Sunday, April 2, 2017

Inclusive Talent Management: How Business Can Thrive in an Age of Diversity with Stephen Frost

Many organizations believe that they are truly meritocratic. This belief can make C-suite executives react defensively when faced with evidence of bias. How can diversity and inclusion advocates best communicate to such an audience in ways that leverage existing research and, most importantly, in ways that will be accepted and incorporated by those in leadership roles? This week’s WAPPP seminar featured Stephen Frost, Founder and Principal at Frost Included and WAPPP AY14 Fellow, whose latest book, Inclusive Talent Management: How Business Can Thrive in the Age of Diversity, demonstrates how to align talent management and diversity and inclusion agendas.

Steve began with a video that encapsulates the notion that “it’s easy to miss something you’re not looking for.”

When viewers are concentrating on counting the number of passes one team makes, it’s easy to miss the moonwalking bear! A similar logic applies to talent management concerns – when managers protest that they “can’t find qualified women” for a leadership role, it behooves us to ask how we can restructure talent management processes with an eye toward diversity and inclusion to make sure that such qualified candidates – who certainly exist! – are properly identified and given due consideration.

One reason it’s so easy to “not look for” diverse candidates is because we anchor on our in-groups. Think of your five closest friends, your five closest colleagues, your partner(s), and where you live.  How diverse is this group? Often, our in-groups are very similar to ourselves. Our in-groups also serve as our anchors for perceiving traits like intelligence and trustworthiness in others. Without a diverse in-group that would counteract this implicit bias, we create schema of what a “leader” looks like, for example, based on the people we know who are similar to us. This bias can also manifest in corporate decisions, so that we tend to hire, retain, and promote people like ourselves.

The challenge, Steve says, is that in an age of diversity, we are still addicted to likeness. The resolution is how to change the system and our own behaviors. The key to creating change is to employ both unconscious nudges – changing the way we structure our environment to incentivize less-biased decisions – as well as conscious leadership efforts.

Steve and his colleagues interviewed 66 organizations, asking whether they believed themselves to be meritocracies and asking about their talent management in terms of recruitment, retention, and promotion. The current state is homogenous talent management, infused with large amounts of bias at each stage. However, Steve also found three models of diversity and inclusion programs. Diversity 101 is “diversity for diversity’s sake,” characterized by a compliance-based approach – “we do it because we have to.” Diversity 2.0 is “diversity for social responsibility,” which makes a marketing approach to diversity designed to draw out the benefits of difference. Diversity 3.0, by contrast, treats diversity as a boardroom-level issue and employs a bottom-up, integrated approach to systems designed to embed the benefits of difference.

One such example, as Steve described, was a decision to interview candidates in groups of ten in order to save time and money. In these larger settings, interviewers tended to see skill sets as more salient, rather than identity, and were primed to think about team dynamics rather than the individual. In these group interview settings, recruiters hired more diverse candidates. This change was to save resources, not because of the research on nudges toward diversity and inclusion, but had the effect of creating a more diverse work environment.

Steve also discussed an intervention in talent management specifically related to gender at KPMG. The organization’s talent management approach involved all of the (predominantly straight white male) partners gathering in one room, talking about who they want to promote to the partnership, putting candidates on table, and agreeing on 10-20. Unsurprisingly, given what we know about in-groups and unconscious bias, the candidates up for promotion tended to look like the existing partners. The question is how to make this group less biased and more meritocratic without making them defensive.

The simple intervention that Steve proposed was to whiteboard the pipeline of potential incoming partners, separating the pool that were considered ready for partnership from those who were one to two years out, but to write the names of male candidates in red and female candidates in green. As soon as the names were written out, the discrepancy was clear – women were considered one to two years out for consideration for partnership, while men were disproportionately considered ready for promotion. On top of this, Steve attached a quantitative measure of performance for each name. Then, it became clear that several names in the “ready for partnership” group, predominantly men, were less well-performing than women in the “one to two years out” group. This intervention employs simple strategies to engender a rational, rigorous, calm, and systematic approach to checking in-group bias in talent management.

One practical challenge with diversity and inclusion interventions is that everyone is stressed and has little time and attention, to say nothing of resources, to put toward this critical work. Fortunately, even simple interventions can decrease unconscious bias, and when paired with conscious leadership efforts, these interventions can be very powerful. The simplest approach is simply to ask people to remember to ask “WADI”: What About Diversity and Inclusion.

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