Workforce diversity is on the mind of every HR professional and executive. But many companies, especially in industries like tech and finance, struggle to increase the number of minorities and women in their ranks—even while consciously trying to close the race or gender gap.
In 2016, Microsoft made a concerted effort to boost workforce diversity in 2015 only to see the numbers of female employees go down and the number of minority employees stay the same. The likely culprit? Job descriptions. According to Kieran Snyder, linguist and founder of Textio, a startup that uses natural language processing (NLP) to analyze job postings, good intentions to hire more candidates from underrepresented backgrounds don't help if the job descriptions themselves either fail to attract—or even actively turn away—these candidates.
"The language you use changes who will even apply for your job in the first place," says Snyder, "Even among passively sourced candidates—qualified people that are on the job market and open to talking to your company—a huge percentage walk away when they see your job post."
We talked with Snyder to learn more about the power of language and how software like Textio can help improve workplace diversity.
The Hidden Danger of Jargon
People in companies that lack diverse employees tend to naturally communicate using language that speaks to others from the same background and, not surprisingly, corporate jargon is a prime example. Business and tech slang make up a good portion of the words and phrases that commonly turn off diverse candidates.
For example, a job description that says a company is looking for a "ninja" to help "disrupt" their field will likely find themselves speaking primarily to white male candidates. Similarly, aggressive language like "looking for a killer salesperson" tends to turn away women, who respond more positively to language that fosters inclusivity and collaboration.
So, how can companies avoid the unconscious bias in the wording of job descriptions? "The biggest mistake people make is relying on their own intuitions," Snyder says. "The second biggest mistake people make is thinking that unconscious bias training or simple word and rule checklists will make any difference to their hiring outcomes. They won't."
Software Offers a Solution
Instead, Snyder believes software that pulls data from the larger talent community, similar to HR analytics, is the best solution to crafting job descriptions that attract a more diverse pool of candidates.
Photo credit: Textio
"I'm a huge believer in software as an approach. Machine intelligence software lets you take advantage of the intelligence of the whole hiring community, rather than relying on only your own data," she says. "Software can find the language patterns that have actually worked to draw diverse applicants in the past, across tens of millions of job posts. Conventional approaches don't come close in terms of scale."
For HR managers writing the job descriptions, Textio works a lot like the spell and grammar checks in word processing software. Simply input the text and Textio highlights words and phrases that correlate with certain biases. Users can click on the words or phrases to see alternative options.
"Companies that are part of the Textio learning loop fill jobs 17 percent faster, with 12 percent more applicants from underrepresented groups, than companies that are outside the loop," Snyder says. "The words matter."
Header photo: Creative Commons
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Workplace Diversity: ’The Era of Colorblindness is Over’
Workplace diversity is a pressing topic among HR pros. It's heavily scrutinized in blogs, at conferences and during training sessions. That attention often focuses on how diversity affects the company — but what about how minorities' experiences affect people personally and professionally? Google employee Erica Baker addressed that question recently on Medium with a first-person account of her experiences as a minority in the tech industry. Here, Dr. Kecia Thomas, a professor of industrial-organizational psychology at the University of Georgia, explains how individual workers' experiences can reverberate throughout an organization: How do the experiences of minority workers affect the entire company? The concerns of under-represented workers often represent the concerns of other workers, as well. The issues that minority workers might experience are not all that different from the experiences of people who were the first generation to go to college in their families, or people who might come from a lower economic class. Attending to diversity actually helps to improve the workforce overall. Some of the challenges for ethnic minority workers, for example, are that they often find themselves as one-of-a-kind in their workplace. I’m talking about high-level professionals, people with graduate degrees and above. There are implicit biases that might hinder their access to informal networks, to mentoring or to professional development opportunities that could subsequently impair their performance and career development. I think there are also experiences that newcomers face in regard to feeling invisible and voiceless. How do these biases affect people in the majority? It’s not a stretch to say that the lack of exposure for many white colleagues can also be a source of anxiety that can inhibit their opportunity for authentic interactions with a new colleague who is different, ethnically or culturally. Any time we have those barriers to communication or to establishing authentic relationships, it’s a potential barrier to our performance and our ability to work together productively. Whose role is it to consider these issues within a company — and to take steps to address them? When it comes to any type of organizational change, it always begins at the top. Leaders have to understand demographic shifts in their labor force, how those shifts might be reflected — and the needs and priorities of their workers. When leaders are committed to a diverse and inclusive workplace, HR is empowered to put in place the strategies that are equally effective across a diversity of workers. There’s also a culture of the organization that has to be addressed to make sure that people are held accountable if they violate non-discrimination and anti-harassment policies. Too often, companies don’t have clear policies, or they're not communicated effectively. And even if they’re communicated effectively, they’re not always followed. We are at a critical point as a nation in regard to how we address diversity. We are seeing a lot of blatant forms of discrimination and violence occur, but we’re also seeing a younger generation that is so multicultural and inclusive. We’re seeing an increasing number of states embrace same-sex marriage. So there’s kind of a tidal wave of issues going on that reflect our differences. We have an opportunity to do this well and see this as a way to promote innovation, creativity and greater collaboration. A lot of the research I’ve done with Vicky Plaut [professor of law and social science at the University of California, Berkeley] suggests that we need to embrace multiculturalism and that the era of colorblindness is over. In fact, colorblindness is a signal to members of ethnic and racial minority groups that they are now vulnerable to discrimination. Photo: Can Stock
Dear ReWorker: Handling Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?
Dear ReWorker, We recently had a sexual harassment complaint about an employee. Out of curiosity, I Googled this person and found several websites that list his name and include details about his inappropriate sexual activities and relationships. Aside from the internal complaint of sexual harassment in the workplace, the internet posts bother me very much. The situation certainly does not make the company look good and it tells me a lot about the employee's moral and ethical standards. Can I fire him for the complaint as well as what I found out on the Internet? Sincerely, Tempted to Terminate ___________________________________________________________________________________ Dear Tempted to Terminate, You are making this more difficult than it needs to be. If his offense at work was serious enough for termination, you fire him, regardless of his internet persona. It doesn't matter what he does outside of work or what he posts online—he misbehaved at work and should be punished. Now, this does become more complicated if his offense isn't necessarily fireable. Let's say someone complained that he made one dirty joke. That wouldn't (generally) be enough for a termination. If that's the case, here are a few other questions to consider. Is His Online Behavior Just Icky, or Is It Illegal? This is important because in some states or cities, you can't terminate someone for doing something controversial outside of work if it's legal. So, if you find his behavior objectionable but happen to live in one of these jurisdictions, you can't terminate him for that behavior. If you live outside these areas, employees don't have the right to do icky things and brag about them on the internet, even if it's outside of the workplace. There's no free speech in the workplace, and as long as his questionable behavior didn't include him starting a union, you can terminate him for outside activities. Are You Discriminating Based on Gender or Sexual Orientation? If a woman were saying the same things online as the employee in question, would you be okay with it? If your answer is yes, then you're discriminating illegally. If he were a different sexual orientation, would you be okay with it? If so, then you need to be extra cautious. The courts have reached mixed verdicts on whether you can legally discriminate against someone based on sexual orientation, but the reality is, even if your bias falls within the law, you shouldn't act on it. You should be judging people based on their work. Does the Behavior Reflect Badly on the Company? Assuming that his behavior at work wasn't serious enough for a termination, and assuming that it's not illegal to terminate him, should you still do it? Generally, managers should stay out of their employees' online lives. You wouldn't invite yourself over to dinner at their house, so why should you invite yourself onto their Facebook pages? With that said, you should take action if the employee's behavior reflects badly on the company. If there's nothing online linking him to your company, you should probably let it go. If it's easy to link him to your company, however, that's another story. Regardless of your decision you need to do two things: consult with your employment attorney and enforce the same standard across the board, regardless of age, gender, position or tenure. Your ReWorker, Suzanne Lucas, Evil HR Lady Photo: Creative Commons
Why Starbucks' Unconscious Bias Training Probably Won't Change Much
Starbucks made a splash recently by closing 8,000 stores to provide unconscious bias training for over 100,000 employees. The company decided on this widespread training after an employee stopped two black men from using their onsite restroom in a Philadelphia store. As a former Chief Learning Officer at multiple organizations, I don't think this training will change much. And, as a consultant, I can also guess what this training may have cost Starbucks. So why pay for something that likely won't stop this situation from happening in the future? The short answer is because it is easier to "train" people for a half day than to do the challenging work of creating an infrastructure of leadership and a culture of diversity and acceptance. The first of Starbucks' three stated values is "Creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome." Sounds easy. After all, we all want to be welcoming to everyone, right? In practice, however, it's not that simple. As humans, we bring complexity, variability, and, sometimes, bias to the table whether we realize it or not, and four hours of training alone won't change that. To drive real change, organizations need leaders who understand their role in shaping behaviors, and it's up to these leaders to teach employees how to best represent the image of the organization in their work. Here are four practical ways leaders can shape culture and behavior on their teams: Don't Hide Behind the Scenes If you're a leader, your office is a great place to hole up and get work done, but that's not where the real leadership happens. The real work of an organization takes place where employees work—in front of customers, with the products. Being a leader means regularly listening, observing and, when appropriate, immediately intervening to acknowledge behavior that is exceptional, or reprimand behavior that must change. Make it part of your routine to be present and active, side-by-side with employees. Be Aware of the Situation Your presence alone isn't enough. Leaders must view the workplace and their employees through a critical lens—the values of the organization. That means being open to noticing, as in Starbucks' case, when that culture of belonging and warmth is violated. Using a values filter may not be second nature, particularly because this type of leadership is a time-consuming and all-encompassing work. It's critical for leaders to see beyond their point of view, embrace the organization's values and coach them, thereby shaping behaviors that represent the values. Match Worker Demographics to Customer Demographics Organizations are increasingly making an effort to hire a more diverse workforce, and there's a valid business reason for that—employees who share the culture and background of the customer base will be better able to meet the customer needs because they're more likely to have similar needs. An employee demographic that represents the customer demographic can also help ensure that products fit the culture of the local presence. Find Teachable Moments Leaders sometimes view coaching and feedback as something that's provided to employees only when they're doing something wrong. As a result, they are uncomfortable providing feedback regularly because they think it sends the wrong message to workers. But by adopting a teaching mentality, leaders can view feedback as a good thing—a learning or developmental opportunity rather than a corrective one. A mindset of continuous learning goes a long way for opening up a meaningful dialogue. Leaders who understand that shaping their culture is an ongoing process, and approach it from a long-term learning and engagement lens can generate excitement about their organization's value. And that excitement typically lasts a whole lot longer and is much more effective than a four hour training session. Photo: Unsplash