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Diversity training part 3: Five moves that actually increase diversity, equity, and inclusion

Cathy Reisenwitz

by Cathy Reisenwitz on July 16, 2020

In parts one and two, we discussed how the research is pretty clear that diversity training on its own isn’t effective at reducing bias and prejudice against marginalized groups and five reasons for why that may be the case.

All's not lost.

For the final post in this series, we’re sharing five things you can do that can help reduce bias and discrimination in your workplace.

1. Measure your progress

Diversity training remains incredibly popular, despite the evidence. Part of the reason may be that companies aren’t measuring the effectiveness of their diversity efforts. Or, if they are measuring it, they’re not acting on the data.

Fast Company and Doug Harris, CEO of The Kaleidoscope Group, recommend companies survey employees to determine whether they’re seeing improvements in diversity, equity, and inclusion. “I think one of the biggest actions [companies concerned about diversity] can take is to totally understand the inequities in their company,” Harris said. “Then put in place plans to address those inequities.

One good first step is a company-wide survey. “Invite people in your organization to share (under protection of anonymity) how they have observed or experienced inequity and bias, and empower them to be part of the design of the solution,” writes Dr. Kristen Liesch, Co-CEO of Tidal Equity.

In addition, it’s smart to keep track of counterproductive work behaviors. O.school Founder Andrea Barrica notes that the rate at which women and people of color leave tech is even more alarming than hiring discrepancies. Many workers have heard off-color jokes or comments that hiring women, parents or a Black person will kill the “fun” culture at work.

Are alienating incidents and microaggressions getting more or less frequent over time? Then look at your company’s recruitment, promotions, and leadership. How diverse, equitable, and inclusive are they? Finally, are you seeing less or more lawsuits, claims, settlements, or PR problems?

If possible, take stock of your situation before implementing any new diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives so you can compare your situation before and after to measure their effectiveness.

2. Make diversity training one part of a wider effort

Once you have a baseline, you’ll have a better idea of where you should focus your efforts.

Regardless of where you’re starting, one short diversity training alone is unlikely to make a measurable difference.

What does work, according to the research, is diversity training that is ongoing, includes a skills component, and is just one part of a larger effort around diversity, equity, and inclusion. Dobbin and Kalev point out that a one-and-done diversity training can leave workers with unrealistic expectations and complacency around bias.

“Implicit bias training must be combined with other strategies,” wrote Dr. J. Luke Wood, Distinguished Professor of Education, Associate Vice President for Diversity and Innovation and Chief Diversity Officer at San Diego State University. He recommends systems of accountability, clear support from leaders, diversity advocates for hiring, and inclusive job announcements and search criteria.

Sometimes subtle changes can have a big impact. For example, salary transparency/pay equity assessment is an initiative to consider combining with diversity training. Salary secrecy may diminish employee performance and transparency may help improve employee collaboration and boost motivation. However, the data is unclear on whether salary transparency results in more equal pay. There’s evidence that pay transparency may lower average salaries and boost company profits.

Anecdotally, however, Dane Atkinson is all in on salary transparency. The CEO of analytics software company SumAll contends that salary secrecy is abusive.

“Many times I paid two people with the very same qualifications entirely different salaries, simply because I negotiated better with one person than the other,” Dave said. “Salary transparency is the single best protection against gender bias, racial bias or orientation bias.”

Yet when Buffer made the salaries of every employee public, it did nothing to change the gender-wage gap. And pay transparency is mandatory for government workers. But the gender wage gap is only 2% less than private companies.

“These issues are not going to be ‘solved’ with one big idea — of course one training isn’t enough, duh, people!!!,” Michelle Kim, Co-Founder & CEO of Awaken wrote. “It’s going to take real commitment, criticality, and investment of resources for us to slowly undo the damages we have inherited, created, and recreated. Even as someone who facilitates workshops full time for a living, I’m not here to tell you that they will solve all of your D&I issues. Don’t believe any vendor that tells you otherwise. Some will gladly be your agent for checking your ‘diversity training’ box.”

3. Make diversity training voluntary

As discussed in the second post in this series, diversity training often fails because it leaves some workers feeling personally attacked and afraid they’ll be discriminated against. Plus, when training is mandatory and the suggestions are presented as commands, people resist because they dislike feeling controlled. Another issue is that while diversity training works on some people, it actually causes others to become more prejudiced.

Dobbin and Kalev recommend that to help ensure people don’t feel attacked or controlled, it may make sense to make the training strictly voluntary. Ideally, the people who would be negatively impacted by diversity training would decline to attend, and the people who do attend won’t feel controlled. Another way to make the training more obviously voluntary is to make it clear that the purpose is to make the company better, not to avoid getting sued.

For example, instead of saying “We’re introducing this diversity initiative to avoid getting sued,” say “We believe that increasing diversity will improve the business together.”

It may also help to point to research showing that diversity makes companies more profitable and productive.

4. Evaluate workers on inclusion

University of Chicago CS Professor Chelsea Troy pointed out that training workers on topics they know they won’t be evaluated on doesn't stick. To get workers invested in the material, let them know you’ll evaluate them on their diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.

“Bias trainings are interesting, but after they’re over employees don’t focus there because they’re not evaluated on their inclusion literacy,” Troy wrote. “Instead, employees focus on the skills they need to get ahead—writing code, appeasing the boss, establishing influence. Individual people treat inclusion like an elective because the company’s incentive system treats inclusion like an elective. Once employees need it to get ahead, suddenly they’ll be going above and beyond those bias trainings to learn it.”

Consider evaluating your employees based on how well they moderate discussions to make sure everyone has a chance to contribute, solicit opinions from the appropriate people, give people proper credit for their work, assume that their colleagues have reasonably advanced knowledge, and productively navigate disagreements. For more detail on what to measure, check out Chelsea’s post: A Rubric for Evaluating Team Members’ Contributions to an Inclusive Culture.

5. Engage leadership

Rather than having HR facilitate diversity for employees, try to engage leadership in some ongoing initiatives. Dobbin and Kalev found that anti-discrimination efforts that engage decision makers in solving the problem themselves work best. For example, companies that asked corporate managers to find women and minority recruits markedly increased their managerial diversity.

You could also create diversity task forces composed of leaders from various departments to gather and examine hiring, retention, pay, and promotion data. Those leaders should also be responsible for identifying areas for improvement, researching potential solutions, and selling their initiatives to their departments.

Leaders should be responsible for making sure job postings don’t include language that alienates diverse candidates. Similarly, leaders should test whether whiteboard interviews or alcohol-based social events negatively impact diversity. If you include benefits in your job descriptions, include domestic partner benefits, maternity, paternity, and adoption leave.

When hiring, Barrica suggests bringing diverse candidates in for another interview when the team is on the fence. Also aim to interview at least one diverse candidate for every major role.

“These types of measures are often accused of being ‘special treatment’ or somehow unfair,” Barrica writes. “I don’t see it that way. If you acknowledge unconscious bias in your team, these types of policies can act as a safeguard to counteract unconscious team biases and lead to meaningful learning for the whole company.”

Dobbin and Kalev find that people with more contact with members of other groups engage in less stereotyping. Have leaders ideate ways to increase contact between employees who normally don’t interact, such as randomly assigning colleagues into smaller groups when eating lunch, socializing, doing offsites, etc. At Clockwise, our Zoom lunches have random breakout rooms where we talk to coworkers we may not have had any face time with in a while.

Similarly, leaders can create management training programs that recruit existing managers to train aspiring managers. Dobbin and Kalev found that voluntary formal mentoring programs decrease discrimination.

Going forward

Despite its popularity, diversity training, by itself, is unlikely to do much to increase your company’s diversity, equity, or inclusion. This is unfortunate, since tech has a long way to go in terms of parity in hiring, pay, or promotion.

To make a lasting difference, companies must:

  • Measure their current levels of diversity, equity, or inclusion
  • After setting your baseline, look into more comprehensive, ongoing initiatives
  • If you’re going to include diversity training in your roadmap, consider making it voluntary
  • Also consider making diversity-promoting behaviors part of employee evaluations
  • Task company leaders with ideating potential diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and best practices.

Want to learn more about diverse workplaces? Check out these posts next:

Why felons make the best engineers

3 ways tech workers can support police reform

Cathy Reisenwitz

Cathy Reisenwitz

Cathy Reisenwitz is Head of Content at Clockwise where she oversees the Clockwise Blog and The Minutes Newsletter. She has covered business software for six years and has been published in Newsweek, Forbes, the Daily Beast, VICE Motherboard, Reason magazine, Talking Points Memo and other publications.

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