Old School Is Out: Why Diversity in Workplace Plans Need To Change

New research shows diversification tactics such as hiring tests are ineffective.That diversity and inclusion are key components of success in business is no surprise. That diversity in workplace efforts across all sectors are critical for women to get in the door is also no surprise.In the 2009 study published in the American Sociological Review through the University of Illinois at Chicago, Professor of Sociology and Public Policy Cedric Herring found that “workplace diversity is among the most important predictors of a business’ sales revenue, customer numbers and profitability.”But have many companies, corporations, and organizations been going about diversity and inclusion the wrong way?Diversity can be defined by gender, race, orientation, socioeconomic factors, geography, ability and more. For women, diversity in workplace programs can improve their status in an organization and help to shift the culture to one of inclusion.Diversifying the workforce can also improve the bottom line. And failing to embrace diversity and inclusion has for decades led to discrimination-based lawsuits across all sectors.But new research shows there is a better way than with traditional programs.In the latest Harvard Business Review, Harvard University Sociology Professor Frank Dobbin and Tel Aviv University Associate Professor Alexandra Kalev lay out the reasons why the most widely implemented diversity programs are outdated, ineffective, and can even have a regressive effect.[bctt tweet=“New research shows there’s a better way to diversify the workplace than with traditional programs.”]Here’s what they found does not work:

  • Mandatory diversity training
  • Hiring tests
  • Performance ratings
  • Grievance procedures

What does work:

  • Increase on the job contact with female and minority workers
  • Engage managers in solving the problem
  • Promote social accountability
  • Targeted college recruitment
  • Mentoring programs
  • Self-managed teams
  • Diversity task forces and managers

What distinguishes the first list from the second?Dobbin and Kalev found that programs that use control tactics and approach diversity training as “reeducation” make managers feel they are being punished or shamed. Attendees tend to finish the training less likely to hire women or minority applicants than before.A recent study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology published in January shows that an interviewer even mentioning a company’s pro-diversity values in a job interview would make a white applicant “express more concerns about being treated unfairly and about anti-white discrimination” than if diversity was not brought up in the interview.The researchers from University of California- Santa Barbara and University of Washington discovered that methods that do work are making the conversations and strategies solution-based rather than  problem-based. By making managers feel as if they are contributing to the change and success of the company through diversification, they gain a sense of motivation to make progress and see results. This effect is amplified when employees have someone to answer to who is keeping track of this progress.Simply having someone who can ask people to explain their decisions changes the way decisions are made. Diversity managers and task forces do this job effectively and create an infrastructure of accountability within the workplace. In essence, when a manager can be asked why s/he promoted someone, their answer has to be based on the quality of the individual’s work, otherwise they loose credibility as a leader and decision maker.Success in diversity and inclusion can also come about when the “diversity program” label isn’t part of the equation.For example, the digital ad agency 360i boasts a staff of 60 percent women and one-third non-white individuals. In an interview with the WSJ Media Mix Podcast, 360i CEO Sarah Hofstetter commented on how the company has become a model of diversity in the advertising industry: “No quotas. No legacy. It’s just, ‘Hey, you bring a different perspective here. That sounds really interesting’… The beauty is it just happened.”This approach might have to do with the the company’s leadership. Having women in decision-making leadership positions enables new perspectives. This move also provides role models as living, breathing examples of the benefits of inclusive leadership.Take The Lead’s courses and workshops taught by a highly accomplished and diverse team of Leadership Ambassadors can also serve as an example of how the benefits of diverse, inclusive leadership can effectively be introduced and immediately implemented into a corporation, nonprofit, organization, or private group. The mission is to reach gender parity in the workforce by 2025.None of this is news.For more than 20 years, studies have shown the methods of forced diversity training and control tactics are ineffective. So why do so many still use them? According to Forbes, as long ago as 2011, many were questioning how to change the conversation on workplace diversity.Business infrastructure and the systems in place can take a long time to dismantle and replace. The gears of business bureaucracy can grind slowly, as change happens one decision at a time. Still, one mentoring program here and a task force there can change the game.According to The Consultant Lounge, at least 11 major players in the consulting industry have implemented mentoring programs. Ernst & Young, Accenture and IBM have reportedly seen considerable progress toward equality and inclusion.There is more than one pathway to success. And to reach gender parity in the workforce by 2025, perhaps it is time for many organizations to update and innovate diversity and inclusion efforts in order to reach the goal more quickly and efficiently.