To Change the Culture, Change the Process: Achieving Diversity and Inclusion Goals with Iris Bohnet

In the quest for a more diverse and inclusive workplace culture, many companies rely on individual interventions like company-wide diversity training. Research has shown, however, that these interventions have virtually zero impact on diversity and inclusion metrics and can often produce backlash. Instead of focusing on training the individual, companies should transform their organizational processes to achieve their desired outcomes.

I had the great pleasure of discussing these challenges with Harvard professor and behavioral economist Iris Bohnet during our recent webinar, “The new culture rules to achieve business success in 2018” She is the author of What Works: Gender Equality by Design and advises companies and governments on how to create diverse and inclusive workplaces.

Companies often ask Iris to give diversity and other types of trainings to improve company culture. Iris points out that we don’t have evidence suggesting training transforms organizational culture. While raising awareness and trying to persuade people is a worthwhile first step, it does not guarantee that anything material actually changes in an organization. And, in fact, backlash can occur when people claim diversity training has solved all their problems and nothing more needs to be done.

Unfortunately, this isn’t entirely surprising. It’s hard to de-bias people. We humans have pretty stubborn minds, and any kind of training must be accompanied by actual process change in order to shift culture and outcomes. Rather than relying on training alone, organizations that have successfully moved the needle on diversity use training to galvanize employees to adopt new processes that will actually address the problems discussed.

Part of what makes changing company culture difficult also stems from the fact that concepts like “culture” and “inclusion” can feel fuzzy and diffuse. Iris outlined five essentials that companies should use as a litmus for how healthy and inclusive their culture is: process (fair treatment), outcomes (pay, diversity metrics), behavior (daily experiences at work), power (having a voice) and belonging (bringing one’s whole self to work).

Employees use processes implemented for hiring, performance reviews, promotions and pay raises as signposts for how well their organization is living up to professed ideals around diversity, inclusion and fairness. Process improvements need to take place across every aspect of an organization, from hiring and evaluations to running meetings and brainstorms.

How fair and inclusive an organization feels starts at the hiring process with the job descriptions and continues through interview experience and pay negotiations. At Talent Sonar, we focus on making hiring as fair, inclusive and equitable as possible. Not only does it increase the volume and diversity of pipelines, but it leads to better business outcomes. Metrics show that diverse teams and inclusive workplaces are more productive and produce better results. Companies see these numbers and realize that while transforming hiring processes and culture can feel time consuming and challenging up front, their efforts pay off in the form of higher performing teams with more engaged workers who stick around longer and have greater bottom line impact.

Please listen to the full webinar recording and let me know your thoughts. We’re on Twitter @TalentSonar.

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