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Diversity and inclusion: how far have we come since 2010?

Did diversity and inclusion suffer a beating in the last decade, or is there reason to believe things aren’t as bad as they seem? What can we expect from the new decade – will new technology benefit diversity or create further hurdles for minorities to overcome?

17th Jan 2020
Consultant Frost Included
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Diverse People Stacking Hand Together
iStock/AndreyPopov

This has been a decade of tumultuous change. We’ve witnessed massive changes in the political sphere, with the resurgence of far-right political movements around the world, from the Philippines to Brazil to Hungary to the USA. We’ve seen the end of co-operation as we knew it previously with NAFTA being replaced, Britain exiting the EU, and NATO under strain.

Numbers don’t tell the whole story of the progress we’ve made. The biggest area where things have changed is our understanding of bias and discrimination, and the way people are thinking about D&I and approaching the topic.

There has also been great progress on the D&I front, however: marriage equality has expanded to multiple countries, including Argentina, Australia, Finland, Taiwan and the USA. Finland set a new record by having every major political party in parliament led by a woman under 35, and Rwanda set a record with 64% of its elected government being women.

When it comes to the business sphere, while it’s clear that there has been an increasing conversation about moving the dial on D&I, have things actually changed?  

A change in language and understanding

It’s easy to feel discouraged when women make up only 17% of executives in consulting, 15% in financial services, and 11% in technology. Not to mention the fact that in the FTSE 100 there are still more CEOs named David (14) and even more named John (17) than there are all women (seven).  Despite this, increased advocacy, laws, and pressure about this problem has begun to make changes – the proportion of women on boards of the FTSE 100 has increased from 12.5% in 2010 to 32.4% in 2019.

From our perspective, though, the numbers don’t tell the whole story of the progress we’ve made. The biggest area where things have changed is our understanding of bias and discrimination, and the way people are thinking about D&I and approaching the topic.

Businesses have found real success by moving to the ‘inclusion 3.0’ approach. This is where diversity and inclusion initiatives are not something done on the side, but rather are a key aspect of the way they do business.

Ten years ago, the words ‘unconscious/implicit bias’ were relegated purely to academic circles. Now, they are common parlance even in general social context. The term ‘psychological safety’ was only used in academic journals in 2010, now C-suite executives discuss its importance.

Ten years ago, the common understanding was that women are paid less because they don’t negotiate, which makes them seem less competent. Now we know that when women do ask for more money – when they do negotiate in the same way that men do – they receive an incredible level of backlash. We now know that exhibiting strong negotiating behaviours is seen for men as ‘knowing their value’ but for women as ‘cold and abrasive’.  These examples show an incredible increase in our understanding of why inclusion problems persist in the workplace despite all the effort and conversation.

Inclusion 3.0

The biggest changes in approach, though, come from the very reasons organisations are doing D&I work in the first place. A decade ago, most organisations were approaching D&I from a ‘diversity 101’ perspective. It was a very compliance-driven approach that focused on ensuring the company was meeting all requirements it was legally obligated to. It was about attaining a minimum, not adding value per se. Any impetus for change came from changes in legislation.

As social consciousness around D&I increased, many organisations moved to a ‘diversity 2.0’ approach. Marketing-led, these organisations have recognised that globalisation has made diversity a modern-day fact in our societies. Consumer markets look very different than they might have 30, 20, or even ten years ago, and businesses recognise that consumers want to be reflected by the organisations they buy from. Putting diversity at the centre of a major ad campaign is a good signal to these diverse populations that they understand these needs.

As technology becomes cheaper and easier to use, and as our awareness of our own biases and how they affect our work and technology increases, we will only become increasingly innovative in how to mitigate our biases in day-to-day life.

As we closed the decade, some organisations realised that when these ad campaigns are not backed up by concrete action, it can feel inauthentic. This can make the dominant group feel good about themselves but make the minority group you are trying to attract even more cynical and less likely to join in.

For example, Lloyd’s has run a number of ads recently about the impact of subtle discriminatory language at work, yet its gender pay gap is still 42% for salary and 67% for bonuses. That gap in marketing versus reality is stark, and people notice. It causes a credibility gap that can actually make things worse in the eyes of the public.

As a result, businesses have found real success by moving to the ‘inclusion 3.0’ approach. This is where diversity and inclusion initiatives are not something done on the side, but rather are a key aspect of the way they do business. Inclusive thinking is embedded in all the decisions they make, creating the conditions for a more organic increase in diversity in the company and a more inclusive environment that makes everyone thrive and work together more productively.

Mars might be in this space, which is reflected by a smaller gender pay gap (women earn 8% more on average than men according to UK government data) and fairly high ratings on Glassdoor (3.9 overall).  While they likely still have some work to do, they seem to be approaching diversity and inclusion with a sustainable and authentic mindset.

In-built bias

This is also true when we look at how this change in perspective is affecting the way we use and develop new technologies. In the last decade, machine learning and AI have become much smarter, leading to companies wanting to use it for everything they can. This has caused some problems in the D&I space – since the original datasets fed to machine learning algorithms are created by human programmers, everything the machine learns is imbued with the bias of its creators. Famous examples include Amazon’s gender-biased recruiting platform that learned – because of the data that was fed to it – that being male was an important aspect of being a successful Amazon programmer. Another example is how object-detection systems in self-driving cars are better at detecting light skin than dark skin, a phenomenon discovered by Georgia Tech researchers in 2019.

More importantly, though, this technology has also become much cheaper, which means we are now much more aware of how bias affects it and are more easily able to rectify these problems.  In the case of self-driving cars, companies like Tesla and Uber have been able to adapt their platforms to completely change the way their cars detect objects in a short time for a relatively low cost. When it comes to recruiting, tons of new companies are coming out with tech products that help mitigate our biases. Textio is one example – it uses machine learning to help us understand what words and phrases in job descriptions are more or less biased toward applicants of different genders.

As technology becomes cheaper and easier to use, and as our awareness of our own biases and how they affect our work and technology increases, we will only become increasingly innovative in how to mitigate our biases in day-to-day life.

While at times it may seem that little progress has been made when we look at the numbers, in reality the change in consciousness around D&I is a much more substantive change. We may have backlash to this progress, coming in the forms of political crises around the globe, but the conversation has clearly changed. As such, we can look to the next decade with optimism.

Interested in this topic? Read Three ways to create a diverse and inclusive workplace.

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