Women in business: How to increase equity at work
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Women in business: How to increase equity at work

Women in business: How to increase equity at work

Michigan Ross professor and the Sanger Leadership Center’s faculty director shares why equity is important and how we can incorporate it at the workplace

Gulf Business

Without equity, biases and structural inequalities can highjack the ability of diversity to live up to its positive outcomes. In a recent study of 16,500 employees from companies around the world, the BCG (Boston Consulting Group) found that 50 per cent of all workers from underrepresented groups see bias as part of their day-to-day work experience.

Employees agree that one important tool for equity is anti-discrimination policies. Training those making personnel decisions such as managers and human resources on how to mitigate biases and to increase their cultural competency around inclusion is highly valued.

Here are a few evidence-backed tools you can use and implement in the workplace to move your organisation towards equity:

The most powerful one is data: Data is your most important friend for equity in organisations. With data, you can analyse your diversity pipeline and understand where there are leaks. For example, study the demographics of the people you are interviewing and then reflect the demographics of the population. Or for example, is your entry-level diverse but your manager level isn’t? If it’s not, examine your interview process to see where the problem lies.

Through using data in these types of processes you can fine-tune your efforts on diversity and equity to address the exact spots where your diversity pipeline from talent pool to top management is ‘leaky’ or needing upgrades in equity to be more anti-bias and fair for all.

Formalising procedures: The more guidelines you have for evaluation, interviews, hiring, performance reviews etc. to treat people (and discuss them) in a consistent and standardised manner, the more equitable and anti-bias the processes within your organisation are likely to be (which will lead to greater diversity across all layers of your organisation).

Formalised feedback processes to correct inequitable systems and processes: Use the data to evaluate existing processes and update them accordingly.

In addition to these larger strategic changes, it’s important to be aware of how unintentional bias may also manifest in day-to-day work situations. For example, there is research showing that women often get vaguer feedback than men. Which makes it harder for them to perform since the advice they’re getting is much less concrete. Additionally, the type of feedback that’s given varies. Women are more often told that they’re too aggressive, whereas that feedback is very rarely given to men. Therefore, it’s important to be mindful of existing stereotypes and biases.

If companies have a hard time attracting a more diverse pool of talent, many will fault the talent pool for not being diverse. However, often the problem lies in the recruitment process. For example, the job ad might unconsciously use language that would attract only a certain type of professional. Be aware of the narrative used and how it will come across to the target audience. A job ad, can either pull people to the table or drive them away. Running job ads through online bias checkers can be helpful to have more inclusive job ads that bring in a greater variety of talent.

There can also be hidden traps in the recruitment process. In studies that were conducted on orchestras, blind auditions for the musicians helped to increase diversity. When recruiting new musicians, they decided to put up a curtain and not see the gender of the applicant, it helped but not entirely. They learned as they were experimenting, that the curtain didn’t necessarily mask the noise of high heels and therefore there was still room for gender bias to exist. Once the orchestras put down a rug and a curtain and evaluators were focusing only on the musical talents of the prospective hire, they found that they were admitting an equal number of men and women.

Interview questions and how they are asked can also play an important part. Research shows that interviewers tend to ask women more questions on how they manage risk and men more questions on how they create new opportunities. Not surprisingly, people who get asked questions on creating new opportunities experience better interview outcomes.

There are useful guidelines to follow for more equitable personnel processes. Here are some best practices to consider:

Performance review – best practice

  • Articulate criteria in advance, including with specific results and behaviours
  • Give clear, specific feedback and run language through a bias checker
  • Give the same quantity of feedback (and level of detail) to all employees
  • Tie feedback to business goals and outcomes
  • Remind raters of biases

Pay decisions – best practice

  • Keep metrics on pay differences across demographic groups
  • Increase transparency and accountability in pay decisions
  • Ban salary history questions from hiring processes

Job ads – best practice

  • Use neutral language
  • Use inclusive language
  • Focus on top criteria
  • Include mission and values
  • Run job ads through an inclusive language detector

Interviews – best practice

  • Keep a selection of candidates as blind as possible for as long as possible
  • Use diverse panels of interviewers
  • Use standardised questions and protocols, and train staff on using them
  • Avoid hypothetical or casual questions
  • Give assignments that look like job tasks
  • Consider AI-powered video interview systems, which provide new sources of coaching data for interviewers

Mentoring – best practice

  • Match mentees-mentors based on skills, competencies and various personality traits
  • Utilise learning and development platforms
  • Train mentors on effective mentoring practices
  • Clarify mentor and mentee roles and responsibilities

To conclude, equity is important and beneficial for the workplace, both morally and for organisational performance. Whether it’s personnel processes, interview questions or performance reviews, the effort and time invested in doing small yet strategic changes to increase equity can have a significant impact.

Inequity belongs in the past – move your organisation into the future by using tools that will allow for a more equitable, diverse and high-performing workforce.

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