To embrace D&I, addressing unconscious bias is only the first step

D&I trainings and workshops are useful tools for businesses hoping to change workplace culture and retain a more diverse workforce, but the remaining question is how to deliver the intended message in a way that resonates with individuals in a sustained and impactful manner.

Earlier this year, on the morning of June 5, Sephora closed all of its U.S. stores, distribution centers, call centers and its corporate office to host hour-long “inclusion workshops” for its employees. This was following backlash the makeup giant received after American R&B artist SZA tweeted about Sephora employees accusing her of stealing and calling security on her while she shopped at a California store. In May 2018, Starbucks shut down more than 8,000 U.S. locations so its 175,000 employees could complete a four-hour anti-bias training program, also following a racial profiling incident in a Philadelphia store.

Over the past few years, it’s been effectively proven that a diverse and inclusive workforce gives businesses a competitive edge and leads to higher profitability. Consequently, millennials and Generation Z rank D&I high among what they value in employers, according to Deloitte’s 2018 and 2019 “Global Millennial Survey” reports.

D&I trainings and workshops are useful tools for businesses hoping to change workplace culture and retain a more diverse workforce, but the remaining question is how to deliver the intended message in a way that resonates with individuals in a sustained and impactful manner.

Diversity consultant, career strategist and motivational speaker Stacey A. Gordon said the answer lies in asking a simple question: Why?

D&I efforts have now become some kind of PR exercise, she said. “It’s being looked at as something you do to save face, something you have to do because competitors are doing it.”

While working as a recruiter in the early 2000s, Gordon found herself having to spend a lot of extra time convincing companies to hire women and African Americans for various positions.

“It was frustrating because I wasn’t encountering those roadblocks with other people. I thought, ‘Why is this happening?’ ” Gordon said.

At first, she thought it had something to do with the specific individuals she was coaching, but she quickly realized this wasn’t the case. The underlying issue was unconscious recruiter bias against the applicants. This experience led her to launching Rework Work, a training and consulting organization focused on the advancement of women and professionals of color. The name comes from the idea that companies need to consider reworking their onboarding, recruitment and training strategies to attract diverse job seekers.

“We operate in the intersection of workforce and workplace. The workplace needs training and the workforce needs development,” Gordon said. “And if you do both, you end up with an organization that has a good culture, great productivity and great profitability.”

As acting CEO of Rework Work, Gordon said she’s seen firsthand how her coaching and similar D&I education methods can improve a workplace.

“People are actually happy to come to work. The number of people taking time off or using sick days goes down. You don’t always think about the importance of coming to work, and actually wanting to be there,” she said. “When employees feel their employer is listening and actively trying to do better, productivity goes up.”

Unconscious Bias: A Decades-Old Problem

D&I training for the workplace is an ongoing topic of conversation surrounding a decades-old problem in corporate America. Unconscious bias leads to rigid workplace culture and recruitment strategies, which are barriers for people of color and women, and make it difficult for them to get hired or receive promotions and raises.

As a result, there’s lack of diverse representation in the modern workforce and an urgency shared by business leaders and recruiters to alter recruitment methods to attract more diverse applicant pools.

LinkedIn’s “2018 Workforce Diversity Report” revealed approximately half the U.S. workforce is white, 39 percent is Asian, 5.7 percent is Hispanic or Latino, 3.3 percent is African American and 2.5 percent identified as two or more races. Less than one percent identified as “other.” To put this in a national perspective, more than 13 percent of the U.S. population is African American, and 18 percent are Hispanic or Latino, while about 76.6 percent of Americans identify as white, according to 2018 U.S. Census Bureau data.

Brynne Hovde, manager of operations and co-founder of The Nova Collective, said it’s important for companies to be intentional and ask questions that reveal what representation is lacking. The Nova Collective is a women and black-owned strategic communications organization that partners with businesses to build inclusive cultures that are rooted in social identity and conscious of biases.

“Bias is one of those big abstractions that makes a lot of people feel bad, and you don’t really know what to do about it,” Hovde said. “It really helps to understand that your biases form across those lines of difference among identities. They’re not just random.”

In addition to offering training and workshops, The Nova Collective’s production and graphics team also creates comic strips, memes and short animated videos that support dialogue or e-learning programs. Hovde said these assets can be embedded directly into a curriculum, or shared internally through an organization via its own email, intranet or LMS.

The Nova Collective also produced the D&I Compass, a train-the-trainer toolkit that includes 15 digital videos, 30 behavioral scenarios, three bundled discussion guides and pre-/post-engagement surveys surrounding D&I. These materials have set guidelines, but are also meant to be broken down and used by companies as they see fit. Some companies even use Compass materials in their onboarding sessions, Hovde said.

The idea behind Compass and the group’s other content represents Hovde’s and the other three co-founders’ original intentions with The Nova Collective. Prior to launching the organization, Hovde and her fellow co-founders noticed that many companies’ D&I initiatives started with an “army of one.”

“We wanted to create a company where we can really be a resource for that one person who is essentially trying to do this by themselves,” she said.

D&I Shouldn’t Be An Island

Understanding unconscious bias is only the first step. While D&I trainings return a mostly positive response among attendees, a meta-analysis published in 2016 by the American Psychological Association suggests current D&I training practices do little to actually change the attitudes of attendees long-term.

Global diversity and inclusion consultant, author and speaker La’Wana Harris suggests businesses begin treating D&I as any performance goal, similar to sales. Setting the goal of having 40-50 percent women on an executive board by the year 2020 is great, but only if there’s an accountability component.

“It shouldn’t be OK that we set goals [but] that we are still looking at this a decade or more later,” Harris said. “If [businesses] put out a sales goal or a financial report in which they didn’t hit something, you better believe there’s going to be tons of analyses and a fix put in place. But with D&I it’s like, ‘oh well.’ ”

Harris said D&I programs and trainings shouldn’t be part of an initiative, but instead be viewed as part of a shift in workplace culture. Conversations need to go beyond the HR office, because they affect “every person, at every level, every day.”

Harris recently published a book titled “Diversity Beyond Lip Service: A Coaching Guide for Challenging Bias.” Along with an accompanying workbook, Harris said these are just the first steps in her journey to change narratives surrounding D&I work. She’s created an online learning system of microlearning and case scenarios for businesses to use for their own respective teams, including a self-assessment tool called COMMIT.

With a systemic approach to culture changes and resources that focus on processes and people, Harris said companies can commit to better D&I in their workplaces, as long as everybody has a seat at the table, from talent management and acquisition, to HR, to the chief learning officer, to the CEOs.

“Everyone should be working in tandem, hand-in-hand, on the overall human capital management strategy,” she said. “D&I shouldn’t be on an island somewhere.”

From Recruitment to Culture Integration

While auto manufacturing company Continental AG is already fortunate to be a large global organization with natural diversity, with more than 244,000 employees spanning 60 countries, the company still puts a strong emphasis on D&I.

Continental’s head of talent acquisition for the U.S. and Canada, Mary Reardon, said their D&I efforts usually begin in the recruitment stages, but they have been well-integrated into workplace culture. Being a STEM organization creates a stronger incentive for Continental to be highly invested in top-notch diverse recruiting methods.

“We cast our net far and wide,” Reardon said. “Additionally, we work to ensure all our hiring managers and individuals who lead an interview team have gone through unconscious bias training and understand … how important it is that we are looking from a diverse perspective.”

Recently, Continental, which was recently named one of Forbes’ “Best Employers for Women,” announced a new partnership with women’s career community Fairygodboss and plans for increased participation in diversity conferences, namely through the Society of Women Engineers, National Society of Black Engineers and Women of Color STEM.

“We know an inclusive workplace is one that ensures the employees are feeling a strong sense of belonging and feel welcome,” Reardon said.

The company also released a short film, “The Safety of His Dream,” that demonstrates its commitment to promoting STEM among youth, women and minorities. The two-minute film features a female engineer working at Continental and her young son. The idea behind the film, said Tanya McNabb, head of Continental HR Communications for both the U.S. and Canada, is to promote STEM in a way that everybody can relate to, whether the viewer relates more to the woman or the young boy, who represents the next generation of “makers.”

To maintain an inclusive workplace culture, Reardon said Continental’s talent management and organizational development team offers various trainings and opportunities throughout the year for professional and personal development. She added that companies don’t necessarily need to put a lot financially toward D&I improvement, especially if the budget isn’t available.

“A lot of these things can be holistic and grassroots within the company,” Reardon said. “I think to really ensure any type of initiative is successful, you need to have that senior leader buy-in to have them understand why it’s so important, whatever it is. Speaking on diversity and inclusion here and why it’s so important for the livelihood of a company and its employees. So being able to provide that and then to have them support that is really the step 1. Because from there, you can do a lot of inexpensive or even free initiatives with the support of your leaders to be able to cascade down through the organization.”

Where We Go From Here

In July 2018, Starbucks announced it was continuing its anti-bias training efforts with 12 training modules it created for its associates and managers with outside resources and help. Some of the training topics include cultural perspectives, engaging with empathy, gratitude and building diverse teams. Following it’s June 2019 inclusion workshops, Sephora said it, too, would conduct more training in the future for employees, but did not elaborate on what would be taught or by whom.

But to achieve true workplace change and build the kind of D&I program that is fully ingrained into company culture, the efforts of organizations going forward will need to move beyond that first step, focusing on ongoing, honest conversations; a combination of various learning efforts delivered via different modalities; and accountability for true change.