Beyond Lip Service: How HR Software Can Improve Workplace Diversity

John Ferguson
January 6, 2020

Beyond Lip Service: How HR Software Can Improve Workplace Diversity

Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) is finally recognized by many as a necessary part of developing any company culture and achieving HR and talent management goals. This is particularly true in a competitive job market, where millennials prioritize D&I in the workplace more than older generations. Given the close relationship between the two, effective HR management software can also enable better diversity and inclusion in your business as well.

While D&I is more commonly prioritized than it used to be, how businesses should go about creating a diverse organization is less well’defined. Of HR professionals we surveyed on how their organizations deal with bias or discrimination in the workplace, some form of training is by far the most popular method of internal-facing D&I enablement for companies. Unfortunately, there’s a mountain of evidence pointing to the fact that training isn’t effective, and can even be harmful.

So what should companies and professionals do instead, and what tools can help them along the way? Dr. Alicia Ingersoll, a diversity and inclusion researcher at Utah State University with an emphasis on diversity in leadership positions, provided some insights from what the data has been telling experts in the field. She has experience with both the academic research on bias, discrimination, and D&I in the workplace, as well as workplace experience building out corporate social responsibility programs. 

From those insights, we’ve listed some features to look for in HR and talent management software that can enable your D&I initiatives and workplace culture. Here are the top 2 areas to focus on, and what HR software can do to help!

Step 1: Identifying problems and areas for improvement

Like any business process or initiative, improving diversity within your organization should be intelligently designed and targeted to have the most impact possible. To do so, focus on expanding or enhancing your HR reporting processes. Generating and standardizing reports on how diverse your business is, and where that diversity is located, plays a huge role in informing where more focus needs to go, as well as where improvement is happening!

Broadly speaking, a core reporting question is, “what level of diversity does your business or department have,” but there are a variety of metrics you can use to answer this question. For instance, you can track how many diverse candidates apply and are hired, measure retention level across demographics, and track performance reviews and promotion rates over time.

You can, and some argue should, also establish greater transparency internally. Dr. Ingersoll points to pay transparency as a key example, which can help close pay gaps within a company.

There are a ton of possible metrics, so find the ones that make the most sense for your company. Much of this data and reporting is already performed, but slicing the data with a focus on diversity can shed new insights on where your company can improve.  

Throughout this process, be extra intentional about establishing objective criteria to gauge both your processes and your people on. Dr. Ingersoll points out that reporting and metrics can help mitigate bias, but they can also be influenced by preexisting bias in the standards, expectations, or algorithms used in reporting.

Responsibility for recognizing possible bias in reporting and analytics falls on both the software company and the user. While vendors should be transparent and responsible in how they develop their reporting tools and capabilities, you should also be transparent about how you set up and run reporting, such as what data influences various conclusions and decisions.

What HR software can do for your reporting

Fortunately, reporting has grown much more robust and customizable in recent years. This trend is partially enabled by the centralization of HR software onto unified platforms, and partially advancements in AI and machine learning technology as applied to people analytics.

Many of the metrics that need to be tracked are also relatively simple and straightforward. Vendors are expanding their prebuilt reports to include more diversity metrics, which can make your reporting life much simpler.

However, reporting is a common complaint among HR management software reviewers. To make sure that your HR management tool can support the specific diversity metrics you need to track, keep an eye on how customizable reporting is within a product. If possible, explore whether specific configurations can be demoed or have been reviewed by other users.

Step 2: Recruitment

While reporting is a crucial aspect of diversity and inclusion, the actual impact and change come primarily from having greater diversity within the room, and recruitment is the first step. This is good news for some companies— based on our previously-mentioned survey of HR professionals, improvements to recruitment are the most common method for addressing bias, just above training. 

Methods organizations use to address bias/discrimination presented as a pie chart. 36% for training, 39% for recruiting, all other reasons/methods at 25%.

Even if you’re already taking steps, there’s usually more you can do to improve diversity in recruitment. Most diversity experts point to making “structural changes” to your organization to bring more diversity into the business and make them want to stay. What “structural changes” looks like varies by business, but there are some specific tactics you can use in your recruitment to improve the process.

Before evaluating candidates, evaluate your own criteria on what makes a “good” candidate—are any of those criteria overly constricting your hiring pool? Dr. Ingersoll uses the example of some enterprises primarily recruiting from certain schools and universities, which can exclude many qualified candidates who could not, or chose not, to attend those institutions for a variety of reasons. Reexamining your hiring criteria isn’t just a D&I initiative—it can improve your talent pool as a whole.

There are other improvements you can make, such as using interview panels instead of 1-on-1 interviews to mitigate the effect of any one person’s bias. Also, be very conscious of having a “token” candidate- according to Dr. Ingersoll, “if you only interview one diverse candidate, you won’t end up hiring any diverse employees.”

This procedure and mindset shift extend beyond the initial hire. Is there diverse talent in your succession plans? In your promotions? Building in these longer-term inclusion plans can help integrate diversity throughout the business and into leadership positions, which is where diversity can become more influential and self-perpetuating.

What can HR software do to help diverse recruitment?

Recruitment and Applicant Tracking Systems have responded to the demands for more diverse recruitment with various reporting tools and functionalities. Dr. Ingersoll praises the development of centralized dashboards within recruiting and HR platforms that make diversity data much more visible and accessible.

Procedurally, some recruitment vendors offer resume depersonalization, which strips identifying personal information like names, gender, etc. when viewed by hiring managers. They can also track the diversity of applications for various positions and ensure the legality of your hiring process. This can become particularly relevant when EEOC compliance is required of your organization. When looking at HR or recruiting tools to buy, or the ones you currently have, ask the vendor what support for D&I is available, and see how well those features fit your diversity needs.

Towards a more inclusive workplace

HR tools are constantly improving to support diversity in the modern workplace, from less biased processes to active steps to include diverse voices in conversations. However, these tools are only as effective as the people who use them. Reporting capabilities make your life much easier, but it’s up to you and your business to follow up on that information. “People are complex,” Dr. Ingersoll cautions. “You need other people to actually address and correct the problem.” What will you do to improve your business?

About the Author

John Ferguson
John is a Research Associate at TrustRadius, focusing on content development and buyer-guided research. His goal is to support and enable better software buying decisions, with an eye towards helping people from all backgrounds navigate the world of business software. He has a BA in Politics from Centre College.

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