4 Honest Questions And Answers About Diversity And Inclusion In The Workplace
Accusations of “extreme” pay discrimination at Google grabbed headlines recently. Claims that Facebook rejects more code from female engineers than from their male counterparts followed not long after.
But this infographic from Information Is Beautiful shows that a real diversity challenge exists, and it goes beyond gender. Minority groups barely register at many tech companies.
Diversity and inclusion remains a hiring challenge in most industries – not just tech – though that's not for lack of programs or attention.
If approaches tried to date don't work, what new ideas can companies try?
Seeking Diversity And Inclusion Best Practices
That question brought together dozens of leaders from San Francisco Bay Area Certified B Corps for a discussion on “Cultivating a Diverse and Inclusive Workforce” earlier ths month.
Speakers at the session, part of a larger B Corp Leadership Development event, represented two different approaches to increasing diversity and inclusion for one often overlooked group: people with criminal records.
The 70 million people with records don’t qualify as a protected class. But the overrepresentation of minorities in the criminal justice system means that the EEOC takes a close look at how companies approach hiring from this pool.
A flat-out ban would have a disparate impact on minorities. And that clearly violates Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the agency has said. And, for those same reasons, it affects diversity in the workforce.
Same Goal, Two Approaches
GoodHire Director of Product Julie Hill Kimbrell opened the session with a discussion of how humanizing background checks – which traditionally form a barrier to employment for this segment – helps both employers and job seekers.
GoodHire background checks let job candidates add context to their criminal records. That means they can explain the circumstances of the offense and what they’ve done since it occurred.
This feature helps employers follow EEOC guidance for individualized assessment of candidates with criminal records.
It also helps them see past the legalese to consider the candidate as a whole person. And it brings the candidates voice into the background review.
“We invite the candidate into the process and bake in fair hiring and compliance for employers from the ground up,” Julie said.
Leslie Crary, VP of Human Resources at Rubicon Bakers, explained how her business takes a different approach.
“We’ve never done a background check. We go out and try to find people who have a background – who other people wouldn’t consider.”
The former defense attorney visits San Quentin to help inmates practice telling their stories through mock interviews.
“Many of the men have been in for 30 years. What they did does not define them, but it does inform who they are. Being able to tell that story through a background check is really great.”
While there, she recruits the inmates for positions at the bakery.
Rubicon Bakery (the name recently changed to put the focus on people, Leslie said), started in 1993 as a project of nonprofit Rubicon Programs to help people rebuild their lives with jobs, training, and other services
Leslie’s husband, Andrew Stoloff, bought the bakery in 2008 and turned it into a profit-making business that’s grown to over 100 full-time employees from 14.
But the mission remains the same: Giving people a chance by offering a job and access to support through a network of nonprofit partners.
This approach to hiring led to the discovery of some hidden gems.
Leslie offered the story of a woman whose first job at the bakery involved putting things in packages. Today, the woman manages all production and a staff of 100. “She doesn’t have a college education, but she’s incredibly smart. We recognized that she could move things along.”
The bakery provides opportunity, and Leslie said employees offer a lot in return.
“When you hire someone who has had doors slammed in their face over and over again, they become a really loyal employee. They believe in you. They frequently say I’ve got your back. And its true, they really do.”
Learning From Each Other
The lively Q&A session that followed the presentation featured answers not just from the panelists, but also from the nearly 100 attendees. Here's a snapshot of their collective wisdom.
1. Does bringing people together from difficult backgrounds reinforce bad behaviors?
“I’m not going to say we don’t have challenges,” Crary said. “I haven’t done a statistical analysis, but it doesn’t strike me that we have any greater challenges with our ‘mission’ hires with other hires. We may just be lucky, but I haven’t seen it.”
Crary’s experiences reflect several recent studies showing that people with criminal records perform at least as well in the workplace as people who don’t have records.
Researchers at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and Pritzker School of Law found earlier this year that “ex-offenders who did get hired were no more likely to be fired later than non-offenders. And they were less likely to quit — saving their firms a significant amount of money in employee turnover costs.”
2. With automated processes, computer reviews whether you’ve checked the right boxes on your application. In that system, how do you avoid valuing educational milestones over other capacities in people?
The answer for Rubicon is easy. “We don’t have a computerized system,” Crary explained. “Most people either walk in the door or we cultivate them through various channels. Very few of our jobs require a college degree.”
But automating resume reviews creates real side effects for all job seekers. The woman who asked the question shared that she received a low ranking from a computerized system earlier in her career. Even though she had a college degree, many other applicants in the pool held even more advanced degrees. Fierce competition for a position at a retail store.
That’s one reason why Vu Le, who runs the site Nonprofit AF, argues that most job postings, to put it in his delicate terms, suck.
Number six on his list of how to make your job posting “so amazing, unicorns will weep tears of joy” offers one antidote: Accept equivalent experience.
“I’ve written about the sad irony of so many nonprofits requiring formal degrees for even entry-level jobs when so many of us in the nonprofit sector are trying to fight education inequity. I’m not against formal education, but it is only one way—and a poor one—to determine if a candidate has the skills you need. You are leaving behind many candidates who may have incredible experience and skills but who may not have the degrees. Yes, some specialized positions do need a degree or certificate (doctors, accountants, mental health counselors, etc.). But the vast majority — even positions like CEOs and EDs — do not. We know the education system is inequitable and leaving behind many people; don’t screw them a second time with a degree requirement if the position is not specialized.”
GoodHire’s Julie Hill Kimbrell paraphrased insight she’d gleaned from a talk by Facebook’s head of diversity Maxine Williams. “If you’re hiring for an assembly line, then choosing like-minded people may work. If you’re hiring to solve complex problems, you need ideas coming from everywhere.”
She also pointed to research from McKinsey & Company showing that ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform national industry median for financial returns. Gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform.
“Bring data like this to your exec team to make sure they understand the value to the bottom line,” Hill Kimbrell suggests. “The best team won't necessarily be people who all have a college degree and look alike and sound alike.”
3. When it comes to inclusion, how do you foster an environment where people who come from different backgrounds know you value their ideas?
The amount of discussion on this topic indicates that many employers struggle to foster inclusion.
A recent Bersin by Deloitte study found that 71 percent of organizations said they aspire to an inclusive culture. But only 12 percent said that they’ve achieved this goal.
One attendee offered that the problem arises when organizations think of achieving a diverse workforce as the goal. In fact, it’s just the first step.
“Some companies hire people of color, then say 'I’ve done my job.' That’s not what’s required to get to where we want to be as a society,” she explained.
“Where we really want to get to is equity – actually power sharing. Not only hiring women and people of color in the lower end of the spectrum but actually welcoming them into the C-suite. They are managers. They are power sharing. They become partners.”
Diversity marks the first stage. Inclusion means creating the infrastructure that promotes a sense of belonging among the diverse employees. But power sharing “is the most important place to get to.”
4. When you set out to hire candidates whose beliefs align with your mission, how do you avoid disqualifying people with different backgrounds?
Though an article in Forbes declared "the end of culture fit" earlier this year, many companies still consider it in the hiring process.
Yet the notion of culture fit too often stands as a reason to turn down candidates who are different. When that happens, unconscious biases surface.
One participant offered a new term: "We look for culture add not just culture fit," she said. Even so, she said, she's had to remind herself to do that.
"It’s easy to hire someone with whom you can have a great conversation. You think, 'We can be great friends.' But it may be better to ask, 'What will this person bring that’s different from what we already have?'"
A woman whose company hires thousands of summer camp staffers each year suggested examining your stated values and goals from different points of view.
"We always talk about being courageous," she said. "So we try to get our hiring team to think of all the ways courage can manifest. For a person of color, coming into a predominantly white company is an act of courage.
"Whatever your values are, think of ways they can manifest in people with different backgrounds."
Cultivating A Diverse And Inclusive Workforce
If your organization is among the many striving to increase diversity and inclusion, consider the ideas shared by other employers:
1. Be open to hiring people with criminal records.
2. Consider equivalent experience for educational requirements.
3. Go beyond hiring for diversity's sake to ensure that diverse employees feel they belong at your company and have opportunties for managerial, partner, and power-sharing positions.
4. Hire for culture add, not culture fit.