When doing good ends badly

High-tech office / Photo: Shutterstock, Shutterstock.com

Diversity policies in enterprises often achieve the opposite of the desired result. There are better ways.

Yuval is a senior leader at a multinational technology company which set itself a high target of recruiting women for technology and management positions to create broader gender diversity within the organization. Senior management and HR were strongly encouraging hiring managers to select women for open roles, which eventually did increase the women being hired, but not always for the right reasons. Quite a few recruitment mistakes occurred that affected both the functioning of the organization and the women hired for these jobs, as they were disappointed to learn that the roles did not suit their skills. The move drew criticism and even cynicism toward promoting women in the organization and in practice damaged the trust and reputation of women in the organization, as it created a distorted perception that women were promoted for the wrong reasons.

This is not the first time that a plan to increase gender representation has failed to achieve its goals. Often, organizations use a classic command-and-control approach to diversity, because it boils expected behavior down to easy to understand dos and don’ts, a move that often generates resistance from managers whose autonomy is violated. A study found that white men who were exposed to diversity encouraging organizational messages that seemed unfair experienced emotional stress exhibited in cardiovascular threat and poorer performance.

Despite large financial investment by organizations in diversity programs over the past 20 years, no actual change has been observed. Furthermore, a study found that five years of compulsory participation in diversity education has actually reduced minority representation.

Even legislative efforts aimed at promoting unrepresented populations in the US labor market have acted against those populations it sought to promote. A study in the US found that an initiative directed to increase the employment of African-American young men, overcoming the stigma of a conviction or arrest record, actually hurt them. 35 out of 50 US states removed the conviction history question from job applications and delayed background checks until later in the hiring process. The policy resulted in a 5% reduction in hiring of young African American men’s and an increase in the hiring of young white men and older African American men. Without a clear indication of the candidates’ backgrounds, the recruiters relied on their intuition based on a stereotype which resulted in the opposite of the new policy goal. Policymakers should be reminded that even a seemingly good and logical policy should be preceded by research to uncover unexpected consequences.

Diversity is important to organizations not only for reasons of political morality and correctness, but because evidence suggests it adds value through additional perspectives and enhanced creativity. It is imperative to make sure that diversification is not based solely on demographic metrics (like gender, age, ethnicity) but rather on deep diversity like personality, values and capabilities.

Diversity is a great tool for bringing new and creative ideas to fruition, but research has found that diverse teams find it more difficult to put the ideas into practice.

A study that examined the ethnic background of 260,000 US entrepreneurs found that startups with non-white ethnic background entrepreneurs find it more difficult to get investment, but those who do receive investment are 30% more likely to succeed.

What kind of diversity program effectively promotes diversity?

Rather than enforcing talent diversity goals, and policing hiring managers’ decisions, managers should be encouraged to assume social and moral responsibility for changing minority representation. Diversity awareness education should increase awareness of systemic minority discrimination. Having an in-depth understanding of the current inequalities and unfairness could tap into managers' motivation to do good and look good.

How to promote awareness? By sharing the stories of underrepresented people. Exposure to other people's stories expands perspectives and helps people see the same reality from a different point of view. Listening to the stories of an Israeli- Ethiopian colleague, understanding an Arab-Israeli perspective or attending a women’s conference as a listener can heighten managers' awareness of diversity and inclusion issues.

Internal organizational mentorship programs have also been proven to be highly impactful. Senior leaders serve as mentors to young men and women from different backgrounds. In contrast to the tendency to pair a senior female leader as a mentor to a younger woman, it is found that matching a senior male leader can be even more beneficial to both parties. The senior leader can gain a better understanding of the diversity issues in the organization through the reverse mentoring experience. That way, not only will they gain a better understanding of the diversity gaps across the company, but also connect, sponsor and advocate for promotion for thr people they sponsor.

Another effective measure is talent data analysis, emphasizing transparency on issues such as recruitment, promotion, pay, and benefits. Data analysis will result in accurate identification and understanding of gaps, which then can be targeted by appropriate solutions, rather than following random industry trends. Here, too, managers from different departments working together will not only achieve better solutions design, but can also serve as change agents in their departments.

Professor Amir Grinstein studies and teaches pro-social marketing and entrepreneurship at Northeastern Universities in Boston and VU in Amsterdam. He writes on Twitter about behavioral research @AmirGrinstein

Yana Shechterman is an organizational consultant, executive coach, and part-time lecturer at Northeastern University in Boston. On Twitter @shechterman

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on August 6, 2020

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2020

High-tech office / Photo: Shutterstock, Shutterstock.com
High-tech office / Photo: Shutterstock, Shutterstock.com
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