How to use data to promote workplace diversity

Published on: June 2018

Written by: Jessica Parisi

DAN PATTERSON: The technology industry… Well, almost every industry is not nearly diverse enough, but one thing we often hear is, okay, I understand that. How do I get my company to be more diverse? What are the actionable first and next steps?

So, Jessica, I know that you guys have really pioneered the data-driven approach to promoting workplace diversity. How does that methodology work?

JESSICA PARISI: Sure, Dan. I’m happy to share that with you, and I think what I can do is share with you both a reflection of how BTS USA shifted our own male-female ratio in the last four years. We actually went from 16% women to 42% women, with our biggest office having 52% women. And I think what you’ll find is through our own lessons of how we shifted that, it’s quite consistent with what we’re seeing many of our tech clients endeavor to do as well.

So, the first thing that’s critical is actually who owns the data, and who takes responsibility for the shift. This is not an HR-owned initiative. Business leaders have to own this. So, at BTS USA, the four major business leaders of our four regions took on ownership that not only were they responsible for both our revenue and profit growth results, but now also the male-to-female ratio, which means they were pointed out quarterly in the metrics of their team, and to our CEO. I see a lot of our clients make the mistake of thinking that the head of (diversity and inclusion) or the CHRO actually owns the problem, and I think until the business leaders take responsibility for it, it’s hard to move the needle.

DP: What do you use as metrics? And, because obviously every business is different, what do you suggest other companies use as — if not metrics, KPIs — for determining not just diversity goals, but a direction and a shift in company culture?

JP: Sure. I mean, obviously the mix of the diversity profile that the company’s striving for is the outcome, so that’s the big one, but then there’s the in-process measures. So, I think what we’re finding and seeing is the metrics that companies are establishing are being shared even with the board, and they include things like data that supports their current succession realities; how quickly the succession candidates are actually evolving and being put into new roles, and not just being recognized as potential. It cuts across … Diversity is not just female and male, and if they can break down the succession movement, and candidates by business unit and function, they get to a level of depth where, again, you get ownership that people can move on and take action on.

DP: So, a lot of the research, at least according to your data, shows that types of impartial evaluation or some of the most objective processes. How do you determine what impartial is, and how do you incorporate that into an evaluation of leadership?

JP: Yeah. This is absolutely essential, and I would say it’s the third step. The second step is to take ownership and make sure that you have the right diversity of candidates coming through the selection process. It’s not okay anymore that just 20% of women show up to be interviewed. It has to be 50/50, so it’s a lot of rigor that has to happen in early stages in the pipeline.

Now, to your question, the entire point of the recruitment experience, the selection process, has to be to eliminate the similar-to-me bias. The old kind of lazy interviewing techniques of thinking about “Would I want to hang out with this person at an airport?” Or “Tell me what you do in your free time,” or “Tell me about your past role” doesn’t cut it at all. What you have to do to eliminate the bias is to create experiences throughout the selection process where people get to practice the role.

So, we’re big believers in, for example, day-in-the-life simulation experiences, where the candidates get a feel for what the job is, and get to practice it. And in addition to that, you articulate very observable behaviors that make people great or successful in those roles, and then the people observing them are following those observable behaviors, and it makes it much more accurate

In fact, what happened to us is historically the female candidates were scoring lower throughout our selection process, and when we shifted to what the simulation experiences throughout the selection process against observable behavioral data, and what great looks like inside of BTS, they scored the same.

DP: When we look at some of the benefits and potential outcomes, do you have any stories of how companies have changed, and the potential positive outcomes of adapting this methodology?

JP: Well, I guess the point of all of this is to have better, more creative ideas to solve the problems that clients are trying to solve. And how do you create an environment where you get the smartest, most creative ideas that comes from the most diverse groups possible to make that happen?

In the shorter term, at least for us, when more female candidates were highly successful through our selection process, and then took the job … Because another point I’ll make is their experience through the recruitment process made them feel comfortable. We made sure we had more women leaders involved in the process, more female consultants, so that they felt more like this would be an environment where they would succeed. But then it’s like the tipping point happens, and all of a sudden, they’re naturally networking, and bringing in more diverse candidates. The momentum just starts to breed on itself as opposed to having an environment where a consultant may come, and the first day they look around and realize this isn’t very diverse. Everyone either acts the same way, or they look the same way, and then you’re fighting that mindset for a long time.