Many companies have a corporate bias against people based on their gender, background or culture without even realising it. But the organizations that are most likely to thrive in the future are the ones that can overcome this corporate mindset and embrace diversity.
In this age of digital innovation, companies are embedding automation, analytics and artificial intelligence into their DNA. But equal consideration must be given to the teams of people who work alongside this technology.
Many scientific studies indicate that teams containing a mixture of different races, ages and genders generally process facts more carefully and achieve greater innovation than homogeneous teams.
Indeed, companies that rank in the top quartile for ethnic and gender diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians.
However, despite all the evidence pointing towards diversity as a driver of success, there remains an unconscious bias within companies that is holding them back from realizing their true potential.
Reflecting the real world
I’ve attended many panel events to discuss the issue of diversity in the digital business environment. An observation by one fellow panellist that stays with me is that: “We need to be as diverse as the customers we serve.”
As one of the world’s largest employers of women, Tata Consultancy Services understands that diversity is a vital tool in adapting to both the opportunities and disruption caused by the so-called ‘Business 4.0’ era.
Studies show that women have a higher degree of empathy and emotional quotient. The fact that women account for around one-third of TCS’ global workforce means we are able to explore possibilities that might otherwise be missed.
But we are far from the only company to embrace diversity in such a way.
Cosmetic giant L’Oréal, for example, attributes much of its impressive success in emerging markets to its multicultural product development teams – proving that problem-solving flourishes when diversity is promoted.
Meanwhile, a growing number of companies are waking up to the fact that baby-boomers still have a lot to offer in this age of innovation. Combining this generation’s wealth of practical experience with the digital knowhow of millennials can help organisations unlock an abundance of new value.
Realizing the value of diversity
Executives are beginning to grasp the long-term benefits of embracing diversity. However, as is often the case, talking the talk and walking the walk are two very different propositions.
When it comes to promoting gender diversity, companies all over the world talk a good game, yet the figures in terms of women in the workplace tell their own story.
Women hold a measly 4.2% of CEO positions in America’s 500 biggest companies. What is equally worrying, given that this is the age of digital innovation, is that fewer than 25% of IT jobs in developed countries are held by women.
More often than not this is the result of what is known as ‘unconscious bias’ – a deep-rooted and habitual condition that is largely out of our control.
Research shows that unconscious bias can lead to interviewers hiring candidates that most closely resemble themselves. In heavily male-dominated industries, like IT, this causes a self-perpetuating problem.
Tackling unconscious bias
The first step to combatting unconscious bias is to address company policies that may be adversely affecting women.
One example could be a policy that states that people will not be hired if there is a break in-between education and employment of more than two years. In some countries this could automatically eliminate certain qualified women.
But companies must look beyond existing policies if they are to make a lasting impact.
There are many ways to tackle discrimination against women, and members of minority groups, caused by unconscious bias.
Businesses could consider gender targets and quotas to increase equality; demographic information such as sex, ethnicity and universities on applicants’ resumes could be removed prior to submission to recruiting managers; and structured interviews could be introduced, in which all applicants are asked the same set of questions.
While these examples may not be suitable for all organisations, the key to unlocking a cultural shift towards greater inclusivity is greater awareness of the problem.
It is only through continuous awareness programs, the sharing of inspirational stories, role-modelling and building a support network that unconscious bias can be effectively broken once and for all.
By Ritu Anand, Senior Vice President at TCS