Mindful of the risk of alienating allies and the potential backlash against diversity and inclusion, some organizations have recently been rethinking and retooling their D&I efforts to be “colorblind”—i.e., to de-emphasize demographic differences and attempt to achieve greater inclusion by removing spaces created for employees of specific, underrepresented demographics. Reacting to this trend, and specifically Deloitte’s controversial decision to do away with employee resource groups, Paradigm founder and CEO Joelle Emerson lays out the case against colorblindness at the Harvard Business Review:
The negative impact of colorblindness on organizations and individual employees has been well documented. Downplaying demographic differences reduces the engagement of underrepresented employees and increases their perceptions of bias from their white colleagues. Moreover, the cognitive load of attempting to appear colorblind when we all, of course, do notice difference can ironically result in more biased behaviors from white employees, or lead them to avoid the intergroup collaborations that can spark innovation and enrich their work. Colorblindness is a quantifiably ineffective inclusion strategy for individuals and organizations. Multiculturalism, the opposite of colorblindness, stresses recognition and inclusion of group differences and has been shown to benefit minority employees and organizations at large. …
If both ally engagement and designated spaces for discrete populations are important, what’s the solution? Efforts need not be either-or. In fact, the most effective ones must do both.
Emerson is not the first critic to question Deloitte’s approach to ERGs along these lines. Before going down the road of ERGs entirely, organizations can consider other ways to make them more inclusive while also ensuring that they still primarily focus on the needs of underrepresented employees. If the challenge they face with ERGs is involving allies, particularly white men, leaders can consider opening up these groups to allies rather than abolishing them.
In our D&I research at CEB (now Gartner), we have also seen organizations questioning colorblindness (and gender-blindness) in making decisions on performance reviews and succession management.
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.
The Guardian’s Katie Allen highlights a new report from Deloitte finding that at the current pace of change, the UK won’t close its gender pay gap until 2069:
In all but one of 10 popular occupations for graduates, men start out on higher average salaries than women. In all 10, the gap widens over time. The gender pay gap has come down to its lowest on record, at 9.4% for full-time workers, and the government has pledged to eliminate it in a generation. But progress remains very slow, according to Deloitte. It found the difference in hourly pay between full-time men and women was closing at a rate of just 2.5p a year. …
The report says the reasons for the UK’s 9.4% gender pay gap for full-time workers are complex. Factors include women being more likely to take jobs where pay is relatively low, such as in care; women taking time out for family reasons; and women taking more poorly paid part-time jobs when they return. “There may also be unconscious discrimination at work and within organisations that affect decisions about jobs and pay,” the report added.
John McCarthy at the Drum focuses on STEM fields, where Deloitte found the pay gap was smaller:
Deloitte's Offices in Stamford, CT (Ritu Manoj Jethani/Shutterstock.com)
Deloitte has announced that they will offer its employees 16 weeks of paid family leave for caregiving, a plan which the company calls “the first of its kind” among professional services firms. The expanded benefit, which is available starting this month, applies to both women and men and will include not only parental leave, but also caregiving for sick or elderly family members. In addition, birth mothers, if combining both maternity leave and short term disability, will now be eligible for up to six months of paid leave after having a child. Previously, Deloitte employees who were primary caregivers were eligible for eight weeks of paid leave, while non-primary caregivers were eligible for three weeks.
Speaking with Fortune’s Valentina Zarya, Deloitte CEO Cathy Engelbert said the move was focused on improving the overall well-being of their employees, as the firm wants to be known as a talent innovator. The Wall Street Journal‘s Rachel Emma Silverman adds:
Starting with next year’s hiring round, recruiters for Deloitte’s UK business will no longer get to see where applicants attended school or university, the BBC reports. The move is intended to guard against “unconscious bias” and improve diversity. Instead of looking at where the candidate attended school, “an algorithm will consider ‘contextual’ information alongside academic results. It will take into account disadvantages such as attending an under-performing school or coming from a deprived area.” So, for example, if an applicant’s A-level exam scores are middling in absolute terms but above average for their school, the algorithm will consider them exceptional. In the Washington Post, Jena McGregor notes that the software Deloitte will use is produced by the diversity hiring firm Rare and is already being used at over a dozen UK law firms. She also considers the upsides and downsides of Deloitte’s school-blind approach: Read more