Do These Things to Create a Successful Diversity and Inclusion Strategy

Topic(s): change management, diversity, fairness
Publication: Harvard Business Review (2016)
Article: Designing a Bias-Free Organization
Authors: G. Morse (interview with I. Bohnet)
Reviewed by: Susan Rosengarten

Diversity is a hotly debated discussion point on corporate boards and at the c-suite level of companies around the globe, as well as by HR professionals. Organizations are beginning to take a closer look at the demographic composition of their workforces, and are implementing new and innovative recruiting strategies and management techniques to attract and retain a more heterogeneous body of employees.


While Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) programs and strategies may look different at different companies, at their core their ultimate goal is much the same; they aim to foster work environments where employees of all walks of life feel welcome and valued. What can you do to encourage greater inclusivity at your workplace, and promote a company culture where all employees feel comfortable being themselves at work? A recent article in Harvard Business Review (2016) provides an interview with noted diversity expert Iris Bohnet, who offers advice on the matter.


Rigorously measure the effects of the diversity training you conduct. Treat these diversity training sessions as a means for a formal research study. Devise a goal or hypothesis for the study, and determine how you will collect data, and what kind of results might suggest your training was effective. Have a randomly selected group of employees participate in the training, and compare their behavior after the program with those of employees in a control group. Is there a noticeable difference between the groups? What could that mean, and what can you (or can you not) conclude from the results?


Changing minds can be tough. Our brains are hard-wired with a myriad of cognitive biases, both conscious and unconscious, that make it hard for us to think objectively sometimes. A focus on re-designing behavioral processes can help us get it right. Bohnet offers the shift in American orchestras’ selection practices toward blind auditions in the 1970s as a prime example of effective behavioral design. Before that time, women held only 10% of U.S. orchestra seats, as they struggled to make it past gender-biased auditioners. Orchestras then started asking musicians to audition behind a curtain, making gender invisible. Women now make up almost 40% of the players in these very same orchestras.


Worse than not collecting data at all, is using the wrong data to influence your people decisions. For example, Bohnet cautions against the use of self-evaluations as part of performance appraisal processes. Employee confidence levels can play a significant role in how employees are evaluated by their managers. Research suggests that when managers see inflated self-evaluation ratings, they unconsciously modify their appraisal upward a bit. Likewise, where employees offer poorer self-appraisals, managers will slope ratings downward. Pronounced differences in levels of self-confidence by gender and across cultural lines bolsters the argument against the use of self-evaluation ratings in the performance appraisal process.


At the end of the day, the greatest of intentions will not translate into actions unless you have committed change agents on your side, and leaders who model desired behavior. Gender, racial, and cultural divides aside, we all have parts of us that are unique, and hold ways of thinking that are distinct from our peers and the majority views. Let’s celebrate those differences and cultivate work environments where employees of all backgrounds thrive.


Morse, G. (2016). Designing a Bias-Free Organization. Harvard Business Review, 94(7), 62-67.