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Can Technology Help Create A More Inclusive Work Environment?

By Daniela Lange, Product Manager, SAP SuccessFactors

Original Article Published on Forbes.com


Despite the best of intentions, gender statistics have gone from bad to worse over the past decades. Some people even question: “Is it fair to hold companies responsible for fixing inequity that is so deeply rooted into our society?” Whether fair or not is beside the point. As business leaders, we must care about attracting the best possible talent for our companies, and if we exclude certain groups based on gender, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation etc., we will not be competitive.

Also in light of the skilled labor shortage, embracing an inclusive work environment is essential to business success. Scratching our heads over depressing gender statistics year over year is not exactly exhilarating, but we cannot afford to give in to resignation. Instead, we must find new ways of approaching the problem. As my colleague Brenda Reid stated, it’s time to raise the bar.

Getting rid of unconscious bias

For decades, many companies around the world have been struggling for more gender equity, often with costly diversity programs, with little success overall. Why is this problem so hard to fix?

I believe that unconscious bias is one central piece to the puzzle. Its poisonous power cannot be underestimated. Even if each occurrence of bias is subtle and we tend to shrug it off as “not a big deal,” many small biases can amount to serious consequences over time. This effect has been nicely illustrated in a simple computer simulation by Martell, Emrich and Robinson-Cox: “Gender Bias and its cumulative effect on career and organizations.”

The first step towards fighting bias is to become aware of it. As long as I don’t know I am biased, it’s virtually impossible for me to change my behavior. This is one area in which technology can assist and help us detect unconscious bias.

Putting technology to work

We recently conducted real-life example of a calibration session with our management team. Each manager had initially rated their direct reports in terms of performance and growth potential, then we convened to discuss the results. On the performance axis, our initial rating resulted in an adequate females-to-males-ratio. On the growth potential axis, however, only males made it into the rating of “high growth potential.” The SuccessFactors calibration tool visualized this imbalance and prompted us to question our rating.

The explanation given for why a woman was ranked as high performer but only normal growth potential was: “It takes two qualities to take on a leadership position: One is competence, and there is no doubt she is very competent. The other one is desire for a career, and that’s where I see the problem, she does not strike me as ambitious enough.” This brought about an interesting discussion: Are these high performing women really less ambitious or do they just not articulate their ambitions in the same manner?