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By Staff Writer

Feb 24, 2020

Unconscious Bias, Meet Conscious Action (and Quantifiable Results)

Categories: Economics of Gender Equity  Events  Gender Equity  Gender Pay Gap  Pipeline Platform  

With as many as 98% of organizations investing in gender diversity initiatives such as unconscious bias training and diversity consultants, it’s reasonable to assume we’re closing the gender equity gap, right? 

Not quite. Only about a quarter of employees from diverse groups believe they’ve benefited from diversity and inclusion programs, and we’re still 257 years away from reaching gender equity in economic opportunity. Why is that?

Let’s take a closer look at how diversity and inclusion programs fall short of bringing us closer to parity in the workplace. Then, let’s talk about what organizations can do to create the visibility needed to make gender equity actionable, tangible, and profitable. 

Diversity and Inclusion Is Big Business

Achieving gender equality in the workforce could mean a $12 trillion increase in global annual GDP by 2025. Clearly, equity is more than a social issue; it’s an incredible business opportunity—and organizations have taken notice. 

Globally, diversity and inclusion is a billion-dollar business. For reference, in 2014 and 2015, Google spent a staggering $264 million on diversity initiatives. Now, five years on, only 3.3 percent of Google’s workforce and 2.6 percent of its leadership is comprised of black employees.

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While the incentives for gender equity in the workplace are clear, the evidence of progress and the ROI of diversity programs are blurry at best. Yet, companies are still willing to invest big in diversity and inclusion. 

Unconscious Bias: The Ins and, Most Importantly, the Outs

Central to diversity initiatives is the concept of unconscious bias and its role in driving workplace inequity. Unconscious bias, also called implicit bias, refers to prejudices or stereotypes that individuals learn over time due to societal norms and expectations. For example, latent assumptions, or biases, may tell us that an outspoken woman is ‘bossy,’ while an outspoken man is ‘ambitious.’ 

These biases aren’t intentionally malicious. In fact, biases often develop in contradiction to a person’s conscious beliefs and values. Hence, unconscious bias.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, though, biases can have a lasting and detrimental impact on a person’s career. As unconscious biases seep into all five pillars of talent—Hiring, Pay, Performance, Potential, and Promotion—they develop into hard-to-crack workplace inequities. 

Beyond that, biases inappropriately drive business decisions. One poorly-judged hire or promotion limits a company’s ability to reach full economic potential. 

Ultimately, eliminating bias from the workplace is about making sure employees have the opportunity to do their best work.

If bias is bad for employees and bad for business, why is it so hard to stamp out?

A Band-Aid Over a Gushing Wound

By highlighting the gulf between an employee’s conscious beliefs and their unconscious biases, diversity initiatives seek to root out the stereotypes that lead to workplace inequity. That’s a good thing. 

The trouble is, according to the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), key decision-makers in organizations often underestimate the volume of obstacles that diverse employees face. As a result, they misjudge the areas in which an organization needs to focus its efforts. Since these leaders control budgets and decide which diversity programs to pursue (if any), organizations tend to invest in the low yield diversity initiatives. 

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For example, many leaders believe recruiting diverse talent will drive equity in the workplace. However, unless an organization also focuses on cultivating a positive workplace culture that supports diversity and inclusion, newly recruited diverse talent will face daily biases that limit their success within an organization.

While diversity and inclusion initiatives exist in many forms,—diverse hiring targets, one-time training, consultants—the topic itself tends to evoke a strong emotional response and must be handled with care. Employees typically don’t like to hear about the natural tendency toward bias, so diversity initiatives run the risk of leaving employees further frustrated with their employers and coworkers. 

To complicate matters, many diversity programs fall short in addressing repeated and consistent areas of bias. A one-off diversity and inclusion solution won’t give us the lasting fix we need to close the gender gap for good.

Take unconscious bias training as an example. It consists of one-time instructional programs designed to encourage positive group dynamics by reducing stereotypes. Administrators generally deliver these programs over a short period of time as a series of mandatory sessions or a single lecture. 

Eventually, employees usually fall back into the problematic attitudes and behaviors that the diversity training sought to eliminate in the long-term. In some cases,  a one-time diversity training can raise antagonisms within an organization without providing the support or know-how to deal with the fall-out. 

How Is Pipeline™ Different?

While achieving gender equity in the workplace may seem impossible, it’s not. Pipeline’s AI-based platform works with organizations to make equity actionable. The platform locates bias across all five pillars of talent, and then it shows the economic gains organizations stand to earn with each equitable decision. 

Here’s a brief overview:

  1. Pipeline’s platform is all about visibility.
    Leaders need to have real-time access to the business decisions that make or break workplace equity. Our platform analyzes organizational data from across all five pillars of talent: Hiring, Pay, Performance, Potential, and Promotion. That way, business leaders can understand the integrated nature of biases—plus how those biases affect their organizations.
  2. Our platform flags areas of bias in talent decisions and provides recommendations to correct for those biases.
    It then goes a step further by demonstrating  the financial benefit that comes with workplace equity. Central to the Pipeline™ platform is the understanding that workplace equity is an economic opportunity. That’s why we believe organizations should realize the economic upside that comes with investing in diversity and inclusion. Our platform shows organizations the economic gains they stand to earn with each equitable business decision made.
  3. Finally, real-time updates give organizations a holistic understanding of the ongoing impact of talent decisions.
    Addressing bias in an organization won’t happen overnight. While diversity training and consultants work to tackle bias through a one and done solution, here at Pipeline™, we know it’s important to address workplace inequity over a sustained period of time. After all, we’re looking to close the gender gap for good.

Next Steps

Research shows that the more diversity and inclusion initiatives an organization integrates into its processes, the more likely those initiatives are to succeed. While a single lecture on diversity is a good first step, building multiple diversity and inclusion programs into an organization over a continued period of time demonstrates a dedication to sustainable growth. 

At Pipeline™, we see the economic potential of gender equity and are committed to helping organizations realize the financial benefits that come with equitable talent decisions. Our AI-based platform works with organizations to make equity actionable while simultaneously spotlighting the economic gains that come with it. 

Interested in learning how Pipeline™ can help your organization realize financial gains through workplace equity?

Your company can realize gender equity’s financial potential. Download the Equity for All™ Report to learn how.

© 2020 Pipeline Equity, Inc.

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