Category Archives: diversity

The HR Leader as Anthropologist

When two of an organization’s highest-ranking individuals resign within hours of each other, it’s usually not because things are going exceptionally well.

As you’ve no doubt heard, both the president and chancellor at the University of Missouri stepped down from their respective posts this past Monday. Their resignations came in the midst of a student-led outcry over a lack of action taken by the U of M administration in response to several racially-driven incidents on the predominately white campus in recent years.

Leadership at the Columbia, Mo.-based institution—the flagship of the University of Missouri System—had been feeling the heat from all sides. Now-former university president Tim Wolfe, in particular, came under intense scrutiny for what a tweet from Missouri’s Legion of Black Collegians described as his “negligence toward marginalized students’ experience” at the school.

For example, African-American players from the Mizzou football team—with the full support of their white teammates—declared on Nov. 8 that they would neither play nor practice until Wolfe was removed from his position as the university’s president.

Just five days earlier, grad student Jonathan Butler began a hunger strike that he said would last until Wolfe was ousted. On Nov. 9, the Missouri Students Association’s executive cabinet called for Wolfe to resign.

That same day, Wolfe obliged them, with Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin announcing just hours later that he would be leaving his job effective Jan. 1, transitioning to a role coordinating research at the university.

The question of how to eliminate or even curb racism on a college campus or anywhere else is one that’s entirely too large for us to attempt to take on in this space. But we can’t help but ask—from our admittedly very safe and very distant vantage point—could the HR function at the university have done anything to help prevent the tensions simmering on the U of M campus from reaching a boil?

That’s a tough question to answer from an outsider’s perspective, of course. But what’s unfolding at the school illustrates the importance of one of the HR leader’s many roles, says Dave Ulrich, the Rensis Likert Professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.

“Good HR folks have a sense of what’s happening,” says Ulrich. “Sometimes HR analytics look only at spreadsheet, empirical data. [But], there is another field of analytics called anthropology.”

Acting as an anthropologist of sorts, as Ulrich explains, an HR professional should observe, listen and anticipate patterns to get a handle on how people within the organization—students and faculty members, in this case—are feeling, and how they’re relating to each other.

At the University of Missouri, he says, “it should not [have] come as a surprise that racial tension existed and persists. HR should have looked for this [tension] and then created forums for dialogue so that very emotionally charged issues could be discussed.”

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Gaining an Edge via Mentoring

Few of you, I’m sure, need to be convinced of the value of mentoring.  But are certain workforce demographics more likely to gain from a formal mentoring program than others?

ThinkstockPhotos-479512083Well, according to a recent paper titled “Network Intervention: A Field Experiment to Assess the Effects of Formal Mentoring on Workplace Networks,” published in a recent edition of Social Forces, the answer is yes, assuming we’re talking about gender.

The paper by UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business Assistant Professor Sameer Srivastava reports that women gained more social-capital affiliation with a high-status mentor than their male counterparts.


According to Srivastava, women in this study of 139 “high-potential” employees at a software-development lab for a U.S.-headquartered company in China experienced a greater increase in visibility and legitimacy as a result of their mentor affiliations than did male participants.

The employer at the center of the research had been experimenting with different ways to help employees develop their breadth of social capital and decided to use a formal mentoring program to support that effort. Employees were asked to shadow a more senior person in another part of the organization for about a dozen days over a two-to-three-month period.

During that time, the protégés attended meetings with their mentors and worked on short project assignments. The senior employees’ objective, meanwhile, was to transfer some of their organizational social capital to their protégés.

Srivastava suggests care needs to be taken before applying the findings of the research to other contexts, but he believes they certainly lend support to “the idea of formal mentoring programs as a means of addressing differences in the kinds of organizational networks that women and men tend to form, which, in turn, contribute to gender inequality in the workplace.”

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Intel’s Diversity Progress is Now ‘In the Book’

Considering all the steps Intel’s leaders have been taking to improve diversity at the giant Santa Clara, Calif.-based chipmaker, it should 79084610 --diversity in techcome as no surprise that the company’s first mid-year Diversity in Technology Report released last week shows considerable progress.

Details of that progress — mentioned in a blog post by Chief Diversity Officer Rosalind Hudnell and a public letter to employees from Chief Executive Officer Brian Krzanich —  include the fact that Intel is now “tracking to 43 percent of its diverse hires in 2015,” exceeding its U.S. goal for 2015 of 40 percent, according to the report.

Also, it says, more blacks and women are now working at Intel than were at the beginning of the year. Of new employees this year, 35 percent were women and 5 percent were black, well above Intel’s current workforce representation. In addition, according to the report, more women and minorities are in leadership today at Intel than at the beginning of the year, with an 11-percent increase for senior women employees and a 19-percent increase in senior leadership for blacks. In her blog post, Hudnell touts her organization’s commitment, from the top down, to improving these numbers:

“Our team has used the same laser focus that has brought innovation to the world [around] the issue of diversity and inclusion.  And while we have strengthened our focus in our programs, systems and measurements, the game changer has been the level of accountability driven from the top.”

Indeed, in January, Krzanich announced plans to make Intel more representative of the U.S. population by 2020, with some $300 million dedicated to the effort. Four months later, he unveiled some impressive movement in that direction that I blogged about at the time.

More recently, on July 29, the company announced it would double its referral bonus for employees who help the organization diversify its workforce. Specifically, as Senior Editor Andrew R. McIlvaine blogged the next day, employees who refer a woman, underrepresented minority or veteran who is ultimately hired will receive $4,000.

Mind you, Intel is not alone among Silicon Valley’s tech companies to address this, or to open its books for the public to see exactly where it stands when it comes to women and minority hiring. Way back in May of 2014, Laszlo Bock, senior vice president of people operations for Google, came clean with the public on his company’s numbers in an effort to move the needle, according to this blog post by Editor David Shadovitz.

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama issued a call to action to the tech industry, asking companies to step up their game on workforce diversity. Seven of the 14 companies responding to his challenge — including Intel — have agreed to try out something called the Rooney Rule, which was implemented in 2003 in the National Football League by Pittsburgh Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney.

Basically, according to the rule (which Rooney was applying to head-coach hiring), at least one woman and one minority must be considered for every open position. This story goes into far more detail about the rule, and its pros and cons.

I think what impresses me the most about what’s happening in the Silicon Valley around diversity in technology is the transparency serving as a kind of foundation to it all. Bock’s unveiling was a breath of fresh air. And now, at least according to Krzanich, Intel is sharing “more data than any company in our industry,” specifically “more information that [what’s] available on the EEO-1 form or [what’s] been reported in the past for our U.S. workforce.”

That has to be the best road to the kind of sweeping, mammoth demographic change being called for here — to openly admit reality in order to create a new one. Hudnell’s post certainly speaks to this. As she puts it, Intel’s intention “is to do all we can to collaborate and share openly so that what we all desire becomes the reality.”

Not a bad rule to live by, whatever business change you’re trying to effect.





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Intel Incents Employees to Help It Diversify

Intel has announced it will double its employee referral bonus for employees who help the giant chipmaker diversify its workforce. Employees who refer a woman, underrepresented minority or veteran who is ultimately hired will receive $4,000, the company announced yesterday.

“Of course, we always want you to refer your brilliant friends from all fields and backgrounds, so the standard ERP (employee referral program) bonus will continue,” Intel said in a statement that was reported by OregonLive (Intel has a major presence in Oregon, employing 18,600 people there). “But we also recognize that we need to evolve to keep Intel competitive in the global marketplace and representative of our consumers and communities.”

Intel – along with most other Silicon Valley companies – falls considerably short when it comes to the diversity of its workforce. According to its latest data, three quarters of Intel’s U.S. workforce is male, 55 percent is white, 32 percent is Asian or Pacific Islander, and only 8 percent and 4 percent are, respectively, Hispanic and African-American, reports OregonLive.

Intel’s diversity took a hit earlier this month when its highest-ranking woman,  Renee James, announced her resignation as the company’s president. However, Intel clearly remains committed to its major diversity push, announced at the beginning of this year, in which it will spend $300 million by 2020 to make its workforce at all levels much more representative of the U.S. population.  It appears to be making some progress: 41 percent of Intel’s hires this year have come from underrepresented groups, compared to 32 percent last year, while 17 percent of senior executives hired in the first quarter were from minority groups and 33 percent were women, reports OregonLive.


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Overcoming the Barriers Disabled Americans Face

On July 26, it will be 25 years since George H. W. Bush signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act, legislation that prohibited discrimination in employment, public accommodation and a number of other areas.

ThinkstockPhotos-457783527At the time of the signing, the president said …

“I know there may have been concerns that the ADA may be too vague or too costly, or may lead endlessly to litigation. But I want to reassure you right now that my administration and the United States Congress have carefully crafted this Act. We’ve all been determined to ensure that it gives flexibility, particularly in terms of the timetable of implementation; and we’ve been committed to containing the costs that may be incurred … . Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.”

Whether or not that “shameful wall of exclusion” has actually fallen is debatable. But with the release on Wednesday of a study titled the 2015 Kessler Foundation National Employment and Disability Survey, there’s now further evidence that people with disabilities are striving to work and are having some success in overcoming many of the barriers that have stood in the way. (Kessler unveiled the results to policymakers on Capitol Hill.)

Take the following finding in this study of 3,013 Americans with disabilities that was commissioned by the West Orange, N.J.-based Kessler Foundation and conducted by the University of New Hampshire: Nearly 69 percent of those surveyed are either working, looking for work or have worked since the onset of the disability.

“This clearly demonstrates that people with disabilities are ready and able to contribute their talents in the workforce,” says Kessler Foundation President and CEO Rodger DeRose.

Diving a little deeper into the data, the researchers found that Americans with disabilities who are employed work an average of 35.5 hours per week, with just over 60 percent of those working more than 40 hours per week.

The research did confirm, as might be expected, that many Americans with disabilities continue to encounter formidable barriers as they look for work, with the top three being the lack of sufficient education or training, employers that assume they can’t do the job and the lack of transportation. Then, once in the workplace, they face hurdles such as getting less pay than others in a similar job, negative attitudes of supervisors and negative attitudes of co-workers.

But, as mentioned earlier, the report does go on to make the point that a substantial percentage of the respondents are successfully overcoming many of these challenges. Of the 36 percent who reported employers assumed they couldn’t do a job, for instance, around 33 percent said they were able to overcome that barrier. Similarly, of the nearly 17 percent who said they were getting less pay than others in similar positions, nearly 39 indicated they were able to surmount that hurdle.

Earlier today, I asked John O’Neill, director  of employment and disability research at the Kessler Foundation, which of the findings surprised him most.

O’Neill specifically cited the finding that transportation may not be as significant a barrier as some have previously contended.

“When people think of barriers to job search, transportation is one of the first things to come to mind,” he says. “Yet of those looking for jobs, only 25 percent said they faced that barrier. Add, on top of that, that 42 percent of those facing that barrier had overcome it, and it would seem to be not as looming an issue as many people might have thought in the past.”

As for a takeaway for HR leaders, O’Neill points to the attitudes of supervisors and co-workers.

Roughly 16 percent of those with disabilities cited they had experienced barriers resulting from supervisors’ attitudes and about the same proportion experienced barriers resulting from co-workers’ attitudes, he says. But when you ask them about their ability to overcome those barriers, he adds, about 41 percent reported they were able to do so and 54 percent reported the same, respectively.

“Those figures,” he says, “are higher than I would have thought—and says that, while they’re [still] issues, people are finding ways to negotiate and work with their supervisors in terms of how they are being perceived.”

There no question a lot more work needs to be done when it comes to ridding the workplace of the many and varying barriers facing those with disabilities. But it’s also nice to see new research suggesting they aren’t insurmountable.

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Choosing Between Faith and Work

By now, most everyone has heard of or read about the U.S. Supreme Court’s 8-1 decision in favor of Samantha Elauf, the woman who brought suit against clothier Abercrombie & Fitch, claiming the company did not offer her a job because her religious identity violates Abercrombie’s “look policy.”

In the opinion for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote:

“An applicant need show only that his need for an accommodation was a motivating factor in the employer’s decision, not that the employer had knowledge of his need.”

While the Court’s decision may introduce changes in the way employers screen and hire applicants in future, Simran Jeet Singh, the senior religion fellow for the Sikh Coalition and a PhD candidate at Columbia University, writes in an opinion piece for the Washington Post that the ruling also serves as an opportunity to “improve existing legislation on workplace discrimination and religious freedom.”

Singh says Elauf also demonstrated that she recognizes her case would have bearing for a number of different communities. “I am not only standing up for myself, but for all people who wish to adhere to their faith while at work,” she said, following the oral arguments. “Observance of my faith should not prevent me from getting a job.”

Indeed, according to Singh:

Americans are one step closer to not having to choose between their faith and their work.

On the employer side, however, the decision “dramatically” changes the standards that apply to employers, says Michael Droke, a Seattle-based partner at the international law firm Dorsey and Whitney’s labor and employment division, because it removes the requirement that an employee or applicant request a religious accommodation, if the employer’s motive is later deemed a violation of Title VII.

“The Abercrombie decision calls into question common provisions in many employee handbooks. Employers should immediately review their handbooks and policy manuals to determine those issues which could cause discrimination,” Droke says.

He also says the decision “reinforces the importance of involving the human resources function any time a protected class is, or could be, involved in making an employment decision.”

Droke notes the Abercrombie decision also reinforces the importance of manager training, all the way down to the lowest level in-store supervisor.

“Manager training is particularly important for companies with employees in a large number of locations,” he says. “Geographically dispersed companies, like Abercrombie & Fitch, often require location or regional management to make key employee decisions.  This case reemphasizes the need to give management the employee relations tools and knowledge they need to make lawful employment decisions.”

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Here’s an Overnight Cure for Bias?

Here’s a question you might want to ponder … or maybe even sleep on. Can we snooze our gender and racial biases away?

ThinkstockPhotos-163819282Well, apparently researchers at Northwestern University, the University of Texas at Austin and Princeton University thought enough about that question to conduct a study. And guess what? They found that biases can indeed be counteracted while people sleep.

In the study, posted this week on the Science magazine website, researchers found that information recently stored in the brain can be integrated with other information during sleep and transformed into stable representations through a process known as systems-level consolidation.

“Taking into consideration the role of sleep in memory consolidation, we adapted procedures for reducing implicit social biases and reactivating this training during sleep,” the researchers said.

You can read more about how the study was conducted at Science. But cutting to the chase, the researchers “reactivated counterbias information during sleep using subtle auditory cues that had been associated with counterbias training.”

In the study, electrodes recorded the brain activity of participants as they napped. Then, during periods of deep sleep, one of the sound cues from the association test was repeatedly played.

As Xiaoqing Hu — postdoctoral fellow at University of Texas at Austin and one of the study’s researchers — writes in a piece appearing on The Conversation: “Prior research on prejudice and stereotyping shows that extensive counter-bias training can lessen automatic stereotyping. Building on this bias reduction and sleep-based memory consolidation research, we aimed to test whether people can further process such counter-bias memories during sleep. Can such learning reduce long-lasting stereotypes and social biases?

The researchers found that pre-existing stereotypes associated with the sound cue replayed during sleep were significantly reduced when the participant woke up …

 “We were surprised that this sleep-based intervention was so powerful when participants woke up: the biases were reduced by at least 50 percent relative to the pre-sleep bias level. But we were also surprised at how long the effect lasted. At the one-week follow-up test, the sleep-based intervention was still effective: bias reduction was stabilized and was significantly smaller (approximately 20 percent) than its baseline level established at the beginning of the experiment.”

As you might expect, those involved in the research acknowledge more work is needed. So, at least for the time being, you might want to hold off retrofitting your nap room—for the few of you who  have one—to include this kind of intervention or adding a sleep component to next year’s bias-training program.

Let’s hope your bias-training efforts don’t already induce said sleep.


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Doing Good Through Better HR

doing goodChristine Bader, a former corporate social responsibility executive at BP, has an interesting piece up today at The Atlantic on the importance of a good HR department for companies that want to be better corporate citizens.

Bader, author of the 2014 book The Evolution of a Corporate Idealist: When Girl Meets Oil (judging from the title, I assume it touches at least partly on her BP experience), cites companies such as auto-parts manufacturer Lear, Google and clothing company Eileen Fisher that take innovative approaches to HR to unleash their employees’ resourcefulness and creativity.

At Lear, Bader writes, CHRO Tom DiDonato did away with basing compensation on performance reviews, “realizing that the emphasis on pay created stress and stifled the candor that people need to improve and innovate.” Instead, the company now bases compensation on market conditions and awards equity and promotions for good performance.

Bader describes Google’s efforts to do away with unconscious bias through training that not only helps its employees recognize their own biases, but encourages them to step in and intervene when they see biased behavior toward others, Head of People Operations Laszlo Bock told her. The training isn’t being done entirely out of altruism, he said: People perform better when they feel more safe at work. However, Bader writes, if people are treating others more fairly at work, one hopes that will spill over into their lives outside the office.

At Eileen Fisher, the company’s long-term plan to improve the environmental and social sustainability of its supply chain depends on an intense spirit of collaboration within the organization — one that is carefully nurtured by HR, Bader writes. Eileen Fisher’s sustainability efforts are overseen by a team of leaders from different departments within the company who meet weekly by phone and monthly in person. “Traditionally, work evolves into buckets or silos; we help connect people so they can break down the silos,” Director of Leadership, Learning and Development Yvette Jarreau told Bader.

HR still has a reputation among too many people as a bureaucratic rut — a dark hole of stifling paperwork and mindless processes, writes Bader. But for companies that are trying to change for the better, she writes, a smart and flexible HR department is crucial.


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Watching Unconscious Bias at Work

watching workThere’s a theory that says men who assert themselves on the job gain respect for their take-charge attitudes, while women who do the same gain a reputation for being surly, difficult … or worse.

There’s also data supporting the existence of this phenomenon in the workplace, commonly referred to as unconscious bias.

A team of researchers expected to find more evidence of this type of bias in a recent study, working on the hypothesis that male employees who speak up regularly with suggestions or solutions would be viewed more positively by their managers than women who frequently offer input.

In evaluating 693 employees from 89 different credit union units, the study authors certainly found unconscious bias at work, in more ways than one.

For example, they determined that supervisors were “more likely to credit those reporting the same amount of voice if the employees have higher ascribed or assigned (by the organization) status-cued by demographic variables such as majority ethnicity and full-time work hours,” according to the study, recently published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

The authors also found that, when certain groups of lower-status employees speak up more, “they cannot compensate for the negative effect of their demographic membership on voice recognition by their boss.”

This is all a very academic way of saying that input from full-time, non-minority employees with higher ranks and longer tenures seemed to carry more weight with supervisors in this particular study.

Gender was a factor as well, just not in the way the researchers anticipated.

In fact, the authors found that female employees’ contributions were valued as much as those of their male counterparts, if not more so.

They were careful to point out, however, that demographics may be at least partly responsible for this result. In a recent Washington Post article, the researchers note that women made up 80 percent of the employee base and more than 70 percent of the managerial ranks at the credit unions they evaluated.

“It was very dominantly female,” Taeya Howell, research scholar at New York University and study co-author, told the paper.

“It was just what we were able to get access to,” added Howell. “In a perfect world, we would hope gender would have no effect, but women were heard more than men [in this case], and it was because they were in the majority.”

But, putting the aforementioned percentages aside, this research seems to offer evidence that a greater number of women in leadership positions could help eliminate the idea that assertiveness and outspokenness are only positive traits when found in male employees.

“What this finding sort of says is, look, when you’re in an environment where the people above you are more like you, suddenly all those problems disappear,” James Detert, co-author of the study and a professor at Cornell University’s Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, told the Post.

“It’s not causal proof,” continued Detert. “But isn’t that suggestive that, in fact, all this focus on how women are behaving is nonsense? When you put them in a situation where they’re in the majority, suddenly the focus on their behavior—Is it too meek? Is it inappropriate, too assertive?—seems unnecessary.”

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Intel’s Putting Its Money Where Its Mouth Is

dv1080001Intel Corp.’s Diversity in Technology Initiative that Intel CEO Brian Krzanich announced in January — and Senior Editor Andrew R. McIlvaine blogged about at the time — appears to be chugging along quite nicely.

In a speech delivered Wednesday at the Rainbow PUSH Silicon Valley Tech 2020 Summit, Krzanich announced some impressive progress, confirming he was dead serious four months ago when he presented plans to make Intel more representative of the U.S. population by 2020, with some $300 million dedicated to the effort.

For one, he told summit-goers, 41 percent of hires at Intel this year have been diverse, versus 32 percent last year. For another, 17 percent of senior hires in the first quarter of 2015 are underrepresented minorities and 33 percent are women, up from 6 percent and 19 percent in 2014, respectively.

He also announced that Intel has entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Oakland Unified School District to commit $5 million over the next five years to implement a comprehensive, “education-transformation solution” that will create a computer-science and engineering pathway for more than 2,400 students, with a graduating cohort of 600 students over the next five years.

“We knew we wanted to do something in K-12 education that targeted underrepresented minorities and we thought we should start in our own backyard,” Krzanich says in this USA Today piece about that initiative.

Lastly, he said Wednesday, his company has committed to spending $1 billion with diverse-owned businesses by the year 2020.

In her May 6 blog post about Krzanich’s update, Rosalind L. Hudnell, Intel’s vice president of human resources and director of diversity and inclusion, addressed some of the underlying philosophies behind this push:

“Improving the diversity of our workforce and the pipeline of students going into this field is not just the right thing to do.  It’s the critical thing to do.  The people who purchase and use technology come from all walks of life.

“Without employees with diverse backgrounds, opinions and problem-solving skills, Intel can’t properly address the needs of a diverse market. Diverse teams and companies lead to greater creativity, strategic thinking and innovation. Greater diversity also results in better products and smarter business decisions. So how do we get there? This is the hard part, because diversity is a complex issue.”

In many stories we’ve written over the years about meaningful workforce initiatives, diversity included, a repeating theme has been the need for top-down buy-in and commitment to occur if any of them are to succeed and if promised goals are to be met.

Nice to see that working so well in the Intel corner of Silicon Valley.

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