The U.S. continues to grapple with racism’s role in creating economic disparities. With organizations under pressure to go beyond talking about diversity and address it in their workforces, some new technology can help firms better monitor and analyze their progress toward inclusivity.
Scott Page from the University of Michigan specializes in management. He remembers working with a company where women were turning down jobs involving relocation, and it was hurting their chances of getting promoted. This, Page said, is an example of how data about employees can help explain a diversity problem.
“You can kind of explain away an individual case, but when you’re looking at 100 cases, 200 cases or 1,000 cases, you can no longer explain that away, he said. “So what you can do is look for patterns in the data.”
The pattern that Page found in this case: Relocations were being offered in the middle of the school year. Women were mostly refusing. To fix the problem, the company began offering more flexible relocation timelines.
A growing number of businesses are looking into their own implicit biases like these, which experts say is a great step. But, by nature, businesses often don’t even realize they have those biases.
“Human beings make snap decisions based on the data that they’ve taken in from the world around them. And that data is biased. And so you need to figure out how to put your decision-makers into a position where they can actually be objective,” said Corinne Low, from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.
Enter data collection: Who got recruited and why? Who got promoted and why? And who left and how come?
Some companies are seeing an opportunity in collecting and organizing all of this. Payroll giant ADP is now offering software to measure diversity, equity and inclusion. ADP senior vice president Jack Berkowitz said it’s not just about a head count of who the employees are. “Are people being hired? Great. But are they actually advancing up management levels.”
Still, data alone will not fix a company’s diversity problem. Brian Uzzi with the Kellogg School of Management points out that “some of what we’re talking about now, and the real benefits of these technologies, were also some of the things that were touted about the benefits of social media. And so you have to be very vigilant about these technologies to make sure they are used in responsible ways. And that’s a responsibility that organizations need to pay a lot of attention to.”
Uzzi said data is important, but what a company decides to do with it is where the real challenge lies and where change can happen.