Category Archives: diversity

Favoritism is No Friend of Diversity

469735239  -- workplace diversityI thought Martin Luther King Day might be a good time to reflect on the forces that make workplaces less diverse than they can and should be. Many are well-known and well-documented, including discriminatory hiring and promoting practices, lack of disability accommodations, insensitivity to gender-identity issues, unequal pay … the list goes on.

But as this recent piece in the Kansas City Star points out, it’s not just about tangible practices and accommodations — or lack thereof. It can be far more subtle and hard to pinpoint, writer Michelle T. Johnson says, when your diversity culprit is favoritism. As she writes:

“What does favoritism even look like? Favoritism is usually about choice. In some workplaces, the work and the people who do it don’t have much variance in how the work is done and who does it. However, in other workplaces, work decisions are made frequently — assignments, shifts, territories, days off. With most decisions come subjective judgments. Every industry and workplace is so different, yet everyone can probably relate to some area of the job that bosses influence [subjectively] at least weekly.”

Her advice to all managers and HR leaders is to always be examining “why you make the personnel decisions you do.” She continues:

“People are quick to defend their decisions, saying they base them on the best person to do the job. But over time, what conditions have you created to allow, for example, one person to inevitably do the job better than another? And if that has happened, what is the reason? Is it that the person reminds you of yourself or has similar interests, or because the person has a personality you find easier to get along with?”

Favoritism can be just that simple, she says. Some people make you spontaneously smile when they walk through the door. Others make you instinctively come up with an exit plan out of a conversation. “Know who those people are and go from there,” she says.

Granted, not all employers can be as proactive as Intel was in its recent announcement that Andrew McIlvaine blogged about earlier this month. Specifically, CEO Brian Krzanich shared in his keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas his company’s plans to spend $300 million dollars over the next five years to improve the gender and racial diversity of its U.S. employee base, and of Silicon Valley at large.

Though he made the announcement, the real powerhouse behind this initiative is Intel President Renée James, as this Fortune piece suggests. Since taking over the presidency in 2013, it says, James “has pushed to review a decade’s worth of diversity data and commissioned a new hiring program that incentivized managers to hire more women and minorities.”

Whichever end of the initiative spectrum you and your organization currently find yourselves on — boldly spending and going where few have gone, like Intel, or simply taking the kind of inward look at your management and personnel choices suggested by Johnson — there’s no better time than now to start thwarting your business’ inequality and no better day to get started than this one.


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Intel Takes the Lead

diversity Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel Corp. is a lot like most other Silicon Valley tech companies: Its workforce is primarily male and majority white. Women make up only 24 percent of its workforce, blacks and Hispanics just 12 percent (and only 4 percent of its senior execs and managers). However, the company just announced a bold move at the Consumer Electronics Show: CEO Brian Krzanich said Intel plans to make its workforce much more representative of the U.S. population — at all levels of the organization — by 2020. And, it’s committing $300 million to the effort.

“Intel plans to lead by example,” said Krzanich. “We invite the entire technology industry to join us.”

The technology industry has been under pressure in this area since May of last year, when Google released statistics that underscored the lack of diversity in its own workforce. Google’s move sparked a conversation among other large tech companies about their own lack of diversity; last December, Microsoft’s general manager for global diversity, Gwen Houston, told 300 attendees at a forum organized by Intel that “the reason we haven’t seen the progress is our leaders haven’t been held accountable.”

Intel’s move drew praise from Operation PUSH’s Jesse Jackson, who’s been in the forefront of the move to push Silicon Valley to diversify. “It’s morally right, and it’s also good business,” Jackson told the San Jose Mercury News. “I think there are pockets of talent that Silicon Valley had not imagined to exist.”

Intel plans to spend a chunk of the $300 million on efforts to encourage more women and minorities to enter the tech industry. It will also increase its hiring of women and minorities, focus on retaining them and tie some of its managers pay to meeting its diversity goals. It plans to release regular progress reports on the 2020 plan.

“This isn’t just good business,” Krzanich said. “It’s the right thing to do.”


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Moving the Diversity Needle at Google

Certainly, on one level, the news coming out of Google on Wednesday that the Mountain View, Calif., company still has a long way to go as far as diversity and inclusion are concerned was hardly surprising. Like a lot of Silicon Valley companies, because of the nature of its business, 478279605you’d expect Google might struggle on this front.

But it’s at least refreshing to see Google’s Senior Vice President of People Operations Laszlo Bock go public with the company’s diversity data, something I’m told is somewhat rare in the ever-secretive Valley.

In case you missed it, here’s what Bock posted on his blog

We’ve always been reluctant to publish numbers about the diversity of our workforce at Google. We now realize we were wrong, and that it’s time to be candid about the issues. Put simply, Google is not where we want to be when it comes to diversity, and it’s hard to address these kinds of challenges if you’re not prepared to discuss them openly … .”

Globally, Bock reports, Google’s workforce consists of 70 percent men and 30 percent women; while in the United States, only 2 percent of its workforce are black and 3 percent are Hispanic. (It should be noted, though, that 30 percent are Asian while 61 percent are white.)

In terms of leadership, the ethnicity numbers were even less diverse, with 72 percent of the executives being white, 23 percent Asian, 2 percent black and 1 percent Hispanic.

In his blog post, Bock continues …

There are lots of reasons why technology companies like Google struggle to recruit and retain women and minorities. For example, women earn roughly 18 percent of all computer-science degrees in the United States. Blacks and Hispanics make up under 10 percent of U.S. college grads and collect fewer than 5 percent of degrees in CS majors, respectively. So we’ve invested a lot of time and energy in education. Among other things, since 2010, we’ve given more than $40 million to organizations working to bring computer-science education to women and girls. And we’ve been working with historically black colleges and universities to elevate coursework and attendance in computer science. For example, this year, Google engineer Charles Pratt was in-residence at Howard University, where he revamped the school’s Intro to CS curriculum. But we’re the first to admit that Google is miles from where we want to be … .”

I asked Daniel S. Guillory, CEO of Innovations International, a consultancy based in San Francisco with expertise in the areas of diversity and inclusion, if the Google figures were in line with what’s happening at other tech companies in the Valley.

“I’d say they’re pretty close,” Guillory said. “Perhaps you’ll find more diversity at companies that have been at it longer [such as Intel and HP] and have a culture established for a longer period of time, but as far as newer companies are concerned, I would think these figures are somewhat similar.”

Guillory’s advice to companies in the Valley struggling with this issue …

First, he said, look at where you recruit. “A lot of times, organizations will recruit from certain schools, so the first thing I would say is to broaden where you do your recruiting,”  he says. “Taking the top 10 percent of students from Stanford is one approach, but recruiting someone who’s in the 1 percent from a university somewhere else, one that might not be considered a top-tier school, gives you the opportunity to find [top talent as well].”

The other thing, Guillory continues, is to create an inclusive culture. It’s one thing to recruit talent, he says, but it’s equally important to create a culture that truly values and integrates the contributions of people who are different.

Of course, whether Google can make greater strides in improving the diversity of its workforce in the coming years remains to be seen. But it’s nonetheless good to see Bock and Google take a meaningful step in that direction by being candid about where things stand today.

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Prayer Rooms as a Perk?

prayerTech companies have long set the standard for unique on-site amenities, from free haircuts and laundry service to regular massage days and rock-climbing walls.

Could prayer rooms be the next perquisite that employers in Silicon Valley and beyond put in place to help recruit and keep top-notch talent?

They just might be, if a recent article appearing in Crain’s Chicago Business is any indication.

Earlier this week, Crain’s highlighted a few tech firms adding spaces dedicated to prayer and meditation, meaning that “religious employees no longer have to use conference rooms or other shared spaces—sometimes uncomfortably—for daily prayers.”

The rooms, the article notes, “can be a tool for attracting and retaining talent, proof that the boss welcomes Muslims and other people of faith,” not to mention “another way that tech companies disrupt the traditional office, like informal dress and flexible hours.”

Gogo Inc., for example, will provide employees at the in-flight Internet service provider’s new Chicago headquarters with two rooms set aside specifically for prayer and meditation. At its current Itasca, Ill.-based office, employees have typically reserved conference rooms for such purposes, but “it wasn’t a great solution,” Debbie Fangman, Gogo facilities manager, told Crain’s.

Online travel company Orbitz Worldwide Inc. had a similar room built when it moved into its new Chicago digs last year, after managers had noticed employees slipping into stairwells to pray at the company’s old offices.

“[The prayer room] is No. 1 for me, ahead of the soft drinks, the coffee machines or the game room,” Zaki Sharabash, senior director in business intelligence at Orbitz, told the paper.

“When you’re a minority, you don’t feel comfortable enough to ask for something like [a prayer room],” added Sana Mohammed, an Orbitz project manager who uses the room daily. “It’s welcoming. As an employee, you feel respected, that there’s a place for you.”

Those few minutes spent praying also provide an energy and productivity boost, according to Mohammed.

“I come back refreshed and focused. I’m able to put more toward my work.”

A growing number of tech companies seem to be realizing as much, with more of them asking to build prayer rooms into their floor plans, according to Theresa Williams, a design director with interior design and architecture firm Nelson & Associates.

“It started in the past year or two,” Williams told Crain’s. “It’s something you ask about now.”

While tech firms may be on the leading edge of the trend—as they often are—making space for prayer at work “is a fantastically good thing” regardless of industry, said Jeff Carlson, professor of theology at Dominican University in River Forest, Ill., in the Crain’s piece.

“It honors the fact that religion or spirituality is real, and is to be honored and respected,” said Carlson. “Diversity is a fact. It’s how [employers] react to it that matters.”

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Study: Diversity Not So Good for Creativity

After all the positive press that diversity in the workplace has been getting over the years, including here at HRE, a surprising study published in a recent issue of the Academy of Management Journal presenting an actual negative caught my eye.

dv496065aConducted by Prof. Roy Y.J. Chua of the Harvard Business School, it suggests — make that shows — that creativity in multicultural settings is highly vulnerable to what Chua calls “ambient cultural disharmony.”

In three distinct studies, the overall research finds that the presence of conflict or tension between two people of different cultures — whether the cause of strife is culturally based or simply due to personal antipathy — diminishes the ability of others to think creatively in multicultural ways, according to the research report. The paper, “The Costs of Ambient Cultural Disharmony: Indirect Intercultural Conflict in Social Environment Undermine Creativity” (subscription/registration required), appears in the December/January issue of AMJ.

“Creativity is not necessarily about producing a completely new idea or product that never existed before [but] oftentimes involves combining existing ideas in new ways that are useful toward solving practical problems,” Chua says. “To solve problems creatively in a global multicultural context, problem-solvers need to first see non-obvious connections among ideas from different cultures … . Ambient cultural disharmony motivates people to shut down the search for connections and patterns involving ideas from different cultures because they have come to believe that such intercultural connections are not feasible.”

How much of a problem could this be, going forward, in the global marketplace?

“It’s not clear how serious a problem this is,” Chua says, “since this is the first work to show creativity loss resulting from ambient cultural disharmony. Yet, the fact that intercultural conflict affects so many more people than those directly involved [a key finding of the research] and diminishes something as critical to organizational success as creativity suggests that what this research has uncovered is more than a minor drawback of diversity.”

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The G Quotient: Why Gay Executives Excel

I was intrigued to find a book review in an academic journal about a study that was done all the way back in 2006 on the dearth of gay executives in corporate America. Intrigued on two 454213821 -- Letter Gcounts actually: 1) that I had never heard of this study and 2) that the review was appearing so long after it was conducted and published. Well, it turns out, the answers to both are kind of interrelated.

The very title of the study, and book , by Kirk Snyder, a professor at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California, says a lot — The G Quotient: Why Gay Executives are Excelling as Leaders … and What Every Manager Needs to Know. The findings are also substantive and compelling: As Snyder was studying employee engagement, he noticed that employees of gay executives often had higher levels of job satisfaction than employees of other leaders.

“What he noticed was a connection between some characteristics of gay male executives and what were considered desirable [business leadership] principles, including diversity, creativity and emotional intelligence,” writes Irene F. Stein, an associate core faculty member at the University of the Rockies, in her book review (same title as the book) that appeared in the November 2013 issue of the Journal of Psychological Issues in Organizational Culture.

Snyder then explains the reasons he thinks many gay executives operate naturally under what he has named the “G Quotient” — seven principles of leadership he found he could actually measure using a simple assessment: inclusion, creativity, adaptability, connectivity, communication, intuition and collaboration.

“Much of the connection [between gay business leaders and these seven principles] stems from growing up knowing they are different, and having to adapt to the realities of their environment to feel safe,” Stein writes. “Consequently, gay men develop three fundamental learned skills — adaptability, intuitive communication and creative problem solving — skills that are often demonstrated by gay executives.” Not to mention effective leaders.

So why did Kenneth Sherman, editor-in-chief of JPIOC, assign this fascinating book review to Stein some eight years after Snyder’s study and book publication? Because, as he told me when I called him, too few people have heard about it (myself included). More importantly, at the time it was written, no Fortune 500 CEOs were openly gay and “I still haven’t heard of a single CEO coming out since.”

So does Sherman think corporate America actually needs this infusion? Well, yes, he does. But it goes beyond simply being gay. He says the real message here for employers and HR leaders is that gay business leaders’ effective leadership skills come from the ways in which “they developed their own pathways of adult development and [the fact that] the things they may have encountered at various stages of their lives have predisposed them to certain sensitivities that aren’t really negative things, but positive things.”

If more top business leaders would “simply go around the room” at the next staff or business — or even executive-leadership — meeting and “hear their people’s stories about the challenges of their lives and the things they have rebounded from and now champion,” he says, “the business world would be less rigid,” and all employees would be more engaged and satisfied.

“And guess what,” he says, “companies are going through difficult and strenuous times too.” In other words, he explains, the dialogue could go both ways and workforces would be connected and more productive in ways we can only imagine at this point. “Change,” he says, “comes in small increments.”

I called Stein, too, just to get her take. She says she agrees with Snyder “that the more we can accept everyone’s perspective, including gender identification, the better it will be for business.”

To her, she says, “it’s really the same kind of thing with what women can bring to the workplace … kind of having a more holistic view of employees [and business leaders] and wanting them to bring their whole selves” to work.

I guess considering Stein’s point about women, Sherman’s “small-increments” reference makes sense. Look how long it’s taken us to fully incorporate women into the workplace. And we’re still not there yet, not in terms of pay equity, executive ranks, board representation … or, yes indeed, female CEOs.


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Religious-Discrimination Claims Rising

Muslim woman at workAccording to a recent Wall Street Journal piece, The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received 3,811 religious discrimination complaints last year.

While this number represents a dip from the record 4,151 religious-discrimination claims brought to the EEOC in 2011, the article notes that religion-based complaints have more than doubled in the past 15 years, and are growing at “a faster clip” than claims involving race, age, sex or disability, for example.

Part of this uptick “comes from employees—Muslims, Christians, Seventh-Day Adventists and others—who were denied requests to avoid work on Sabbath days,” according to the article. “Conflicts have also erupted over workers’ appearance, particularly in jobs requiring uniforms, involving food preparation and in image-focused fashion retailing.”

In September, for instance, New Albany, Ohio-based clothing chain Abercrombie & Fitch settled EEOC lawsuits involving two Muslim women and their hijabs, the veils typically worn to cover the head and chest of Muslim females. In one case, former employee Umme-Hani Khan said she was fired after an A & F manager said her hijab violated the company’s “Look Policy” dress code. The other suit alleged Abercrombie refused to hire an applicant who wore a hijab. Per the settlement, the retailer will inform applicants that exceptions to its “Look Policy” may be available, and must also regularly review its religious accommodation decisions and report to the EEOC twice annually.

Also in September, the EEOC sued Canonsburg, Pa.-based Consol Energy Inc., alleging the company pushed a long-time employee to retire after he objected to using a new biometric hand scanning device that tracks employee time and attendance. According to the claim, the employee repeatedly told mine officials that submitting to a biometric hand scanner violated his beliefs as an Evangelical Christian, and wrote a letter explaining the relationship between hand-scanning technology and the Mark of the Beast discussed in the Book of Revelation of the New Testament.

Earlier this year, the EEOC filed a suit charging that Star Transport Inc. refused to provide two employees with an accommodation of their religious beliefs when it terminated their employment because they refused to deliver alcohol.

Despite the growing number of religious discrimination complaints being brought to the EEOC, it remains a small number that actually reach the litigation stage. In fact, the EEOC filed nine religion-based lawsuits in fiscal year 2012, a drop from 15 in 2011 and 24 in 2010.

Still, settlements of religious discrimination claims such as those leveled against Abercrombie & Fitch often oblige companies to provide training and meet other requirements, as seen in Abercrombie & Fitch’s case. Other organizations may be wise to take note, as these settlements should serve “as a teaching example for other employers,” Jeanne Goldberg, senior attorney advisor with the EEOC, told the Wall Street Journal.

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Getting White Men to Open Up

diversityDiversity initiatives tend to — fairly or unfairly — have a bad rap among white males in the workplace. Many worry these programs serve nothing more than to paint a big “X” on their backs as insensitive oppressors, while others just consider them a waste of time.

(Editor’s note: A new survey from Deloitte University Leadership Center for Inclusion finds 50 percent of straight, white male respondents report “hiding their authentic selves on the job.”)

But with the nation’s workplaces growing ever-more diverse, yet many women and minorities nonetheless reporting they still feel excluded (although a recent story by my colleague Kristen Frasch appears to rebut some of this), HR clearly isn’t serving the organization’s best interests by choosing to simply do nothing.

Catalyst suggests talking things out. The New York-based womens-advocacy group just released its latest report detailing a major initiative going on at technology giant Rockwell Automation. The company is working to help its North American sales group — which consists mostly of white males — build a more inclusive workplace. As part of the effort, more than 700 managers and 2,700 non-managerial employees throughout the organization took part in training (conducted by White Men as Full Diversity Partners) designed to help them become better, more empathetic listeners and handle potentially difficult, emotionally charged issues. After the training, Catalyst reports, employees said they felt they could have more honest discussions about discrimination “without worrying they’d be treated negatively.”

Here are some samples of what the employees who took part in the training told Catalyst:

[There was an instance where] front-line employees … squelched a conversation that was happening and they supported each other and said this is not where we want to go. They cut it off. –Peter

We could now have these conversations, and it would not change the way you were treated in the workplace (in a negative way). –Tom

[The client was making] off-color jokes, and my manager pulled it right back in. He felt very confident and comfortable about pulling that conversation back in without offending the customer or the distributor. –Elisa


Catalyst’s latest report is a follow-up to a report it released last year titled Calling All White Men: Can Training Help Create Inclusive Workplaces?, which also chronicled the work being done at Rockwell Automation (We reported on the findings here).  The organization lists some of the take-aways from the training in its latest report, which include: dialogue is essential for inclusion — but it needs to be taught; talk leads to action — as long as it’s the right kind of talk; and, inclusive behaviors have a ripple effect outside the company. Finally: conversations must continue for lasting change.

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Disabled Shouldn’t Mean ‘Unemployed’

“Just because a man lacks the use of his eyes doesn’t mean he lacks vision.” That’s a quote from Stevie Wonder, who didn’t let lifelong blindness stop him from becoming one of the most successful pop musicians in the world. However, given that his fellow disabled Americans currently have a labor force participation rate of only 20 percent (compared to 70 percent for non-disabled Americans) and an unemployment rate of 14 percent (compared to 7.6 percent for their non-disabled counterparts), it’s a good bet that there’s a lot of talent going to waste due to a lack of outreach and accommodation by companies that may never know what they’re missing out on. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is trying to change this via its partnership with the U.S. Business Leadership Network to highlight “inclusion practices related to disability employment.”

Last week, the two organizations hosted their second annual disability summit, which highlighted companies that can serve as models for the rest of the business community for their efforts in attracting and retaining disabled employees. “Leveraging the skills, talents and experience of workers with disabilities is not only essential to our workforce competitiveness, but it’s also the right thing to do,” said Chamber CEO Thomas J. Donohue, in announcing a new report (titled Leading Practices in Disability Inclusion) that summarizes what those companies are doing.

The report doesn’t contain anything truly groundbreaking, but it does serve as a good reminder of the importance of reaching out to organizations that work with disabled people to ensure they know about job opportunities and the resources available to help them succeed in those jobs. The companies profiled include Florida Blue, Florida’s Blue Cross/Blue Shield health insurer, which since 2006 has participated in Disability Mentoring Day. During the event, disabled participants are paired with a mentor to experience a “day in the life” of working at the insurer and are then matched with recruiters who provide them with career advice to assist them in their job search. Florida Blue also provides various internship programs for people with disabilities and tries to help its non-disabled employees understand what it’s like for their disabled counterparts via a voluntary program where they experience having a disability in a simulated work environment.

IBM, meanwhile, partners with the American Association for the Advancement of Science to provide internships and full-time job opportunities for the disabled and provides its recruiters, employees and managers with disability awareness training. It also provides consulting services to other companies that seek to “integrate accessibility solutions” into their corporate activities. Microsoft, like many of the companies profiled, offers an employee resource group that serves disabled employees as well as the parents of disabled children. The technology company also developed a “disability tool kit” for its recruiters to ensure they engage in effective and respectful communication when working with disabled job candidates. Here at HRE, we’ll also be focusing on disability in the workplace with a three-part series beginning with our November issue that will profile companies that are standouts for going the extra mile to reach out to disabled workers.

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Remembering a Force in Diversity

I heard yesterday morning the sad news of the passing of Dr. R. Roosevelt Thomas Jr., who is often (appropriately, I might add) referred to as the “father of diversity.”

I first remember hearing Roosevelt speak at a Society for Human Resource Management conference I attended years ago.  At the time, I thought to myself, “Here’s someone I better add to my Rolodex.” (That should give you a sense of how long ago it was.)  Since then, Roosevelt has become a fixture on my must-call list whenever I need a fresh, independent perspective on topics related to diversity and inclusion.

Color Photo of Dr. ThomasFrom a journalist’s perspective, Roosevelt was a first-rate source. He was passionate about the work he did. What’s more, he never held back in telling you what he really thought.

In our June 2 edition of HRE, which is on the way to the printer, we’re publishing just the latest example of this. In response to a disturbing study on the lack of progress that’s been made on the workplace desegregation front since the passage of the Civil Rights Act study (Documenting Desegregation: Racial and Gender Segregation in Private-Sector Employment Since the Civil Rights Act), he authored an opinion piece for us on the “shamming of diversity.” In it, he lays out, in blunt fashion, how this “sham” came to be and what businesses ought to be doing about it.  (The piece will be posted on our website and featured in print in early June.)

Truth be told, Roosevelt’s wheels were always turning. (We exchanged emails as recently as last week on the latest project he was working on.)  When it came to sharing his perspective, he was as generous as they come.

To be sure, Roosevelt’s impact on the business world is very well documented. He was elected a Fellow of the National Academy of Human Resources, has been recognized by the Wall Street Journal as one of the top 10 consultants in the country, was awarded the “Distinguished Contribution to Human Resources Development” Award by the American Society of Training and Development, and was named to HRE’s list of “HR’s Most Influential People.”

But at the risk of this brief tribute sounding a bit like a eulogy, I think his most lasting legacy will probably be best reflected in those he’s been able to touch and influence over the years. I feel privileged to be among them.

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