Diversity is all about the optics. The other day I was listening to a podcast about diversity and innovation. The podcast recited information we have all heard diverse work cultures enhance creativity because different voices are heard around the table. I was surprised to hear that both Apple and Google have decided to put off implementing diversity hiring strategies. Their reasoning was it’s costly to interrupt a work environment by introducing people from outside cultures. The issue at hand is synergy, how long will it take people who previously had limited, cliché or no first-hand experience with one another to blend into a cohesive workforce that would begin to pay dividends i.e. produce innovative products.
Diversity Is All About the Optics
Google and Apple both decided the cost was too great. Neither company wanted to invest in diversity now in lure of a payoff sometime in the future. It is the type of corporate tinkering that could have tremendous upside, but the process along the way could destroy the companies culture and affect bottom lines in the competitive short term.
I think we think of diversity as adding people of color or women to a workforce, but what if adding people of color or women only increase workplace diversity optics. Workplace diversity supposed to foster new ideas and ways of thinking about problems from different points of view. This challenge is bigger than we think. The election of 2016, taught me that people come together ideologically, put their socioeconomic, cultural, and gender differences aside. It is possible to have an aesthetically diverse workforce who solve problems from the same perspective.
At the crux of the American experiment is the idea of assimilation. Bring me your tired and huddled masses, no matter where you are from when you come to this country you are asked to leave your parent country behind and begin to act and behave like an American (assimilate). The concept of acting like an American is a fluid idea. Historically, the meaning of “American” was code for Anglo Christian male. Therefore one would be acting like an American if they conducted themselves in a manner that was nonthreatening to to white males.
Assimilation is why we demand Hispanic people speak English and not Spanish. Assimilation is why you hear confrontational language aimed at Islamist. We fear that people who believe in different religions are not assimilating into “the American” religion. Assimilation is why we fought a Cold War with Communist countries because America is a Capitalist nation and anything else is anti-American.
Is it possible to find an American-born workforce who is diverse beyond their gender and skin color? We think of America as a country that is less homogeneous than say Japan, but that may not be true. When we think of Japanese culture, the 2 words that sum it up are Omote (public face) and Ura (private face). Japanese society is based on control behaviors; business people must be adept at omote, not allowing their personal feelings to show.
Americans are supposed to be me first society. However, Americans and Japanese cultures are more similar than is obvious. For example, ideology subjugates individuality in the US. If we take the Japanese words Omote and Ura (public and private face) and substitute ideology and me first, we find that Americans and Japanese are very much alike in practice.
Ideology may drive Americans and while big corporations move slow and driven by profit motives. While influencers suggest, diversity equals better products and services for customers, which translate into better profits. Corporate hiring practices are slow to change and tend to recruit more of the same.
Diversity Challenges and Technology
Data from online recruiting sites reveal that diverse candidates experiences are the same regardless of being in person or online. Online recruiting sites eliminate candidates based on name pronunciation. The hiring rates for candidates with a diverse background do not improve even when their qualifications are equal to or exceed all other applicants. Human resources professionals are trained to control for biases in hiring practices, but the data remains consistent year after year
If a person of color or woman is hired, an insider likely walked them through the door. Insider recruitment is standard; some companies offer incentives or rewards to employees who recruit talent to the workforce. These friends of current employees probably share the same ideology. While diversity is achieved, a new thought is not.
The other reason diversity in the workforce does not live up to the hype, job security. Once an ethnic minority is through the front door, they are newly working to solidify a place in the organization. The lack of job security can prohibit a diverse employee from speaking up or being “confrontational” during discussions. A confident woman is certain to risk ridicule and blow back. So the company has an ethnic minority and probably a few women (many cases the woman may also be an ethnic minority), but the corporate culture of sameness have not changed.
Joy Buolamwini TED talk “How I’m fighting bias in algorithms” is an excellent example of how software design excludes people of color from opportunities.
Human resource departments are challenged to test their systems to discover whether diverse candidates are blocked from receiving opportunities. Intel Corporation is a good example of a company model that seeks to improve its workforce diversity. Intel decided to start at the top (in the C-Suites), set company-wide mandates (data driven) and implement monthly follow-ups across the entire corporation to ensure their diversity goals are being met.
Diversity in the Workforce
Diverse workforce can breathe new life into a company’s bottom line, but only if those diverse voices have the freedom to speak. Without freedom of expression, a workforce might change the way it looks but maintains its old way of thinking. If diversity is the method to transform company performance outcomes, the Intel model stands as an excellent example. Intel is using the dreaded word “quota” to explain their goal. Intel demonstrates the type of forethought needed to implement a change that will pay dividends. One they have a monthly feedback loop to check progress and pinpoint areas within the company that needs improvements. Two they have created an employee grievance system where employees can express problems or concerns related to their experience. The employee grievance system has two functions; to capture employee concerns before they result in attrition and to develop company-wide diversity training to improve all departments facilitation of new hires.
Companies experience with diversity hiring may be less than desirable, because they have not put in the work to change the company culture and welcomed a diverse workforce. Companies want to hire diversity, then fix the culture. Hiring diversity looks great on a press release, but it is destined to fail without proper forethought.
Ethnic minorities and women, who do not feel they have freedom of expression, may just get along because they like their job and do not want to make waves. A diverse workforce, which shares the same ideological point of view, may improve the company’s diverse optics but will not improve their bottom line. For best results, a company must think through the challenges of not only hiring a diverse population but also what changes need to be made company wide so their new hires can do their jobs effectively. This means expressing issues and concerns freely without serious repercussions. Only then will the company begin to reap the rewards. #Diversity #ethnicdiversity #genderdiversity