Tough conversations: finding what works
We know that D&I best practice is an evolving business area. More research is needed into the best ways to move the dial. Whilst we continue to innovate, measure and report what works best, we strongly encourage all organisations to review the guidance provided by the Government Equalities Office and Behavioural Insights Team on which interventions have so far been shown to increase diversity. We’ve also added a new section to our Open Playbook: What Works? Evidence Based Actions, to signpost to research on the evidence base for specific D&I interventions. Whilst we lean into efforts to improve D&I, it’s important that we do not shy away from the tough conversations regarding which interventions to prioritise when resources are limited.
We ask too much of certain types of diversity training: short-term training programmes are not enough to remove biases acquired over a lifetime. Studies are yet to rigorously show that this training changes biased behaviours in the workplace in any lasting way, or improves outcomes we care about for minority groups in terms of representation in leadership positions or reducing pay gaps. But there are good alternatives to this training, which focus on de-biasing systems rather than people!
Hannah Burd, Principal Advisor & Programme Director of the Gender & Behavioural Insights (GABI) programme at The Behavioural Insights Team
The list below features seven evidence-based interventions that have been shown to positively affect gender equality. The findings were made by the GABI Programme, run by the UK government and the Behavioural Insight Team. Their meta analysis reviewed the methodology and findings of hundreds of studies to produce the following:
- Implement transparent pay, promotion and reward processes
- Appoint diversity managers/diversity task forces
- Specify jobs as offering flexitime and part-time working as part of your standard job description whenever possible and relevant.
- Use blind CV screening (i.e. remove the name, images or any unnecessary information about the candidate).
- Assess candidates by asking them to undertake a task relevant to the role that demonstrates their skills.
- Share salary range details with the candidate.
- Ensure shortlists contain more than 1 woman.
Tough Conversations: Perceptions of D&I
The New Yorker called 2017 “the year of ‘Diversity Fatigue’”. In the article of the same name, the author describes the effort it takes to address D&I and remain committed to long-term measures – including time and resources. Not to mention the emotional toll it takes to run these programmes while simultaneously fighting for their relevance and not offending others. The media also zeroed in on dissenting voices, some from the tech sector, which surfaced as diversity programmes increased. Among them James Damore, who authored the controversial Google memo challenging the company's internal D&I approach. This highlights a divide which the existing D&I conversation had not yet addressed. As the Black Lives Matter movement grew exponentially and calls for a renewed focus on D&I increased on a global scale, we undertook a study to identify gaps between the demand for diversity initiatives and pushback against them.
TTC partnered with consumer research platform, Attest, to investigate the perception of D&I within the tech industry, beyond our signatory base. Surveying people who reflect the demographic makeup of the tech industry, Attest found that the vast majority of tech employees (73%) approved of their organisation’s D&I efforts; just 6% disapproved; the rest were undecided. The research also found that the approval rate was even higher (80%) for respondents up to the age of 35 and 10% lower in respondents 36 and over. Despite age-related variance, there is a clear agreement amongst tech professionals that organisations endeavouring to improve D&I are doing the right thing in the eyes of their employees. Over 80% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that “initiatives in the workplace to improve gender and ethnic diversity in tech roles are necessary”.
The research also showed that a significant proportion of respondents, 40%, felt that D&I initiatives can and do work at least some of the time. However, just over one in five also reported that they felt such initiatives could sometimes be counterproductive or even harmful. It’s great to see that there is such strong support amongst tech employees for improving equality, diversity and inclusion. Attention is now needed to ensure that organisations get buy-in from their employees over their course of action and results. This is backed up by our research, which revealed meritocratic decision-making to be a key area of concern. Respondents both supportive and critical of D&I initiatives, had negative views of non-meritocratic actions around hiring and talent. As with our findings on inclusive recruitment and culture, a key recurring focus is the importance of transparency. However, ensuring that employees engage with the conversations around diversity can also be a challenge.
Another theme that arose from our research was the reluctance of individuals on both sides of the aisle to raise D&I issues. Both those who belonged to minority groups and majority groups in tech were hesitant to voice their opinions and concerns, with each group saying it could have a negative effect on how they were viewed in their organisation. Twenty-two percent of our respondents said they would have concerns raising a D&I issue; this rises to 32% for respondents who are part of ethnic minority groups. Equally striking was the fact that 14% of white men also felt uncomfortable voicing their opinions on D&I issues. This highlights the importance of companies leaning into the tough conversations about D&I and giving their employees the appropriate spaces to engage with and discuss diversity and inclusion topics. Without the cultural backdrop for D&I issues to be discussed openly in a professional context, it’s unlikely that organisations will be able to elicit and address concerns amongst the segment of their workforce that simply views this as too risky to engage with.
The business case for D&I is well documented. When it comes to a multitude of other difficult business issues, we do not allow discomfort to be a reason for avoidance; nor should this be the case with regards to discussing D&I. As with any other business concern, the key is to support staff to be better at handling these conversations.
the Key takeaways from our research:
- The vast majority of tech employees approve of their organisation’s D&I efforts and think that they are necessary. Businesses can take some confidence from that fact that the average tech employee does back action on diversity and inclusion. We expect this number to increase over time, as Millennials and Gen Z account for increasing proportions of the tech workforce.
- Industry opinion is more divided over how to improve D&I. Despite broad agreement on the necessity of diversity and inclusion interventions, a significant proportion of tech employees have misgivings about the efficacy of the interventions being used.
- Processes around the discussion of D&I issues are important. Companies that had in place clear processes to raise concerns about diversity and inclusion were significantly more likely to have employees feel strongly that inclusion initiatives always work. Employees at these organisations were also more likely to strongly approve of initiatives to improve diversity in tech hiring. This suggests that companies that endeavour to make their entire workforce feel heard around D&I create more positive feelings about these initiatives within their workforce.
- Illustrate how all hires are right for the job. A common perception held by people who tended to disapprove of a company running initiatives for diversity and inclusion was that it didn't lead to the best candidates for the job. Ten percent of survey respondents said they felt that D&I initiatives at their organisation were unfair. Organisations planning diversity and inclusion programmes need to be aware of this, as it has the potential to affect the candidates, employees and general employee morale. For D&I programmes to be more successful, this perception needs to be addressed. If we want to give diversity and inclusion initiatives the best chance of working for and being supported by everyone, they need to promote equality of opportunity, whilst also demonstrating fairness of outcome. With this in mind, it is critical to ensure that your D&I work is measurable, tracked, evidence-based and that proof of its credibility is part of your messaging.
This research gives us critical insights into the need for open and honest conversations around D&I. It’s fantastic to see a high degree of support for diversity and inclusion efforts in general. Whilst D&I efforts in the tech sector are welcome, they are not yet fully trusted. We encourage organisations to take this information into account when devising their diversity and inclusion programmes, in order to combat 'diversity fatigue'. By prioritising transparency and evidence on D&I we may be able to bring more employees along on the journey to become a more diverse and inclusive workplace. Only with an accurate understanding of how employees perceive D&I processes, can we fully engage people in culture change.
D&I Diplomacy: TTC’s New Toolkit Chapter
Tackling diversity fatigue begins with acknowledgement of what needs to change. This is why TTC is taking further action to better help our Signatories. This year, we are building a new element within our toolkit of resources to aid them in engaging in the tough conversations within the D&I space.
If you have already created resources on this topic area (for example on running inclusive meetings, verbal deescalation or cross-cultural communication) or would like to work with the TTC on this material, please register your interest.
having tough conversations and finding meaningful Solutions - Together
Twenty-twenty has been a year like no other. People and organisations have been under unprecedented pressure, and are facing uncertain times ahead. Yet, amongst many Signatories D&I efforts have been shown to be more, rather than less important. Many companies are already looking at the diversity and inclusion question through lenses beyond gender. Despite strained resources, efforts to create equal opportunity and better diverse outcomes are not dying down. TTC is committed to continuing to support our Signatories’ D&I efforts more broadly as well as helping them to hone in on specific singular issues. So here are our 5 commitments to our Signatories for 2021. We will:
- Continue to broaden the number of diversity lenses we support, by adding more resources to our toolkit on Social Mobility, Ethnicity and Disability.
- Start to provide resources and events that support Signatories in tackling the tough conversations around D&I issues, to build support and more inclusive cultures.
- Keep driving the conversation on the importance of D&I data and will make data reporting on ethnicity mandatory, working with signatories to ensure reporting is manageable and meaningful.
- Continue to engage directly with potential and future tech talent, to help widen the tech talent pool for our Signatories.
- Produce more resources around growth and retention for underrepresented groups.
To find out more or to get involved with any of the above topics, please register your interest.
We know that pressing needs will emerge over the course of 2021 as our society is more divided that ever before. Diversity issues have outgrown the conversation around the basic business case and now require more nuanced thought and action. Often there is no single right course of action for all organisations. However, by leaning into these tough conversations on D&I, TTC is committed to helping us all find solutions - together.