Diversity and Inclusion are priorities for many companies, but research finds that making these efforts mandatory actually hurts efforts to require and retain diverse talent. Meanwhile, many corporations are seeing better results when relying on the ‘human touch.’
During World War II, when the army was still segregated, and only whites served in combat roles, the U.S. Army, under General Dwight D. Eisenhower, asked for black volunteers for combat duty, as casualties were mounting up.
When troops were surveyed about their racial attitudes after this desegregation, whites whose companies had been joined by black platoons showed dramatically lower racial animosity, and a greater willingness to work alongside blacks than those whose companies remained segregated.
Sociologist Samuel Stouffer whose team surveyed more than half a million soldiers during the War, concluded that the key seemed to be working together towards a common goal as equals, whereas contact on an ‘unequal battlefield,’ in this case, hundreds of years of close contact during and after slavery, hadn’t dampened bias.
“Whites fighting alongside Blacks came to see them as soldiers like themselves first and foremost.”
– “The Business Case For Diversity*
Unity Within All Diversity
This dynamic also plays out in the outcomes of corporate diversity and inclusion initiatives aimed at raising the ranks of women and minorities in management.
According to researchers at Harvard Business Review, mid to large size companies that bring about contact between managers and mentors of different genders and ethnic groups, had a 9 to 24% higher representation rate of black, Hispanic, and Asian-American women, as well as Hispanic and Asian-American men, than firms that did not.
Diversity task force teams had similar results, also adding 2 key components of all successful plans: Transparency and accountability.
The teams examined were assembled by ‘inviting’ department heads to volunteer, and included members of under- represented groups. These task forces looked at recruitment, career bottlenecks, at the whole company, as well as their units, and identified solutions.
They noticed which colleagues and departments were participating and made quarterly results to their CEO’s. This level of transparency and accountability not only moves the needle, but these task forces also proved more effective than diversity managers. In addition, they draw from existing employees, which is a cost saving, and one of the many benefits of diversity in the workplace.
“Accountability theory suggests that having a task force member in a department will cause managers in it to ask themselves, “Will this look right?” when making hiring and promotion decisions,” researchers said.
Voluntary vs Mandatory – Moving Beyond ‘Shame and Blame’
I was reading about a simulated job interview of young white men – half of them for a company that touted its commitment to diversity, and half for a company that did not. In the companies that championed diversity, subjects expected discrimination against whites, showed cardiovascular distress, and did markedly worse in the taped interview.
An analysis of mid-size and large companies, 5-year after they implemented corporate diversity programs, found that required diversity training has the opposite impact of its intent – The number of black women actually decreased on average by 9%, while the ranks of Asian-American men and women shrank between 4% and 5%.
Some companies also mandate diverse recruitment through training programs aimed at reducing biases, like hiring tests and grievance systems. These types of requirements can actually activate biases, animosity, as well as having a shame and blame effect, that fail to motivate or inspire lasting change.
According to McKinsey & Company, bout $8 billion is spent on diversity trainings per year. Unconscious bias awareness trainings has become increasingly common. However, they haven’t shown to be that impactful in workplace diversity and inclusion efforts. According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, unconscious bias training can raise awareness but there is little evidence it changes behavior, and in some cases it can backfire.
Changing Our Perspective
We’re a very solutions-based workforce. The issue of diversity and inclusion is often tackled with recruitment or targeted client engagement efforts, without an understanding of what it really means to integrate different identities, ideas, and perspectives, into the mindset and fabric of the company, and the benefits of diversity in the workplace.
Many diversity initiatives are also living in areas focused on corporate governance, social responsibility, appearances, or a human resource issue, rather than at the core of an organization.
Tim Ryan, U.S. chairman and senior partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), believes business leaders need to pay more attention to company culture in balancing their approach to diversity and inclusion. Establishing a workplace where each employee feels respected, recognized and their authentic self, he believes creates greater equity, unity, and opportunities for minorities, women, and other underrepresented employees.
The opportunity here is to use the past and present to ‘inform the future. We must build upon what we’ve learned does work so that we can create diverse workforces that can truly serve the world we live in today.