Embracing Business Diversity: Is Tech the Answer?

How can tech help to promote diversity in business? We looked at the various types of biases and the importance of diversity in the workplace.

Have you ever stopped to think about diversity in the business you work for? Consider gender diversity, ethnic diversity, and racial diversity. Are different groups given representation and better still, equality? What is the average profile of an employee, of managers? Can you see all walks of life reflected in your employees, in your leadership?

There are many benefits of diversity, but it’s less likely to be found in a company than you might expect. Diversity and inclusion is certainly a hot topic at the moment, so why is equal representation still proving so difficult to achieve? We wanted to look into the business case for diversity and tried to uncover why the workplace still isn’t becoming more diverse.

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What is diversity in the workplace?

In simple terms, diversity in business means hiring a varied and diverse workforce. This covers people of different ages, genders, social, educational, racial, and ethnic backgrounds.

In reality, true diversity in the workplace runs much deeper than this. Companies should be diverse and inclusive, creating teams of varied individuals who have equal opportunities. But the truth is, the business world is biased and no matter how much technology you integrate into your business to overcome bias, ultimately major decisions are handled by human beings. Emotional, and frequently irrational, human beings. Wherever humans are involved in the business processes, there’s always scope for bias to creep in and deviate from rational decision making. 

So, is it possible to create true diversity in the workplace and reduce unconscious bias whilst we live in a biased world? And is it really technology that’s going to get us where we need to be?

Types of Bias

There are many types of bias, but they can usually be grouped into Emotional and Cognitive:

Emotional Bias

We make decisions based on our emotions, instead of logic. Emotional bias examples in business include:

  • Bandwagon effect: We adopt ideas because others are, rather than analysing the information carefully. Dangerously commonplace in team meetings.
  • Empathy gap: Thishappens when people in one state of mind fail to understand people in another state of mind. E.g. if you’re offended by something and you don’t understand why others aren’t.
  • Hyperbolic discounting happens when people make decisions for a smaller reward sooner, rather than a greater reward later.
  • Negativity bias is the tendency to put more emphasis on negative experiences rather than positive ones.
  • Overconfidence is when some of us are too confident about our abilities, and this causes us to take greater risks in our daily lives.

Cognitive Bias

Where our biases result from incomplete information, or our inability to analyse the information available. Cognitive bias examples in business include:

  • Confirmation bias: The classic one. We only listen to information that confirms our original theory, discounting new, conflicting, information.
  • Conservatism bias: Where pre-existing data is deemed more valuable than new data.
  • Anchoring bias: Using the first piece of information we hear usually affects our decision making.
  • Recency bias: Future decisions are based on memorable, recent events, even if they are one-off events, because they are easier to remember.
  • Frequency illusion: This occurs when a word, name, or thing you just learned about suddenly appears everywhere.

Any prejudice can have the potential to affect your business operations. Whether it involves future-planning, the day-to-day, or even the hiring process, nothing is immune. Whilst we assume a lot of these biases are subconscious, other far more serious biases – such as racism and sexism – are conscious, illegal, and widespread.

What are the 4 types of diversity?

The four types of diversity are internal, external, organisational, and world view. Exploring these will help us to understand what true diversity in business looks like. 

  • Internal diversity types are born with an individual and are very difficult to change. For example, ethnicity, age, race, and gender.
  • External diversity types refer to characteristics that a person is not born with, that can be influenced, changed, or developed by an individual. These may include appearance, education, and interests amongst other things.
  • Organisational diversity refers to factors belonging to any particular workplace. A few examples are work location, job function, and union affiliation.
  • World view covers the way life experiences affect an individual’s view of the world. Diverse world views may be political, historical, or based on cultural events.

Now we know what it means to have a truly diverse workforce, do we even know when we’re being biased? These stats illustrate the current state of diversity management and inclusion:

This certainly highlights the business case for diversity and inclusion. Gender diversity, racial, and ethnic diversity are far from where they should be. But why is diversity important in business?

What is the importance of diversity in the workplace?

There are many benefits of diversity in business. When a company is truly diverse and inclusive, both employees and the business as a whole can benefit. Companies that employ more varied people automatically get the benefit of different perspectives. This increases creativity and productivity. Employee satisfaction increases and people perform better when employees feel included as individuals. 

The case for diversity doesn’t end there. Recent research conducted by HRWins found that nearly 60% of U.S. and U.K. employers surveyed believe there is a direct financial impact on the business when an organisation is competitive in inclusion and diversity. So true diversity is likely to have financial returns too.

How to promote diversity in the workplace

The benefits of diversity are clear, so how can we promote diversity in business?

  • Bias blindspots: Seeing bias in others is easier to spot than in yourself. Make sure someone is assessing your bias regularly – and take regular tests. The Harvard Implicit Association Test is worth a try.
  • Name-blind recruitment: This is already in place in the UK Civil Service, HSBC and the BBC.
  • Better training of algorithms: In order to create less biased tech, we need to create algorithms that are trained with a full spectrum inclusion. That is, a more diverse data set.
  • Get out of your comfort zone: Develop a working relationship with a counterpart who comes from a different background – it can only be a good thing for you and your business.
  • Be more visible to your staff: Make your HR data more visible and easy to analyse. Not just for HR leaders or top executives but also for line managers who are increasingly being held accountable for performance.
  • Keep improving yourself: There are a multitude of apps that can offer guidance on language and tone of voice, even providing “inclusion analytics” in real-time.
  • Slow it down, smarten up: Use smart, or “slow thinking” to make decisions instead of making judgements on little to no data. 

It feels like catch-22 but it has to start with being better humans – knowing, owning, and correcting our collective biases. In 2018 alone, more than $4 billion was invested in the HR technology sector, yet relying on technology alone will not solve the issue of bias in the workplace.

Diversity is no longer an issue of compliance, it’s imperative to a modern, successful business. Open your channels of communication from the very top so your team learns how to give and receive feedback. Remember that real diversity and inclusion is about fostering an environment where all employees feel heard and appreciated.

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