Today’s digital work environment has opened up a whole new world of possibilities for working outside the traditional model of 9-to-5, Monday through Friday, chained to your desk. While some jobs will always require employees to be in a certain place at a certain time, communications technology now makes flexibility possible for most knowledge workers in terms of where, when, and how they get their work done, at least some of the time. Flexible work is attractive to many employees, but it’s more than just a perk: Many organizations are discovering that it can help drive important business goals such as engagement, retention, productivity, and inclusion. To that last point, flexibility is now seen as a valuable tool for helping working parents and caregivers manage their home obligations without sacrificing professional growth and career progress.
One company that has had a positive experience with flexibility is PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), which over the past ten years has evolved a culture of “everyday flexibility” that makes flexible work available to all employees, regardless of their role or circumstances. Anne Donovan, U.S. People Experience Leader at PwC, recently outlined what the company learned in this process at the Harvard Business Review. One key lesson, she writes, is to “be ‘flexible’ when creating a flexibility culture,” rather than implementing a rigid, formal policy:
Flexibility for a caregiver might mean being able to leave work early to take an elderly parent to a doctor’s appointment. For a parent, it might mean taking a midday run, so evenings can be spent with their children. And for others, it could simply be taking an hour in the afternoon to go to a yoga class and recharge. When we look at flexibility this way, it’s easy to see why formal rules actually hinder adoption and progress. It’s impossible to have a one-size-fits-all approach for flexibility. We let our teams figure out what works best for them, as long as they deliver excellent work, on time. The rest is all fair game.
In today’s tight labor market, US employers are having to work harder to attract and retain talent, not just by offering more pay and benefits, but also by targeting their employee value proposition to fit the needs of their candidates and current employees. As millennials take on the burden of caring for their aging parents while starting families of their own, and as progressive organizations strive to make sure motherhood doesn’t derail the career of their women employees, many of the latest benefit trends are family-focused: paid parental leave, flexibility for working parents, returnship programs for parents returning from career breaks, and so forth.
Another increasingly popular family benefit is health insurance coverage for fertility treatments, to help employees who want to start families but struggle with infertility. In vitro fertilization, the most effective of these treatments, is increasingly common as women start families later, but is often prohibitively expensive, costing over $12,000 for just one round, whereas several rounds are sometimes required to result in a successful pregnancy.
Despite the cost, we’ve seen several large employers add fertility benefits to their rewards packages in the past year, including Cisco, Estée Lauder, and MassMutual. In a recent feature at the New York Times, Vanessa Grigoriadis takes a look at what’s driving this trend, pointing to a recent Mercer study that found the percentage of large employers (of 20,000 employees or more) had increased from 37 percent to 44 percent from 2017 to 2018:
These days, I.V.F. coverage is “escaping” the sectors that have traditionally offered it, meaning tech, banking and media, said Jake Anderson, a former partner at Sequoia Capital and a founder of Fertility IQ, a website that assesses doctors, procedures and clinics. General Mills, Chobani, the Cooper Companies and Designer Shoe Warehouse have either introduced coverage or greatly increased dollar amounts for 2019. Procter & Gamble Company offered only $5,000 in fertility benefits until this year, when it increased the benefit to $40,000.
Many organizations are falling short, however, when it comes to communicating this benefit to employees and job seekers, Grigoriadis points out:
Gartner Reimagine HR 2018, Orlando.
In the past two years, issues related to diversity and inclusion in the workplace have appeared with increasing frequency in headlines, legislation, and shareholder earnings calls, underscoring the growing importance of D&I as a strategic priority for businesses. While it’s encouraging that CEOs and investors are paying more attention to D&I, this trend also puts more pressure on D&I leaders to create effective, sustainable strategies with direct impact on the organization’s priority concerns.
In a panel discussion at Gartner’s ReimagineHR event in Orlando last week, Gartner’s Vice President of Inclusion and Engagement, Rajiv Desai, moderated a discussion with a panel of D&I leaders at major companies on the practical lessons they have learned in adapting their D&I strategies to business needs. Our panelists included Lori McAdoo, Global Lead–Inclusion and Diversity at Alcoa Corporation, and Vanessa Abrahams-John, Executive Director, Global Diversity, Inclusion and Talent Acquisition at Praxair, Inc. While Alcoa and Praxair have taken different approaches to evolving their D&I strategy, both our panelists emphasized the need for D&I leaders to build networked teams in order to create sustainable strategies, and shared two specific ways they are integrating teamwork into their D&I strategies.
Embedding D&I Strategy into Business Processes
A key theme in both panelists’ success stories was that D&I strategy is not only about programming, but also about embedding D&I into the heart of business processes. This requires intentionally engaging senior leaders to increase their buy-in and help them take action on D&I efforts.
Alcoa’s effort to integrate D&I principles into the business started in a familiar place: building the business case for why diversity matters to everyone, not just the D&I team or diverse employees. McAdoo explained that to gain buy-in, Alcoa led with respect because, “In a practical sense, it is hard to disagree with the general principle of respecting others.” By evolving the company culture into one where all individuals matter, their D&I principles organically shifted to a D&I functional strategy that supported key business goals. However, integrating D&I into the business sometimes does come with changes to policies and procedures to support its integration. For example, Alcoa changed an operating policy to support this new inclusive culture, adjusting shift lengths from twelve hours to eight hours to better support parents and caregivers. By having policies and procedures that align with cultural values of inclusion, Alcoa was able to treat D&I as a business necessity, not just a “nice-to-have.”
Being both a “social issue” and a business concern, diversity and inclusion is one area where events in the corporate world can have a significant impact on society writ large: For example, just look at how businesses in the US have shaped the public conversation around issues like immigration, LGBT inclusion, and freedom of speech in the past two years. This dynamic works both ways, however, and changing conventions of how diversity is discussed in the academic and media environments can push organizations to rethink how they implement D&I on the ground. Recently, several new terms have entered this discourse that present new challenges (and opportunities) for D&I leaders to bring new dimensions to their work.
At Gartner’s ReimagineHR conference in Orlando last week, Gartner VP, Team Manager Lauren Romansky gave a presentation on three of these emerging concepts from psychology and sociology, and how D&I can leverage them as more than just buzzwords, to create value in their organizations. The terms are:
- Intersectionality: A holistic picture of identity, which asserts that various dimensions of diversity (such as sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, gender, disability, or socioeconomic status) are inseparable when considering individual experiences. For example, whereas women and black Americans both experience specific forms of discrimination and adversity, the intersection of these identities means black women in particular have a discrete experience that is more than the sum of its parts.
- Psychological safety: A shared belief that a team feels comfortable taking interpersonal risks. This means that team members are able to bring their authentic selves to work and communicate openly and transparently without fear of negative professional consequences. Psychological safety (a group dynamic) is different from trust (an individual dynamic), but can help build trust between team members.
- Belonging: A sense of acceptance and community within a given group. Over the past several decades, D&I has evolved from making sure historically disadvantaged groups are represented in the workplace (diversity) to making sure they are invited to participate (inclusion). Belonging can be thought of as the next step in that evolution, toward making sure these employees feel like full members of their workplace communities.
Bringing these ideas into D&I can help add value in various ways.
As shown in a growing body of research, including our work at Gartner, companies that invest in diversity see bottom-line benefits including greater innovation and ability to penetrate new markets. Organizations that create inclusive work environments, furthermore, accrue more of these benefits than those that focus on diversity alone. But if inclusion is the key to unleashing the value of diversity, it can also be a heavier lift: Our research shows that most employees—especially frontline employees—don’t think their managers successfully foster an inclusive work environment.
Creating an inclusive environment means, in part, mitigating the impact of conscious and unconscious bias on talent processes like hiring, promotion, and performance management. Most organizations attack this challenge through anti-bias training, which can bolster employees’ confidence in diversity and inclusion efforts but often falls short of bridging the gap between increasing managers’ awareness of bias and actually changing their behavior. Training targets attitudes as opposed to actions, its effects diminish over time, and it requires significant effort and expense to implement at scale.
An essential lesson from our research is that best-practice D&I initiatives don’t just train managers in how to avoid bias, but actually embed bias mitigation into those talent processes. Accordingly, there is now a growing movement within the D&I community to complement anti-bias training with “inclusion nudges”: soft, non-intrusive mental pushes that help us make more objective decisions and affects predictable behaviors to make them more inclusive.
At Gartner’s ReimagineHR conference in Orlando, Florida on Sunday, Gartner’s Jeanine Prime led a panel discussion with Lorelei Whitney, Assistant Vice President Human Resources at Cargill; and Eric Dziedzic, Director, Diversity and Inclusion at Amgen, about their experiences implementing inclusion nudges at their organizations.
What does an inclusion nudge look like?
California recently became the first state in the US to enact a law requiring companies based there to include at least some women on their boards of directors. The legislation, signed by Governor Jerry Brown on the last day of September, mandates that all publicly traded companies headquartered California (not just those chartered there) have at least one woman on their boards by the end of 2019. For companies with at least five directors, at least two or three of those seats must be filled by women by 2021, depending on the size of the board. Companies that do not comply will be subject to fines by the state.
California’s mandate has ignited a firestorm of controversy, with business groups like the California Chamber of Commerce saying it violates constitutional principles and effectively requires companies to discriminate against men, while even some advocates of diversity in corporate leadership question whether it will have the kind of impact it is intended to have. The state will likely be sued over the law and may lose, which Brown acknowledged in his letter to the state Senate announcing his signature of the bill. “I don’t minimize the potential flaws that may indeed prove fatal to its ultimate implementation,” he wrote. The constitutional issues at hand concern not only the issue of reverse gender discrimination but also a question of jurisdiction, as the Supreme Court has ruled in the past that a corporation’s internal affairs are governed by the statutes of the state in which it is chartered, not where its headquarters is located.
Nonetheless, even if the law is ultimately defeated in court, it is intended partly as a marker of determination on the part of the California state government to ratchet up pressure on companies there to make more progress on diversity and inclusion, particularly in leadership roles where women and minorities remain heavily underrepresented. Simply bringing visibility to the issue counts as a win for some advocates of gender equality, Vox‘s Emily Stewart reported:
“If nothing else, what this law is doing is increasing the visibility and awareness on the issue itself and the importance, and that is a win in and of itself,” said Serena Fong, the vice president of strategic engagement at Catalyst, a nonprofit focused on promoting women in business.
Amazon canceled a multi-year project to develop an experimental automated recruiting engine after the e-commerce giant’s machine learning team discovered that the system was exhibiting explicit bias against women, Reuters reports. The engine, which the team began building in 2014, used artificial intelligence to filter résumés and score candidates on a scale from one to five stars. Within a year of starting the project, however, it became clear that the algorithm was discriminating against female candidates when reviewing them for technical roles.
Because the AI was taught to evaluate candidates based on patterns it found in ten years of résumés submitted to Amazon, most of which came from men, the system “taught itself that male candidates were preferable,” according to Reuters:
It penalized resumes that included the word “women’s,” as in “women’s chess club captain.” And it downgraded graduates of two all-women’s colleges, according to people familiar with the matter. They did not specify the names of the schools. Amazon edited the programs to make them neutral to these particular terms. But that was no guarantee that the machines would not devise other ways of sorting candidates that could prove discriminatory, the people said.
The company scuttled the project by the start of 2017 after executives lost faith in it. By that time, however, it may have already helped perpetuate gender bias in Amazon’s own hiring practices. The company told Reuters its recruiters never used the engine to evaluate candidates, but did not dispute claims from people familiar with the project that they had had looked at the recommendations it generated.