When Patience Stops Being a Virtue – Fixing our Diversity Problems Faster

By Mona Sabet

Silicon Valley is all about doing things faster – getting to market quickly, embracing agility, innovating at a staggering pace. And yet we’ve been OK to let diversity initiatives crawl along at a percent improvement each year (and that’s if we’re lucky). Google succeeded in growing its women in tech from 18% in 2015 to 19% in 2016. Intel managed to increase the number of women in their workforce from 23.5% in 2014 to 24.8% in 2015. And the thing is, that’s amazing news! Because most other large companies haven’t managed to achieve even those increases.

We are unimpressed when companies increase their year over year revenue by 1%. Yet a 1% increase in diversity numbers is a laudable achievement!

Why don’t we address diversity with the same urgency we apply to every other challenge Silicon Valley tackles?

Spending our way to a mediocre outcome

… Well it’s not for a lack of money being thrown at the diversity problem!

Thomas Kochan, a professor of management at MIT’s Sloan School of Management estimates that companies might be spending $8 billion on diversity training annually.

In 2015, Google alone is reported to have spent $150M on diversity programs. Intel invested $52.4 million in 2015 across all diversity programs. Their programs include, among many other things, adding diversity goals as key deliverables in the performance review process. Intel is doing what the diversity consulting industry is asking of them.

And yet, if this were a linear equation, Intel would have to invest a total of $1B over 19 1/3 years to get to 50% female representation at their company by the beginning of 2036!

Small innovative teams have disrupted entire industries with much less than we’re spending on diversity initiatives.

Is the problem that we just don’t care enough? Or that the people most served by finding a more scalable solution – women and underrepresented groups – are just being too patient?

In Search of Impatient Advocates!

I’ve been searching for people like me who aren’t satisfied with our current limp-along approach to diversity. While there are a lot of people who talk about the need for more diversity, I only found a few that had ideas about doing it at scale.

And after talking to them, I discovered a striking commonality among them. First, let me introduce you to my three diversity change agents, who I had the pleasure of interviewing at the ChIPs Global Summit.

Kieran Snyder, Textio

Kieran Snyder is the energetic co-founder and CEO of Textio, a machine learning powered text analysis platform. Textio’s first product, Textio Talent, predicts the performance of your job postings by analyzing your job text to help you improve your language before you publish.

As you type, Textio compares your language to the language of the most successful listings in your industry and shows you how to change your words to get the outcomes you want. It also identifies language in your job posts that is likely to attract candidates with more masculine perspectives or more feminine perspectives.

Companies in the Textio network fill roles 17% faster – with 12% more candidates from underrepresented groups – than companies that are not.

I’ve talked to corporate HR executives who have been told by diversity consultants that they need to train their managers to write their job descriptions in a way that attracts candidates from different demographics. Imagine receiving this advice as the head of talent for a 10,000 person organization with managers all over the world writing their own job description. How would you even start? Some companies throw up their hands in frustration because the project is just so huge. Others lobby for millions of training dollars in the name of Diversity & Inclusion. Neither of these approaches satisfy the impatient diversity advocate!

Textio has shown that job posts that are gender-neutral fill up 14 days more quickly on average – one solution, easily deployed at scale, addressing the diversity pipeline problem across an organization.

Dr. Patti Fletcher, SAP

Patti Fletcher works at the SAP SuccessFactors (www.successfactors.com). Currently under development at SAP SuccessFactors is software which uses machine learning and data analytics to address the unconscious bias challenges that inhibit inclusive work environments.

“Research has unveiled 9 key decisions areas across the human capital management lifecycle where bias, both conscious and unconscious, either prevents or enables inclusive cultures and increased business performance. The key decision points, including how organizations are structured, what data is collected and analyzed, who applies, who is hired, how people are managed, who is developed, promoted, and rewarded impacts engagement and retention, determine the workforce’s ability to thrive individually and collectively,” says Dr. Fletcher.

SAP SuccessFactors is introducing bias interrupters across its suite of talent management products in these key areas because it believes that only by leveraging the most current technology will we be able to address diversity and inclusion throughout the business, at scale, and without the blame-and-shame approaches of more manual solutions.

Tami Reiss, Product Strategist

As a product strategist with years of experience in product development, Tami is used to thinking creatively about designing products that work at scale.

Frustrated with how people unconsciously respond to use of certain language in communications, Tami decided to create a simple plug in for Gmail called “Just Not Sorry”. The idea is so simple, it’s brilliant.

“The idea was born last year during a brunch. After watching some Amy Schumer clips, the group was discussing how we all shared the same bad tendencies to use “just” and “sorry” when we knew that we shouldn’t,” said Ms. Reiss. “We had all inadvertently fallen prey to a cultural communication pattern that undermined our ideas. There was the desire to change, but there wasn’t a tool to help.”

That’s when Ms. Reiss realized that she could build that tool – and she did.

Just Not Sorry is a Google Chrome plug-in that underlines words that undermine your message. It takes 3 seconds to download and then every email you write is reviewed for trigger words or phrases like “I’m no expert” or “I feel”. Every time you type a trigger word, the tool underlines it like a spellcheck tool would. Over time, the tool trains you to have a mindful awareness of your use of these words in writing and speaking.

It’s an example of how something small can have a big impact – just ask one of their 200,000+ users.

What the Impatient Advocates have in common…

What do these 3 diversity change agents have in common? They have all developed systems that first and foremost lead to better business results, and also, as a part of achieving better results, they address underlying biases.

Textio posts not only perform better with a diverse set of applicants, they will fill roles with qualified hires significantly faster. And the platform is scalable; instead of relying on checklists and good intentions, hiring managers and recruiters have guided analysis at their fingertips.

SAP SuccessFactors’ new features enable leaders to calibrate performance rewards, identify top talent and manage success plans even better than before. And it also uncovers and identifies bias in human capital decisions.

The Just Not Sorry Gmail plugin helps people write more powerful emails. The trigger words captured in Just Not Sorry are more often used by women, but regardless of who uses them, the tool helps everyone improve their writing and speaking.

These tools, and others I have run across since starting my search for the impatient advocate, are designed with effectiveness in mind. In a world where we constantly complain about the ineffectiveness of performance reviews, the idea of designing tools that improve the effectiveness of the talent management process is – unfortunately – revolutionary!

Perhaps diversity at scale is just effective talent management at scale?

Do you know of software or scalable solutions to improve diversity in businesses? Let me know!