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How HR Tech Can Improve Workplace Diversity and Inclusion

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The murder of George Floyd earlier in 2020 prompted many organizations to declare the importance of black lives to their operations. CEOs and their executive peers pledged a renewed commitment to diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging. And many seasoned HR professionals asked themselves – again – how to hold their corporate leaders and employers accountable to these commitments.

I know that eliminating systemic racism is not simple or easy. But HR professionals can have a greater impact than most, because we have the power to shape our work environments, and therefore the employee experience.

When we apply both the right diversity strategies and modern human experience management (HXM) solutions to the challenge, we can catalyze change.

HR tech can improve workplace diversity and inclusion, but it must be part of an overall corporate strategy

But let me be clear: Designing a diversity strategy simply as a compassionate or benevolent exercise is not enough. “Your strategy has to address how diversity makes your organization better,” advises Katie Augsburger, an employee experience strategist and founding partner of Future Work Design.

“Ask yourself, ‘what is at stake for us if we don’t get this right?’ When you bake diversity into your strategy this way, it becomes a lever that differentiates your company, making it stronger and more successful. That will help you keep the momentum even when the news cycle changes.”

Maintaining interest in this complex problem is challenging.

“I’ve heard some CEOs say, ‘We’ve talked about race enough.’

I’m sorry to disappoint you, but you can’t solve all systemic racism problems in a 60-minute Zoom call,” says Minda Harts, Founder and CEO of The Memo, LLC, and Adjunct Assistant Professor at NYU.

“It has to be baked into your strategy. And we have to dismantle some of the previous systems to make sure diversity is part of every business case going forward. When it’s there, it’s embedded in everything we do – and the metrics bear that out.”

HR tech can improve workplace diversity and inclusion by helping professionals hold people accountable to the company’s diversity goals. I’ve heard of companies using sentiment analysis solutions, for example, to capture employee feedback from communications efforts like town halls.

“HXM tools can help you track employee perspectives and moods before and after the event, which helps you understand how your message is resonating as a whole,” explains Lars Schmidt, founder of Amplify and cofounder of HR Open Source. “But you can also segment the feedback and see how it is received by underrepresented groups. The response may not be the same.”

This was one of the subjects recently discussed as part of our LinkedIn Live series, The Rise of HXM. This week we discussed HXM, and what putting people at the center of business really means, as it relates to diversity and inclusion.

You can watch this week’s whole replay here.

What’s the difference between diversity and inclusion?

The world and our communities are diverse. Diversity at work refers to removing the barriers that implicitly or explicitly prevent companies from resembling our communities.

“When we have a diverse workforce that’s treated equitably, the successes people have aren’t predicated by how they look, how they identify, or what skin they’re in,” says Augsberger.

“You can’t have true inclusion without equity and diversity. Inclusion is a sense of belonging at work.”

How HR tech can be a game-changer for advancing diversity and inclusion initiatives

Not everyone will feel comfortable or secure sharing their perspective. HXM tools can help solve this by:

“Let’s say I’m working at a company where the executives tend to be all white men and they say ‘diversity matters,’” says Harts.

“If I’m the only black woman on the team, I may think, ‘does it really?’

My experience may be different from that of other employees. Both perspectives are important, but we won’t get to that if we don’t have tools to collect and analyze that feedback.”

HR leaders recognize that unconscious bias is a major obstacle in achieving improvements in diversity and inclusion.

“Modern attraction and assessment technology can play a critical role here, by diversifying the data points collected per candidate, so that the human recruiter has more information to make a judgment,” says Hung Lee, co-founder and CEO of Workshape.io. “How far we go with this – and how fair it may actually be – is something we’re all experimenting with right now. However, we can see strong early evidence that reducing our dependence on the traditional artifacts of recruiting – such as the resume review, the phone screen, the in-person interview – has an impact on the diversity of candidates at different stages of the pipeline.”

Artificial intelligence can also help HR teams raise awareness of inequities that go beyond discrimination.

Despite the potential, however, it’s still early days in terms of widespread AI usage. As the AI and HXM technology stack matures, we’ll see AI increasingly used to make more data-led, bias-free decisions that further diversity, equity, and inclusion, whether it’s measuring disparities in pay and promotion rates, determining the diversity of a leadership pipeline or matching skills with new opportunities for up-skilling or redeployment.

Data should be a catalyst for honest conversation and action

Today I’m seeing companies use HXM technology to help people become accountable for diversity and inclusion initiatives.

“Studies tell us that 1 in 25 women of color are advanced into the executive suite, compared with 1 in 5 white women,” says Harts. “Data can identify the managers of these workers and which employees they meet with consistently. Is it everyone or only certain groups? By identifying how many one-on-one meetings a manager holds with each employee, we can see whether diversity initiatives are working for everyone. Using reporting, we can identify problem areas and hold people accountable so they can do better.”

Data is certainly helpful for understanding the critical diversity and inclusion metrics.

But after months of COVID-19, racial unrest, economic stress, and political unrest, we can’t just check our spreadsheets. Managers must check in with people and hold actual conversations to understand the nuances of each employee’s experience, and they must be empowered to take action that drives change.

Don’t worry about doing everything perfectly. Just get in there and start communicating.

“You’re probably going to create some weird conversations, but that’s ok,” says Augsberger. “The goal is to talk to employees so you can understand what they need. Ask them which barriers are keeping them from achieving success in the organization, and then be willing to hear their feedback. You don’t have to get it 100% right. You just have to keep trying.”

Support your diversity initiatives with tools and programmatic change

Technology can support your company’s intent and programs, even enhancing or streamlining them. But it doesn’t absolve you from doing the actual work of reexamining your systems, processes, and outcomes relative to your diversity goals.

For example, HR should assess its own efforts to improve diversity. Consider the team developing employee experience questions and analyzing data – is it diverse or fairly homogeneous? Because team members bring their own experiences to work, a less diverse team may develop questions and assess data using biases that do not reflect all employees. That will compromise your results.

To drive meaningful change, companies may need to rethink their diversity programs – or even recreate them. “Unless we reengineer the systems, the outcomes will be the same,” says Schmidt. “This is a pivotal moment. I hope people take the time to read, understand, and broaden their scope and then stand up for what’s right.”

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This content was originally published here.

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