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Diving into diversity and inclusion In company culture

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For a long time I had a career in a corporate field, with c-level executives almost exclusively male and a fundamental industry-wide resistance to change in any area, including technology. The notion of inclusion, of top management recognizing unconscious biases and trying to address them through education or initiatives, would have been construed as the inmates taking over the asylum. It would have been tantamount to the boss saying he was wrong all along, and here are the keys to the executive washroom. The prevailing mindset of  the field was that if you were uncomfortable with your company’s culture, it was your problem, and you either learned to deal with it, or you moved on. 

Shifting Our Perspective on Diversity and Inclusion

But now, perhaps partly because of social media and a growing overall discussion of gender issues, along with a cultural shift in an interest for stories of women and underrepresented groups, we’ve recently moved into a public discourse where diversity is more than just an optional question on an employment application. Inclusion seems to mean, let’s acknowledge that we are alienating people and let’s figure out what to do to make our organization a place where people of different backgrounds can feel equally comfortable and empowered.

The two topics, diversity and inclusion, are not the same thing, but they are hand-in-glove issues. It doesn’t do any good to focus on diversity if you haven’t strategized inclusion, and without diversity, inclusion isn’t relevant.

In the past year, I’ve talked to a lot of female startup founders about diversity and inclusion, and no one is really interested in sharing war stories anymore. They are far more interested in hearing what works for people who are leading inclusion audits and initiatives in their own companies, and bringing male CEOs and managers into productive conversations. In this new series, I am going to focus on diversity and inclusion, sometimes together and sometimes separately. These are the four topics I will explore:

  • What we talk about when we talk about diversity
  • What we talk about when we talk about inclusion
  • Why It Matters
  • What Works

We All Have It: Start with Recognizing Unconscious Bias

This year at New Orleans Entrepreneur Week, one of the most well attended events was the Gender Bias talk by LaFawn Bailey, Global Head of Culture & Inclusion at PayPal. It was a part of the Elevate, Empower, Engage Women’s Business Summit. Most of the +100 people in the room were women. Bailey pointed out, “Bias is not a man versus women thing, we’re all biased.”

Only two attendees raised their hands when Bailey asked how many people had had formal training on unconscious bias. She defined unconscious bias as “attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions and decisions in an unconscious manner. She went on to explain that, “Bias has helped us survive. Bias isn’t always bad. But let’s look at how we identify the unconscious bias we have, in order to make it conscious, so we can do something about it.”

Bailey explained four areas of unconscious bias: opportunity bias, performance bias, competence vs. likability bias, and maternal bias. She described the impact of these biases, including the impact of opportunity bias – when women are held to higher standards than men, performance bias -when women are hired based on what they’ve proven and achieved rather than their potential, and the impact of performance bias – when women don’t receive the same credit for their accomplishments as their male counterparts, and consequently have lower self-esteem because of the biases they’ve experienced.

Some action items to help prevent bias that Bailey spelled out were:

  • Use gender-blind resume-screening for potential new hires.
  • On interview panels, call out remarks such as ‘They’re not a good culture fit’ and get to the bottom of the potential bias.
  • Set ground rules for meetings including no interrupting, insuring ideas are properly attributed, calling out successes and rotating corporate-housekeeping tasks instead of calling on volunteers.
  • Be aware of the gender-skewed language that you use to describe female and male employees.

Bailey concluded her presentation with statistics cited from the Corporate Executive Board:

  • When you have a diverse and inclusive workforce, employees are 1.12-times more likely to display discretionary effort. They have a 1.19-times greater tendency to stay. There is also a greater collaboration between teams, and greater team commitment. When we make the conscious efforts to overturn unconscious bias, we reap the results and the rewards.
  • Diversity makes even more of a difference when it’s extended to leadership roles. “When a workforce has diverse leaders, employees are 60% more likely to have ideas developed into prototypes, and they’re 70% more likely to see innovation implemented. These companies are 70% more likely to have captured a new market in the past year, and 45% have improved their market share in the past year.

“How will you address unconscious bias when you leave here? How will you hold yourself accountable? How will you hold others accountable?” she asked. “Being aware is great, speaking up is better.”

Bailey’s call to action was the inspiration for this series.

Julia H. Good is a contributing writer for The Distillery and the Gulf Coast Editor of Hark, where she covers startups and tech innovation. See|Talk|Act is a new series addressing Diversity and Inclusion topics in startup and tech culture. It includes editorial perspectives on data, initiatives, conversations, and reports on companies and organizations that are prioritizing and acting on diversity and inclusion from the top down. This is the first installment of the series which has been modified for The Distillery.

This article is reposted from The Distillery, a blog on entrepreneurship sponsored by The Idea Village.