision-making process. By making a habit of saying “yes” more often, this helped generate a more open environment for co-developing solutions.
- Crowdsource ideas from employees: An important component of making leadership more inclusive is empowering employees to lead from the ground up. Mazars created an app for individuals to share their ideas with others within the company, vote on those which they like the best, and then have the top five presented to senior leaders. Finally, the executive team picks which business ideas to implement. Mazars also surveyed employees to understand their thoughts on management preferences and organizational culture. They then used this information to create specific projects associated with the interests of the employees.
- Bring visibility to functions and individuals that are doing this well: By sharing examples of diverse groups that are outperforming other teams or functions, Mazars challenges teams with limited diversity to step up their diversity of thought and improve their outcomes.
Create a Culture of Inclusivity in Decision-Making
Psychological safety is increasingly seen as a key factor in maximizing the performance of teams: When employees feel psychologically safe, they are more capable of taking risks, communicating candidly, and thinking creatively. Drawing on the lessons Paul Santagata, Head of Industry at Google, learned during the tech giant’s two-year study on team performance, Laura Delizonna looked at some ways managers can foster psychological safety at the Harvard Business Review last week:
1. Approach conflict as a collaborator, not an adversary. We humans hate losing even more than we love winning. A perceived loss triggers attempts to reestablish fairness through competition, criticism, or disengagement, which is a form of workplace-learned helplessness. Santagata knows that true success is a win-win outcome, so when conflicts come up, he avoids triggering a fight-or-flight reaction by asking, “How could we achieve a mutually desirable outcome?”
2. Speak human to human. Underlying every team’s who-did-what confrontation are universal needs such as respect, competence, social status, and autonomy. Recognizing these deeper needs naturally elicits trust and promotes positive language and behaviors. Santagata reminded his team that even in the most contentious negotiations, the other party is just like them and aims to walk away happy. …
3. Anticipate reactions and plan countermoves. “Thinking through in advance how your audience will react to your messaging helps ensure your content will be heard, versus your audience hearing an attack on their identity or ego,” explains Santagata.
Psychological safety is a topic of particular interest to diversity and inclusion professionals, as its benefits are especially important in building and managing diverse teams. In our latest research at CEB, now Gartner, we discuss why creating these spaces and having these conversations can be so hard:
Google’s decision to fire James Damore, a senior engineer who circulated a memo criticizing the company’s diversity efforts and making questionable claims about the biological differences between men and women, was bound to fan the flames of the controversy the memo had sparked. Was terminating this employee the right call? Reasonable arguments can be made on both sides of the debate, and as our HR practice leader Brian Kropp remarked in an interview with the Washington Post, Google had no good options here: Whether it had fired Damore or declined to fire him, either decision was going to upset a certain group of people.
One of the challenges that any talent executive or head of diversity and inclusion will face when inflammatory internal communications like Damore’s memo go public is in figuring out whether they are dealing with a single person who has managed to rile up the Internet (the “don’t feed the trolls” challenge), or are facing a real source of tension from a segment of the workforce. If it’s the former, it’s a great opportunity to make sure that people are aware that you are addressing D&I, and that it’s a key part of your core values; if the latter, it could prompt the organization to reorganize its D&I strategy along the lines of what Deloitte is doing, and double down on inclusion to ensure that everyone gets on board.
Below are some thoughts on what the Google controversy reveals about the challenges facing diversity and inclusion, as well as what employers can learn from the debate in order to strengthen their future D&I efforts.
The Dangers of Backlash
The downside for an organization of reacting to an incident like this with absolute rejection is that it contributes to the framing of D&I as a zero-sum game, which gives ammunition to those who oppose it. When an organization treats a skeptic like Damore as a threat, employees who fear being left behind by D&I efforts or having their viewpoints marginalized in pursuit of diversity will tend to see that as proof of their point. While Google CEO Sundar Pichai told employees that Damore’s memo had crossed a line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes, he also acknowledged the more valid concerns it raised about whether Google’s approach to diversity was optimal and whether employees with minority opinions could safely express them in the workplace.
In other words, irrespective of whether Damore violated norms of professionalism and collegiality in the way he voiced his opinions, and of whether the company was within its rights to terminate his employment, Google does not want to be perceived as making rules about what employees are allowed to think.
Employee resource groups, which create spaces for members of historically disadvantaged or minority communities to come together in support of each other and to help leadership understand and respond to their unique challenges and concerns, are a cornerstone of diversity and inclusion practices at some organizations. Yet there is also a growing understanding among D&I leaders that the most effective initiatives are inclusive in the broadest sense, involving everyone in the organization, not only those in specific affinity groups.
That’s why we’re seeing more inclusion campaigns focused on cultivating allies and helping members of more privileged demographics recognize their own unconscious biases. When the Harvard Business Review devoted an entire issue to D&I last year, it focused heavily on the challenge of getting everyone on board with diversity without courting backlash.
In a controversial move, Deloitte has decided to take this shift toward a more broad-based approach one step further by eliminating ERGs altogether in favor of groups whose membership is not limited to specific demographics, Jeff Green reported recently at Bloomberg:
After 24 years, WIN, the women’s initiative at Deloitte, will end. Over the next 18 months the company will also phase out Globe, which supports gay employees, and groups focused solely on veterans or minority employees. In their place will be so-called inclusion councils that bring together a variety of viewpoints to work on diversity issues. …
“We are turning it on its head for our people,” says Deepa Purushothaman, who’s led the WIN group since 2015 and is also the company’s managing principal for inclusion. Deloitte will still focus on gender parity and underrepresented groups, she says, but not in the same way it has for the past quarter-century, in part because millennial employees—who make up 57 percent of Deloitte’s workforce—don’t like demographic pigeonholes.
PR Image Factory/Shutterstock
At the Harvard Business Review recently, Emma Seppala and Marissa King discussed the causes and consequences of employee burnout and pointed to a strong correlation between burnout and loneliness:
In analyzing the General Social Survey of 2016, we found that, compared with roughly 20 years ago, people are twice as likely to report that they are always exhausted. Close to 50% of people say they are often or always exhausted due to work. This is a shockingly high statistic — and it’s a 32% increase from two decades ago. What’s more, there is a significant correlation between feeling lonely and work exhaustion: The more people are exhausted, the lonelier they feel. This loneliness is not a result of social isolation, as you might think, but rather is due to the emotional exhaustion of workplace burnout. …
In fact, research has demonstrated the link between social support at work, lower rates of burnout, and greater work satisfaction and productivity. After all, the most important factor in work happiness, a UK study showed, is positive social relationships with coworkers. Workplace engagement is associated with positive social relations that involve feeling valued, supported, respected, and secure.
To help build those positive social relations, Seppala and King recommend that employers promote a culture of inclusion and empathy, encourage employees to build developmental networks, and celebrate group successes. This is easier said than done, however, especially with employees that work remotely or away from the central or corporate office, so the big question that comes to mind is how to achieve this while also having a flexible, partly or fully remote workforce.