4 Thought Leaders Leading the New Conversation on Diversity

March 7, 2017
Guest Post
Friend of Drafted

While almost every corporate HR team is making progress towards developing a more inclusive and diverse workforce, some HR leaders think the conversation on diversity isn’t moving fast enough. Some companies implement baselines like the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which requires considering at least one diversity candidate in a cycle. Most companies with a large enough team have sensitivity training of some sort, and systems in place for assisting those who feel marginalized. But many HR thought leaders believe that the way diversity is addressed is simplistic at best, and even narrow-minded.

Here are 4 thought-leaders pushing the conversation on diversity forward in 2017:

1  Dr. Roxane Gay – seeing the whole picture, not labels in isolation

Roxane Gay Diversity

Writer and professor Dr. Roxane Gay wrote a piece for Fortune on how the conversation surrounding diversity needs to change. She discusses how looking at ‘diversity through a single lens of ethnicity or gender dismantles the notion of the person as a whole. “Women of color, for example,” she writes, “don’t go to work one day as women and the next day as people of color.” She explains that HR professionals must recognize the full range of individuality. “When we talk about diversity and equality, we need to consider the whole of a person”When recruiting for diversity, take it on a case-by-case basis. Equally and separately evaluate people; rather than lumping them by gender or ethnicity to fulfill a quota.  

2  Dr John Sullivan – addressing unconscious bias

Dr John Sullivan Diversity

Unconscious bias is an insidious agent against diversity, simply because it’s unconscious. Renowned Silicon Valley HR leader Dr. John Sullivan wrote an article for ERE media where he described the Valley’s approach to diversity as a “narrow focus” and went on to say that recruiters must “broaden [their] scope and systematically identify hiring biases that affect all candidates.” Sullivan pointed out several instances in which unconscious bias usually occurs:

  • Names. A recent MIT study sent out 5,000 identical resumes, with only the first name changed; “Aisha” got a 2.2% response rate, while “Kristen” had a 13%. Names that are unfamiliar, hard to pronounce, sound like an older generation or foreign are often subconsciously discriminated against.
  • Resumes. Recruiters may associate negative stereotypes with an address in a ‘worse’ part of town, or a candidate who went to a university they’re not familiar with.
  • Irrelevant criteria. Many people screen out candidates by GPA, physical cues, or unrelated questions like ‘tell me about yourself’. These often do not correspond to qualification for the job, and in fact may be subconscious ways to trying and seek or reaffirm bias.

3  Janessa Lantz – making diversity a company-wide agenda

Janessa Lantz Diversity

Janessa Lantz, writer for ThinkGrowth, argues that diversity is something the whole company, particularly marketing, can support. Diversity isn’t just who works at the company, but who represents the company, who gets to speak for the company. Representation isn’t just being able to show up, it’s being able to speak out.Marketers, content creators, writers and event organizers are crucial to fostering diversity. These are the people who choose “what stories get told on the company blog, what faces appear on the homepage, what influencers get retweeted, and who gets a speaking spot on-stage.” Her inclusion initiatives involve paying attention to photos and illustrations are used to maximize representation; diversifying speakers and who is the ‘face’ of the company at events, and including content and posts from a variety of people.

4  Abeer Dubey – building a team that trusts

Abeer Dubey Diversity

Google’s Head of People Analytics, Abeer Dubey, takes a ‘safety first’ approach - specifically, psychological safety. Dubey believes that psychological safety in the workplace is a key factor to diversity. He argues for not just a diverse workforce, but a supportive one. A key tenant of this is assessing the team’s ability to trust each other, take risks, and show vulnerability.

Going beyond the Rooney Rule

It’s well established that diversity is fundamentally important in ways more than just ethical. As reported by Fortune, the American Sociological Association recently reported that “for every 1% rise in the rate of gender diversity and ethnic diversity in a workforce there is a 3% and 9% rise in sales revenue, respectively.” Other studies show diversity is statistically and strategically good for business.

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But these thought leaders show that the conversation is becoming more nuanced and extensive in 2017. Diversity should be about people, not numbers. Truly incorporating diversity into an inclusive workplace requires a broader scope of thought that just having one person in your pipeline who checks off a box.

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