Can technology boost diversity and inclusion in the workplace?

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The pressure on organisation leaders and their HR departments to improve performance on diversity and inclusion in the workplace is very real.

In 2020, research from McKinsey found that organisations with better workplace diversity were significantly more likely to return above average profits. Diverse executive teams, the paper asserts, make bolder decisions, which correlates with more profitable outcomes.

For clarity, let’s look at a definition of workplace diversity:

Diversity is about recognising difference. It’s acknowledging the benefit of having a range of perspectives in decision-making and the workforce being representative of the organisation’s customers.CIPD.

Increasingly, business’ ability to demonstrate diversity in a workplace is a key item on customer and investor checklists.

Additionally, with the war for talent ramping up to unprecedented levels, how a business talks and acts around issues of workplace diversity can have a profound impact on its ability to secure the best new applicants.

So HR teams today need access to technologies that enable systematic, data-backed approach to D&I challenges. For instance, our customers tell us XCD’s reporting tools save them days and days of arduous and frenzied spreadsheet work when it comes to gender pay gap reporting. They also enable HR leaders to quickly build an accurate picture of their diversity performance.

  • How diverse is our candidate talent pool?
  • How do retention rates across underrepresented groups differ from the wider workforce?
  • How do individual teams and departments track on diversity?
  • What does our pay gap data tell us across these groups?

Simple questions like these can highlight diversity shortfalls and suggest solutions.

Will ramping up development and recruitment initiatives to achieve a better balance of diversity in the workplace solve the problem?

Well, yes, in a PR friendly, superficial way. But as McKinsey notes in this article, it’s entirely possible to create diversity within the workplace and still fail to see the cultural, engagement and performance benefits that should follow.

Organisations who are serious about creating a diverse and inclusive workplace culture – and reaping the rewards – need to look beyond surface level indications.

Is your workplace culture an inclusive one? This is a far thornier question, and one where the meaning of inclusivity is less well understood.

Here’s the CIPD’s definition of inclusion in the workplace:

Inclusion is where people’s differences are valued and used to enable everyone to thrive at work. An inclusive working environment is one in which everyone feels that they belong without having to conform, that their contribution matters and they are able to perform to their full potential, no matter their background, identity or circumstances.” CIPD

“Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance,” is the popular (though contested) analogy from Verna Myers, VP of D&I at Netflix.

Inclusivity doesn’t necessarily follow diversity, then. So how do we nurture and measure the I in D&I?
Gartner’s Inclusion Index offers a starting point. It’s based on seven dimensions:

  1. Fair treatment
  2. Integrating difference
  3. Decision making
  4. Psychological safety
  5. Trust
  6. Belonging
  7. Diversity

HBR published a great article on this index, which explains how to establish a baseline inclusion measurement by surveying your people’s strength of agreement with statements around each of the seven elements.

That’s a start. Then there’s D&I scientist and commentator Paolo Gaudiano, who argues for a more contextual measurement that focuses on specific scenarios. Inclusion, he says, can be viewed similarly to healthcare – something we rarely think about unless there’s a problem.

Gaudiano extends his analogy to compare healthcare assessment with current HR approaches to inclusivity measurement. When you visit a doctor, for instance, you’re not asked to complete a generic survey rating your health out of ten.

The doctor will have you fill out a highly specific survey, which lists a wide variety of complaints and conditions. That information will be used to develop a sense of how healthy you are based on how many specific afflictions you’re unlucky enough to have.

In Gaudiano’s article in Forbes, he elaborates his thinking on how inclusivity can be more effectively measured using surveys that highlight specific ‘incidents of exclusion’.

Most organisations understand the need to make their workforce more diverse and inclusive, but as recent research from Harvard Business Review shows, the biases involved can be unbelievably slippery.

Technology has a significant role to play here. AI language processing tools are in use today to help recruiters weed out bias in their job ads, while others have the capacity to remove personal and demographic identifying terms from applications, ensuring candidates are evaluated against their skills and experience alone.

It’s been boom time for communication and collaboration tools over the last two years.

Chatbots and survey tools can be used to collect demographic data and track employee experience against key D&I factors. Anonymised analysis of communication channels such as Salesforce’s Slack can allow organisations to evaluate behaviour, biases and exclusion events. This can power organisational reporting and provide insight for coaching and development.

The pandemic-powered technology explosion has normalised tools that can easily be used to ensure a level playing field where everyone has the same access to colleagues, to their leaders, and to information.

Technology isn’t a silver bullet for D&I, not by a long way. But actionable data and practical tools are at least helping to illuminate the road ahead.