Like A Girl

Pushing the conversation on gender equality.

Code Like A Girl

You Claim Your Org is Inclusive, its Practices Show Otherwise

Image based on Emmet’s Faces by Brick 101 (used under license)

Workplace practices that work against diversity

Understanding personal bias is important, and I’m happy to see so much being written about it. But institutional bias is a much more pervasive category of bias that I don’t see frequently discussed. Institutional bias is company policies and practices that provide an advantage to certain groups or that put certain groups at a disadvantage. If we’re to be truly effective in creating an inclusive environment, we need to identify and modify, or eliminate, these policies and practices that work against us and diversity.

These are just three of the policies/practices that I’ve seen get in the way of building a diverse team of employees.

The end of year headcount reset

In the end of the year headcount reset, open positions are reclaimed from hiring managers at the end of the fiscal year. The intention is to have a scheduled check of the company’s hiring plan to ensure that it meets the current needs of the company.

In practice, the end of the year signals a risk to you, the hiring manager, that you may lose your open headcount. Sourcing for diverse candidates takes more time and patience, something in short supply when you need to fill that open position before it disappears. At this point your goal shifts from hiring the right candidate to hiring any candidate. As expected, this causes diversity and inclusion practices to give way to traditional “hire from my network” practices.

Hiring someone you already know to be great

Hiring is risky and expensive. As a hiring manager you want to remove as much of that risk from the process as possible. This encourages you to favour hiring someone you know because they are less likely to be a bad hire.

It may seem counter intuitive, but this practice is sub-optimal and a substantive roadblock to building a diverse team. As the hiring manager your personal network is biased to include people like you, and sourcing exclusively from your network limits the diversity of backgrounds and perspectives in the candidate pool. You may find a local maxima (instead of hiring a better candidate), you definitely restrict the applicant pool, and you continue our industry’s habit of hiring “people like me”.

Demeaning and exclusive jokes in team meetings

It’s not enough to hire diverse teams. Your culture and day-to-day practices need to be inclusive in order to retain them. There should be no room in today’s workplace for jokes that demean others. The fact is, I’ve heard these jokes behind closed doors and in small groups. The joke may seem harmless. I mean, we didn’t mean anything by it, right?

The harm is that this practice can subconsciously bias you towards hiring or promoting someone who is the same as you. It colours your opinion of others to keep them where they are so as not to change the dynamic and wreck the “comfortable” space where you can tell these jokes.

Other practices?

I’ve only listed three practices that work against diversity, but there are many others. The best way to deal with these detrimental practices is to recognize them and call them out whenever you see them. I’m happy to say that I’m starting to see this occur more frequently, but it still takes more courage than it should to stand up for yourself or others.

What practices do you know of that work against diversity? Share yours in the comments.

Thank you to Amy Rich and Larissa Shapiro for their feedback and edits

Help others find this post by holding down that  button.