What works in Diversity & Inclusion? Let’s talk evidence

Bibi Groot

Nov 12, 2021

Businesses are increasingly taking steps to understand their diversity and inclusion. But just paying attention to D&I doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to make progress. To make a real, long-lasting impact, you need in-depth insight into your current challenges. With this understanding, you can pinpoint the areas to improve and tackle these issues with evidence-based recommendations.

In this post, we’ll introduce the thinking behind our D&I recommendations and show how we leverage well-researched science to bring you the crème de la crème of D&I recommendations.

Don’t (automatically) believe the hype

Unconscious bias happens naturally (to all of us). Our brains are constantly making incredibly quick judgments about what we see and hear. It’s so seamless that we don’t even realise it.

We all know that unconscious bias is bad for diversity – it makes people want to hire, work and hang out with people that look and talk like themselves. If you don’t look or act like the majority, you’re placed at a disadvantage, which puts underrepresented groups such as women and people of colour at a disadvantage.

So, what should we do about it?

A commonly held belief is that we can overcome our internal biases simply by learning about them. Recently, companies have signed up en masse to educate themselves about unconscious bias. US companies alone are spending around 8 billion dollars a year on unconscious bias training.

Yet this type of diversity training doesn’t actually make people behave more inclusively. Yes, it raises employees’ awareness of bias, but if that doesn’t translate to behaviour, what’s the point?

Why doesn’t unconscious bias training work? The key to this puzzle lies in the “unconscious” part. Changing behaviour that we’re not conscious of takes a lot of effort, motivation and self-awareness; a couple of hours in the classroom doesn’t cut it. But don’t worry, effective remedies do exist.

What works?

At Fair HQ, we stay on top of all the latest research in behavioural science to bring you interventions that really work. We distil the best proposals into our one-of-a-kind recommendation library, packed full of actions that move the dial on diversity and inclusion. Let’s take a look.

Firstly, research shows that diversity only truly benefits the company culture if you also get inclusion right (see Mor-Barak and colleagues, 2016). So instead of embarking on a one-off diversity campaign, we help you build an all-around D&I strategy that encourages talent – regardless of their background – to join, stay, succeed and lead.

We provide a series of ready-to-implement recommendations to the companies we work with, tailored to the areas that need the most attention. Whether that’s making sure the hiring process isn’t biased, empowering minority employees to build long-lasting social connections or making it easier and safer for people to voice their concerns and complaints.

All of Fair HQ’s recommendations are based on verifiable and evidence-based sources. We’ve scoured academic journals, think-tank reports and company D&I initiatives for impactful interventions.

Where possible, we rely on evidence from field experiments, which test an intervention directly against a business-as-usual group. This gold-standard method is used to test the effectiveness of new medicines, but increasingly it’s being used to test if workplace programmes work.

What did we find?

These robust studies unearth fascinating findings. For example:

  • Explicitly mentioning flexible working arrangements in job adverts boosts applications by 30%.
  • The odds of hiring a woman are considerably better when at least 2 women are shortlisted.
  • Diversity training which focuses on perspective-taking actually does shift behaviours.
  • When it comes to CVs, the gap in callback rates for ethnic minorities tends to vanish when job applications are anonymised.

Circling back to unconscious bias, we learned that we can remove unconscious bias from the hiring process by blinding CVs, making candidate feedback private rather than sharing it between hiring managers and using work sample tests.

These are just a handful of insights that we weave into our recommendations (our recommendation library encompasses all of your people processes, including onboarding, performance reviews, promotions and so on).

But at Fair HQ, we don’t believe in silver bullets or one-off D&I initiatives. When we prepare a strategy for our customers, we combine various types of proposals to suit their unique needs. That includes small nudges, transformational programmes, tech tools and low-cost changes to your policies and processes.

And to make sure you hit the ground running, we provide guides, templates and implementation tips & tricks all based on evidence, suitable to your D&I maturity level.

Don’t stop there: check in to see how you’re doing

We started this blog by asking what makes D&I initiatives likely to succeed. We’ll pick out one that comes up time and time again: evaluation and monitoring. It’s not enough to release your strategy into the wild and cross your fingers that it lands successfully.

Companies should track diversity and inclusion metrics as they would for any business outcome, such as marketing, sales or product analytics.

As the old saying goes: if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.

Organisations who don’t monitor implementation and progress end up inventing the wheel over and over again.

Perhaps you already track diversity in your hiring funnel, and that’s a great start! Have you also started collecting and tracking data on employees’ access to promotions? How about their uptake of L&D programmes, or access to bonuses and raises?

If you find significant gaps in promotion rates between men and women, for example, you’ve diagnosed a potential issue. Checking in regularly to see if the gaps are closing (or widening – help!) can ensure your D&I strategy is powerful.

We’re here to help. Fair HQ built a tech platform enabling you to…

🔬 Audit your D&I and benchmark it towards your location & industry

🚀 Build a strong strategy with evidence-based initiatives that fit your current D&I status

⛰  Set crystal-clear goals

🤝  Build accountability across the organisation – you’re in this together

📈  Track your D&I metrics over time

🎉  Celebrate progress and results

Want to get started?

Click here to book a demo

Want to dive deeper into our thinking? Here’s our academic back-up

Atewologun, D., Cornish, T., & Tresh, F. (2018). Unconscious bias training: An assessment of the evidence for effectiveness. Equality and Human Rights Commission Research Report Series.

Bertrand, M., & Duflo, E. (2017). Field experiments on discrimination. In Handbook of economic field experiments (Vol. 1, pp. 309-393). North-Holland.

Chang, E. H., Milkman, K. L., Gromet, D. M., Rebele, R. W., Massey, C., Duckworth, A. L., & Grant, A. M. (2019). The mixed effects of online diversity training. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(16), 7778-7783.

Dobbin, F., & Kalev, A. (2016). Why diversity programs failHarvard Business Review, 94(7), 14.

Kochan, T., Bezrukova, K., Ely, R., Jackson, S., Joshi, A., Jehn, K., … & Thomas, D. (2003). The effects of diversity on business performance: Report of the diversity research network. Human Resource Management 42(1), 3-21.

Krause, A., Rinne, U., & Zimmermann, K. F. (2012). Anonymous job applications of fresh Ph.D. economists. Economics Letters, 117(2), 441-444.

Mor Barak, M. E., Lizano, E. L., Kim, A., Duan, L., Rhee, M. K., Hsiao, H. Y., & Brimhall, K. C. (2016). The promise of diversity management for climate of inclusion: A state-of-the-art review and meta-analysis. Human Service Organizations: Management, Leadership & Governance, 40(4), 305-333.

Williamson, S., Carson, L., & Foley, M. (2019). Representations of New Public Management in Australian Public Service gender equality policies. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal.

Burd, H., & Roy-Chowdhury, V. (2020).| Well-being and Flexible Working. Encouraging employers to advertise jobs as flexible – a randomised controlled trial with a job site. Applied Research Conference, p. 62.