Illustration of diverse employees on circles
iStock/yuoak

Confirmation Bias

We all subconsciously collect information that reinforces our preconceptions. It's natural . . . but it does lead to a kind of flawed decision-making called confirmation bias. To become more objective and impartial, check out this course from GLOBIS Unlimited!

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Finding your kokorozashi will unify your passions and skills to create positive change in society. This GLOBIS Unlimited course will help you develop the values and lifelong goals you need to become a strong, passion-driven leader.

When you hear “diversity in the workplace,” what comes to mind? Simple adjustments like switching from “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holidays”? Or something more complex, such as setting hiring quotas?

When the push for diversity in the workforce first emerged, many people assumed it was only a matter of hiring underrepresented groups. But without addressing the underlying systems that kept many companies homogenous, talk about diversity was just that: talk.

Nowadays, we’re learning that we need more than talk. We need action fast, both to reap the benefits of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and to fix long-standing systemic problems.

The History of DEI

In the US, the call for a more diverse workplace began with the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. In the wake of marches, boycotts, and violence, President John F. Kennedy signed an executive order to “take affirmative action to ensure” all employees were treated fairly regardless of race, religion, or nationality. The Civil Rights Act became law.

Unfortunately, the threat of lawsuits against discriminative practices kept the changes surface level. Businesses focused on protecting their image rather than tackling the underlying reasons people of all backgrounds were not given a fair shot.

Across the pond in the UK, it wasn’t until the 1970s that discrimination based on sex or race was made illegal–disability discrimination was only addressed in 1995. Finally in 2010, The Equality Act brought together over a hundred pieces of legislation to protect employees and promote equal treatment.

In Japan, the government went a completely different route, giving out subsidies and setting hard numbers, rather than creating specific laws. This approach was embraced by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in his ambitious Womenomics target of 30% of leadership and senior roles being held by women by 2020.

Now, with the rise of the global BLM movement and more open discussions of bias in the workplace and society at large, diversity strategies are being reimagined. Job postings for HR personnel, experts, consultants, and the like have surged—the UK alone, according to Glassdoor data, saw an increase of 106% in 2019.

Confirmation Bias

We all subconsciously collect information that reinforces our preconceptions. It's natural . . . but it does lead to a kind of flawed decision-making called confirmation bias. To become more objective and impartial, check out this course from GLOBIS Unlimited!

The DEI industry (yes, there’s an industry) is worth over $8 billion.

As the world grows smaller and impact-driven businesses rise, corporations are finding it harder and harder to hide from meaningful DEI.

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What Does DEI Mean?

DEI stands for diversity, equity, and inclusion:

  • Diversity: the presence of differences both visible and invisible within an organization
  • Equity: systems and procedures that encourage justice, impartiality, and fairness, recognizing society’s deeply rooted mechanisms that favor certain groups above others
  • Inclusion: an atmosphere where everyone feels welcome and encouraged, with no direct or indirect exclusion of diverse individuals, including in decision-making

Understanding DEI (in all its parts) and how it directly applies to your workforce is the first step toward implementing effective DEI strategies. And that can involve a lot of re-education.

Diversity

For many, the word “diversity” may conjure an image of a multicultural workforce. But over the years, the term has expanded to include differences both visible and invisible.

Diversity includes (but is by no means limited to):

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Sexual orientation
  • Disability
  • Socioeconomic background
  • Religion
  • Language

By promoting diversity in the workplace, everyone wins. You’re opening yourself up to a wider range of talent, knowledge, opinions, and problem-solving skills, resulting in better performance from your employees and company.

To address a lack of diversity, examine your company’s hierarchy with a critical eye. Can anyone advance up the ranks, or is there less diversity in higher positions? If the latter, why is that?

Equity

Equity involves ensuring systems for advancement are fair, giving everyone the same opportunity to succeed. While equality plays into the myth of meritocracy by assuming everyone starts on even ground, equity acknowledges and accounts for the unique obstacles and biases that only some people face.

Equity can involve everything from the hiring process to advancement. Such practices can be unintentionally—and in some cases intentionally—skewed to favor certain employees.

While it is easy, for example, to set a list of criteria for a job posting and call it a day, maybe some of your “basic” requirements are disadvantaging certain groups. Is a degree really required, or are you more interested in the practical skillset? Can talent access application materials from a variety of avenues, or only online? Asking questions like these may highlight inequities in the system you didn’t realize were there.

Equite vs Equality bicycle infographic
Everyone gets the same bicycle vs one that fits their needs | iStock/alphabetMN/Carme Parramon/Tatianna Stulbos/smartboy10

Inclusion

Having a diverse team and proper systems in place is a great start, but there’s also the natural human desire to feel accepted. This is where focusing on inclusion is essential. Attracting and retaining people in your team involves creating an environment where people of all walks of life feel comfortable being themselves.

Consider the small things, like selecting a restaurant for your after-work get-together that is handicap-accessible, having social events during work hours, or using gender-neutral relationship terms like “partner.” Any of these can make a huge difference.

The New Kid on the Block: Belonging

DEI wasn’t always the three-word acronym it is today. The efforts toward greater diversity started out as simply “diversity education.” That became “diversity and inclusion” in the 1990s, which expanded with “equity” in recent years to form the current preferred term, DEI.

But the term continues to grow.

The latest suggested addition is “belonging,” which would address feelings of isolation—an issue brought to the forefront by the pandemic.

Just as the acronym itself keeps evolving, so do the best practices and recommendations for a successful and harmonious workplace.

Diagram of the pillars of DEIB - diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging
Each principle plays a crucial role in supporting diversity in the workplace | iStock/iarti

DEI Starter Kit: 4 Areas to Target

If you want to make DEI an integral part of your company culture, you’ll need to create a strategy that addresses problems and strengthens your organization. That means a holistic approach that touches every facet of the business. While this can be daunting and time consuming, the result will be more than worth it. Ultimately, you’ll promote retention and invaluable trust.

Don’t jump into a DEI strategy blind. Start with an audit of existing systems. Here are a few areas you can target:

  • Hiring practices
  • Leadership buy-in
  • Employee accountability
  • Management mindset

You can also reach out for help from consultants and employees to identify pain points and solutions. Then make a checklist for how to address what you find.

Above all, remember to promote a shift in mindset and resist limiting definitions of “diversity.” Focus on evidence-based actions.

Process chart of 4 steps for DEI strategy
Ask yourself the right questions and be honest with your answers | iStock/shendart

Hiring Is Just the Beginning

Initially, companies took a literal approach to boosting diversity by introducing arbitrary hiring quotas. The focus was on the company image, increasing productivity, and avoiding lawsuits—not impacting the status quo.

You’ve witnessed this if you’ve ever seen a corporate website with a diverse team splashed across the landing page. Such images suggest equal hiring practices, but what do things look like from the inside? What do those diverse team members actually do?

Most DEI roles still involve recruiting responsibilities, despite HR’s limited power over company culture.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are important guiding principles, but they should be treated like any other business strategy—with set targets. Otherwise, how do you know if your company has been successful? It’s all well and good to have events, clubs, or a diversity section on the corporate wiki, but without pushing towards a tangible goal, DEI remains a nebulous concept that won’t be taken seriously.

Don’t Leave Out Leadership

One of the biggest mistakes companies make when it comes to DEI is failing to have mandates reach the top of the ladder. According to a 2020 survey by the New York Times, women and minorities combined were under 40% of seats on Fortune 500 company boards. It was also not unusual for diverse candidates to sit on multiple boards.

“[There] is a gigantic gap [in leadership]. This is a huge problem, and it doesn’t have a single solution.”

Leslie Feinzaig, Founder & CEO, Female Founders Alliance

For Tracy Gopal, founder and CEO of Third Arrow Strategies, achieving greater diversity in leadership roles can sometimes mean shifting the goal posts and setting realistic corporate governance targets. She gives the example of board director positions previously requiring experience as a CEO: “There were no women that met that criteria because all the CEOs were men!”

“Common Sense” Isn’t Enough

One of the biggest enemies of DEI, both in hiring practices and in day-to-day work, is perceived “common sense.”

Leaders can, for example, accidentally misidentify a cultural difference as “not being a team player” or a language barrier as “lack of knowledge.” When managing a diverse team, open communication and a learning mindset are key. Nobody enjoys the tense moments leading up to a clash, so falling back on established rules or assumptions is much easier than addressing a problem head on.

Ask yourself, “Who did the company have in mind when they set up certain rules and guidelines?”

When working with people of all different backgrounds, adapt your perspective to find a solution. Embrace the awkwardness of differing opinions and use those opinions to strengthen your team.

“Leaders need to be more aware of biases than anyone.”

Tomoko Kimijima, Managing Director at GLOBIS

Make People Accountable for Their Actions

There’s also the issue of accountability. Employees need to face consequences if they are consistently resistant to DEI. While workshops, interventions, or training sessions were the go-to solution for many years, nowadays candidates and employees expect more.

In the digital age of remote work, it’s easier than ever for your best talent to walk away. After years of companies casting a blind eye to microaggressions, gas lighting, and systematic exclusion, “I didn’t mean to offend you” simply isn’t good enough anymore. If certain employees refuse to evolve, you (as their employer) need to hold them accountable.

Don’t Set It and Forget It

Unwillingness to adapt is a common roadblock in the initial stages of DEI. Even for companies that already have a framework in place, complacency can undermine meaningful progress.

Ask yourself some simple questions to determine whether your company has fallen into some common pitfalls—and be honest in your answers:

  • Is my company buying into the myth of meritocracy?
  • Are we expecting all leaders to behave the same way (and failing to promote those who don’t)?
  • Are we alienating the talent we need before they even apply?

Being a DEI leader means being open to change and challenges—and being part of the solution for underrepresentation in the workplace.

Leadership with Passion through Kokorozashi

The key ingredient to success? Passion.

Finding your kokorozashi will unify your passions and skills to create positive change in society. This GLOBIS Unlimited course will help you develop the values and lifelong goals you need to become a strong, passion-driven leader.

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