Unconscious bias is a boardroom issue, and data has the power to challenge it

Once we have acknowledged unconscious bias, then we can start to make a case for how diversity and inclusion are good for business, says SAP's global lead for culture and identity, Miguel Castro. Here's how a data-driven approach can help.

According to Bersin by Deloitte’s Predictions for 2017 report, “the topic of diversity has been on the HR agenda for decades. Once considered a compliance programme, it has now become a business strategy.” The report goes on to address how ‘People Analytics’ have grown in maturity – moving from simply being ‘a good idea’ to being mandatory for Human Resources organisations.

We truly believe that diversity in the workplace not only impacts financial success, but drives innovation and improves customer satisfaction. It also increases employee engagement. And we recognise the imperative role that data and analytics play in driving bias out of business.

Getting management onboard

Management is constantly looking at data to run the business: revenue actuals pulled from financial systems show current performance compared to current business targets and to previous years; data pulled from CRM systems is used to provide sales forecasts and help identify the most important focus areas to turn around. That is a normal part of day-to-day business.

But how do we use data to measure the impact of diversity and inclusion on the bottom line? How can we analyse the role unconscious bias may play in decision-making and use data to drive that bias out of the boardroom?

Acknowledging that there is unconscious bias is a good first step — but is never easy. Anka Wittenberg, SAP chief diversity and inclusion officer, addressed this topic in a recent blog: Why Diversity is Good for Your Bottom Line. Per Anka, “Everyone has unconscious bias. In today’s workplace, it is time for everyone to stop tiptoeing around the issue… Understanding the reality of unconscious bias is an important component of working to reduce it in the workplace.”

Once we have acknowledged unconscious bias, then we can start to make a case for how diversity and inclusion are good for business.

Employees must embrace the need for a more diverse and inclusive workforce, but also have numerous initiatives in place to move the company forward – using data as the driver. The following are a few examples of how we work to overcome bias in our boardroom, and, while we know still have a long journey ahead, we are proud of each step we are taking in the right direction.

Women in technology: A global challenge

The need for gender diversity in technology is undisputed, but according to most reports, there are still few women leaders in technology. In a recent World Economic Forum article “Why do so many women leave engineering?,” a study found that in group situations, especially during internships and summer jobs, female engineering students were often given less challenging problems and were relegated to doing routine ‘managerial and secretarial’ tasks instead of the ‘real’ engineering work. Without opportunities and adequate support, it’s no surprise that women may choose a different career path.  

While there are numerous organisations and events addressing this issue, more needs to be done to attract, hire, retain, and promote women in the tech industry. SAP has made a true commitment to provide greater opportunities for women – and recently became the first multinational technology company to receive the EDGE certification for gender equality.

A key component to this achievement has been the board-level commitment to reach 25 per cent of the leadership positions filled by women by the end of 2017. To track this goal, a dashboard was created to provide a continuous status of the women in management KPI, as well as the gender split by different career levels, in career movement (such as promotions), progressions and hires, and in terminations. SAP HR professionals can now easily track progress, see which geographies or businesses need action, and proactively act in the different processes like recruitment, mentoring, succession planning with the relevant business management representatives.  

By using the available data, women in management positions have increased from 19.5 per cent at the end of 2012 to 24.5 per cent at the end of 2016…and SAP is on target to meet its 25 per cent women in leadership goal.

LGBT Diversity: A global topic?

Since being LGBT is not a visible diversity characteristic, the question that business management might have in this area is: “how many people are we talking about and what impact do they have?” Regardless of the number itself, Credit Suisse ESG Research from 2016 shows that LGBT-inclusive companies outperform companies without LGBT inclusive policies by 3 per cent per year on the stock market. In addition, the report “Out in the World” by the Centre for Talent Innovation (2016) stated that “LGBT-inclusive companies are up to 72 per cent better at attracting allies as employees.” Statistics like these drive home the need to focus on this important aspect of diversity and inclusion.

A 2013 Pew Research study, “The Global Divide on Homosexuality,” explored the level of acceptance of LGBT communities in many countries in the world. By looking at the number of employees in those countries with the most accepting societies one can gain at least an indication of the locations where the topic of LGBT inclusion might need to be addressed – beyond the necessary global non-discrimination policies, ensuring protection of the workforce against harassment based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.

From a legal perspective, asking employees to self-identify their sexual orientation is not possible in several countries, as SAP learned in a recent study done with the international law firm Baker McKenzie. But the number of people participating in Employee Network Groups focusing on members of the LGBT community and their allies provides a clear sign of the awareness of this topic per country. This information is easy to attain from a collaboration platform.

Lack of presence of LGBT ENG members in a country with high acceptance of homosexuality and a large employee base could be an indication of a potentially negative situation for LGBT employees. This provides an opportunity to raise awareness, provide D&I training, and give more visibility to out executives from other locations within the company and engage with LGBT business organisations in that region.

Eliminating bias in business – both conscious and unconscious – is never easy; however, using data and analytics to make the case for diversity can move the discussion from one based on emotions and ‘doing the right thing’ to a business argument that can be readily supported. Inclusivity is a ‘win-win’ scenario for all companies.

Miguel Castro is the global lead for culture and identity at SAP Global Diversity and Inclusion Office.

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for GrowthBusiness.co.uk from 2016 to 2018.

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