Despite pledges from corporations around the world, it’s becoming increasingly clear that ‘diversity’ isn’t happening. When women make up just 12.6 percent of board members in Britain’s 500 largest tech companies, less females hold CEO positions than men with the name ‘David’ in the Fortune 500, and just 6 percent of FTSE 100 board members hail from BAME backgrounds, it’s evident that a huge problem exists.
It’s not as if there isn’t an incentive for companies to focus on diversity. Aside from social justice issues, it’s business imperative. The McGregor-Smith Review suggests that utilising the full potential of BAME individuals could contribute £24 billion to the UK economy a year. McKinsey research has found that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above industry medians.
It’s blindingly obviously that companies should be putting efforts into increasing diversity. However, without a complete overhaul of hiring and recruitment practices, this won’t happen. The hiring practices that many firms use are outdated and open to bias, and by starting with them, diversity can actually be addressed from the ground up. Arbitrary measures such as enforcing targets and blaming and shaming are simple but ineffective. Research has also shown that ‘go-to’ solutions such as compulsory diversity training do not have the desired effect and sometimes even lead to increased prejudice.
This isn’t mere conjecture, as a wealth of data shows. A study from the University of Toronto where researchers distributed nearly 13,000 fake resumes to over 3,000 job listings found that candidates with Chinese, Indian or Pakistani-sounding names were 28% less likely to be offered an interview than fictional candidates with English names, even with identical qualifications. Bias even seeps into technology. A recent study of the facial recognition software of Microsoft, IBM and Face++ reflects this. The systems were shown 1,000 faces, and asked to identify each as male or female. All did well discerning between white faces, and men in particular. However, when it came to dark-skinned females, there were 34% more errors.
However, there are steps that can be taken. Research shows that using masculine language such as ‘competitive’ and ‘determined’ discourages female applications. On the other hand, words like ‘collaborative’ and ‘cooperative’ attract more women than men. Software can be used to balance out applications to include an equal number of gendered terms.
At AnyGood?, our crowdsourcing approach is backed up by research showing that by borrowing from systems such as Airbnb and Uber, technology can be used to ‘influence people’s perception of trust’, levelling the playing field between demographics
Finally, a blind process for reviewing applications also has the potential to help impartiality. A study of the Boston Philharmonic’s blind audition process showed that it increased a woman’s chance of being accepted by as much as 50 percent. However, as a recent LinkedIn discussion I had with David McQueen illustrated, this is not an exact science, with David suggesting that blind hiring is merely a plaster that doesn’t address the root cause of bias – human ignorance. While I agree it isn’t a definitive solution, I still believe the tool is useful. By using blind hiring to make unconscious bias become conscious, and give decision makers an awareness of how age, gender, race and education are influencing hiring decisions, undeniable progress can be made. As a separate point, I also want to raise the fact that the volume of differing opinions in response to David’s post demonstrates why it's so difficult to have an impactful conversation on diversity – people are afraid to make suggestions in case they get a backlash. But the fact is, progress won't be made without ideas and that is why they should be encouraged whether wrong or right.
Ultimately, these measures are all easily applicable and proven to induce positive change, but are not the be-all-and-end-all and certainly will not completely solve the problem. When we look at how business has evolved in the last decade, we’ve come on leaps and bounds, however, how we hire has not kept pace. What we need is a complete overhaul of recruitment – then maybe we’ll stop ‘discussing’ this issue and start seeing results.
About Juliet Eccleston
Juliet is CEO and co-founder of AnyGood?, the platform where professionals recommend other professionals for roles.