Using Technology to Drive Diversity in Your Business

01/13/2016 04:53 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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Whether your focus is B2B or B2C, a socially diverse team is just good business sense. It isn't just because your organization should reflect our increasingly diverse society -- research shows collaborating with people of different race, gender, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, economic status, and life experience encourages creative thinking and drives business growth.

But the road to diversity must be paved with more than good intentions. If workers, clients, and business partners aren't already judging how effective your company's efforts to be more diverse are, they soon will be. Being inclusive is an effort that starts from the ground up--from recruitment to retention. Tech solutions can help equalize the process and reduce weak spots.

Remove Bias from the Hiring Process

Everyone brings beliefs and opinions to the table -- assumptions, generalizations, and perceptions based on personal background and experiences. These differences are part of the strength behind diversity, but conscious and unconscious biases can hold you back.

I recently wrote about one harsh reality minorities face from the very start of the hiring process: An economist found resumes with African American-sounding names had a 14 percent lower call-back rate. Other studies have shown that men still have an advantage over women, even when their skills are equal.

Removing bias can start with something as seemingly innocuous as a job post. In one case reported by NPR, cybersecurity firm RedSeal used a program from Unitive to adjust their job descriptions: "Job applications shot up 30 percent, and the percentage of women among the company's three-dozen engineers has doubled."

Hiring tests have long been used as a way to test real-world expertise, and technology makes it easier to "test-drive" a candidate's hands-on skills before bringing them onboard. Basecamp is one company who's used this with success.

"Sometimes, we'll hire someone on a contract basis for a month to see how we feel about the person and how the person feels about us... These real-work tests have saved us a few mismatched hires and confirmed a bunch of great people."

Portfolios are another long-standing way to see what someone is capable of; online platforms like GitHub (for developers), Behance (for designers), and even tools baked into LinkedIn give individuals a real-time showcase for their work.

One emerging recruitment tool is massive open online courses (MOOCs)--education, often from top universities, available for free through platforms like Coursera, Udacity, and Udemy to anyone with an Internet connection. Institutions like MIT are starting to use them to recruit students, offering incentives for top performers. Corporations are turning to MOOCs for training; smart organizations will find ways to use them not just for employee development but also to fill the talent pipeline.

Collect Data -- and Use It Wisely

It isn't enough to hire for diversity. If what gets measured gets done, tracking your efforts--then tailoring programs to improve results -- is critical.

Google, for example, invested $115 million in diversity initiatives -- only to find no real difference in numbers at the end of a year. However, as one industry expert pointed out, for an organization of 50,000+ those stats are neither surprising nor the only thing that matters. "Yes, everyone would love to see the numbers increase more quickly, but in the meantime people are looking at these issues in ways they never would have before," said Jon Bischke, CEO of recruiting software platform provider Entelo.

Use internal data and surveys to learn about different segments of employees. While the information is often anonymized, you can still use broader groups to identify wins and weaknesses in your efforts.

How do people of different demographics fare within your organization, and how can you bridge any gaps? What resources could make onboarding or ongoing development easier? Which underrepresented groups have effectively advanced their careers in your organization, and how could that impact the development of other groups?

Software makes employee engagement easier and more consistent, with open lines for regular feedback and communication, but it must be a priority to collect and use the information.

Make It Easy for Great Workers to do Great Work

Corporate culture is what will ultimately make or break your efforts. Change may start with leadership, but it has to reach from top to bottom if it's going to last.

Mentorship programs don't just help integrate new employees, they can be an effective way for people within different groups -- and at different levels of your organization -- to learn from each other.

In an article on HBR, Douglas R. Conant, former CEO of Campbell Soup, shared how mentoring was part of Campbell Soup's transformation.

"[We created' six human resource networks for women, people of various ethnic backgrounds, generations, and sexual orientations. Moreover, leaders were expected to mentor and help develop people of all backgrounds and persuasions -- even people who didn't report to them."

A flexible work environment -- one that enables not just an adaptable schedule but also remote work through a mobile strategy -- is still seen by some as a perk instead of reality. However, for people caring for children or parents, or with health considerations, such accommodation can be essential.

It's possible for a company to shift its ecosystem. Creating change that's sustainable requires a series of actions at every level, but technology can help effectively improve diversity and fill gaps that currently hold your organization back.