5 crucial steps to a data-driven approach for minimizing bias

Originally published in HR Executive

DEI is a headline in corporate agendas, yet it feels like a relentless climb. Why is progress tough despite the demand around DEI hiring and practices?

Unconscious bias is the stealthy culprit, ingrained in human nature and influencing our choices subtly, including those at work. HR leaders and DEI experts must pinpoint and dismantle these biases in their domains. And now, leveraging data is the sharpest tool we have to tackle this mission head-on.

Why companies need data to combat bias

Like any group culture, those within organizations include collective assumptions and ways of interpreting things that have evolved internally over time. While companies can’t possibly understand the ins and outs of each employee’s unconscious biases, they can use data to understand how individual biases collectively manifest as company culture.

This requires the use of data analytics. Using analytics tools, companies can identify and measure critical DEI-related benchmarks, recognize where gaps, problems and opportunities exist, and better understand how unconscious biases play a role.

Google provides one of the best examples of why this data-driven approach is crucial. A recent whitepaper, CMOs & Chief DEI Officers: Joined at the Hip for a DEI Revolution, summarized how Google’s CMO Lorraine Twohill made a public commitment in 2018 to critically analyze and report on Google’s DEI progress.

Despite Google’s reputation for inclusivity, evidenced by its homepage celebrating diversity, Twohill suspected its marketing might not fully reflect its values. Her analysis confirmed the need to diversify hiring practices and include more ages and races in brand imagery. Following her findings, she pledged to address these issues.

Now, Google releases an annual diversity report to maintain transparency on its DEI efforts and future objectives. But without Twohill’s initial push toward a data-driven approach five years ago, Google might not have recognized these issues.

This underscores that unconscious biases often operate unnoticed and counter to our conscious intentions. Data serves as a critical tool to bridge this divide and enhance DEI in the workplace.

Steps to strengthen your data strategy

1. Analyze your current state of DEI

First, it’s essential to understand your company’s unique state of affairs when it comes to unconscious biases and their impact on DE&I. Use demographic data points to analyze diversity and inclusivity in your hiring practices, representation across your current workforce and understand how it varies across business units and employment levels (i.e., entry-level vs. managerial vs. C-suite).

Review employee experience feedback to learn how different races, genders, ages or otherwise-defined groups feel about working for your company from a DEI perspective.

Standardize and document important data points so you have a baseline upon which you can measure your future efforts to eliminate unconscious bias.

2. Identify key KPIs and metrics

Once you have a cohesive picture of your current DEI landscape, identify key KPIs you want to accomplish and the metrics you’ll use to measure progress. These could range from hiring and retention rates for specific demographic groups to representation percentages in leadership roles.

By continually monitoring these metrics, organizations can ensure they’re on the right track and make necessary adjustments.

3. Embrace artificial intelligence

There’s no shortage of debate about whether or not artificial intelligence (AI) belongs in the world of DEI. Ignoring AI’s potential to scale and automate efforts to eliminate biases and deliver sophisticated insights is highly misguided.

AI has enormous potential to enhance our ability to recognize and eliminate unconscious biases, but like humans, it must be trained to do it well. It requires using large and representative data sets so that it can learn to make decisions without limiting diversity potential.

4. Report publicly and often

Public and frequent DEI data reporting has multiple benefits. It ensures accountability, pushing organizations to tackle unconscious bias and enhance their DEI culture. The Google case illustrates how public pledges can spur action.

Such transparency fosters trust among all stakeholders, including employees, investors, partners and customers.

It also encourages introspection within teams, prompting them to identify and address biases within their own spheres.

Regular reporting provides a factual benchmark of progress, enabling ongoing improvement and facilitating open conversations about future directions.

5. Partner with experts to guide you

Navigating DEI and unconscious biases is a complex process requiring specialized expertise and experience. To position your strategy for success, it’s a good idea to enlist the help of professionals who know how to design data-driven strategies, particularly in the diversity realm.

Hiring data scientists or diversity specialists (in full-time, temporary or consultant positions) can ensure your efforts yield the results you expect and need to make a real impact.

The myth that DEI data is harmful

Addressing the myth that data collection on diversity hinders progress is crucial. Critics argue it boxes people in, leading to diversity-focused rather than merit-based decisions.

However, the truth is that unconscious biases prevent organic DEI growth.

Indeed, merit matters. Decisions shouldn’t hinge solely on demographics, but we must tackle biases to foster diversity without compromising decision integrity. Therefore, data must be more than a mere compliance tool; it’s essential for driving meaningful, lasting change.

Unconscious biases are at the root of many DEI challenges for organizations across industries and around the globe. An objective, measurable and data-driven approach is the best way to eliminate these biases and create real change. While misconceptions about the role of data in eliminating bias and promoting DEI are prevalent, with the right methods and practices, data can be the most powerful tool for making a real impact.

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