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Newsletter Week 37

October 23, 2019

What company leaders can learn from E&Y’s dramatic women’s leadership program fail. Also, companies already have what they need to fix the early-career gender gap. Tech leaders talk frankly about how to hire and keep people of color. Finally, how people from working-class backgrounds experience elite institutions, and how your company can signal acceptance of people from all classes.

This Week in D&I In Practice

Don’t Fix the Women: How to Keep Your D&I Programs Up-to-Date (and Stay Out of the National News) (D&I In Practice Original)

Training programs don’t usually go viral, but one did this week. An Ernst & Young women’s leadership program was blasted for offering women outdated, bias-reinforcing advice about manicures and deferring to men in meetings. This was cutting-edge stuff fifteen years ago, when I went to a similar-sounding program at McKinsey & Company. But the world has definitely moved on, from “fix the women” to a structural analysis of bias and how to block it.

The controversy highlights the importance of keeping your D&I programs up-to-date, especially when employees are often passionate and well-informed about the subject. From the article:

If you are presenting outdated or wrong information [about D&I], your employees will call you on it. If you are lucky, they will bring their concerns to you directly. If you’re not lucky, you will hear about it on Twitter, or a national news site.

Click through for thoughts on how to make sure your D&I programs are an asset, not a liability.


This Week in News and Research

1. Remedies for Early Career Gender Gap are Already in Companies’ Hands (Wall Street Journal)

The 2019 Women in the Workplace report from LeanIn and McKinsey & Company is out! This article summarizes one of the key high-level insights from this year’s report: Companies can close the large and damaging early career gender gap by applying techniques they are already using, with some success, at more senior levels. These include holding managers accountable to metrics, de-biasing key processes like promotions, and integrating diversity “nudges” into daily practice.

This approach gets right at what Professor Shelley Correll of Stanford calls “the frozen middle,” the layer of middle management at a company where change often gets stuck. I have sympathy for middle managers, who are often asked to tackle a dizzying variety of corporate objectives with inadequate resources, education and support. Tasking this group with improving D&I outcomes has to happen, though, if we want our companies to become more diverse.

What the op-ed does not address is the difficult reality: if middle managers are going to drive results in D&I, then senior leadership must have the discipline to 1) commit the resources it takes, and 2) commit to D&I as a top priority, even when other business objectives seem to compete. 


2. Diversity in Tech: Company Leaders Talk ‘Black Tax,’ Recruiting, Retention, and Impostor Syndrome (Geekwire)

As reported from an event at Airbnb’s Seattle office, tech leaders offer real talk--and concrete advice--about how their companies are recruiting and retaining more people of color. Advice ranges from “choose your own homework” coding tests to how to support existing employees of color, who are often asked to do extra work representing their race/ethnicity.


3.   Are Working-Class Students and Academics Avoiding Top Universities? (The Conversation)

Academics from working-class backgrounds are less likely to apply for jobs at elite universities--not because of a lack of confidence, or personal reasons like location, but because they feel they fit in where they are. They also sometimes have past negative experiences which make them think they won’t fit in at a more “elite” institution.

 While this is about the experience of students and academics in universities, the findings can apply to elite work environments of all kinds. Class is an often-overlooked aspect of diversity, all the more so because it can be invisible. Are you accidentally sending signals that your company favors people from middle- and upper-class backgrounds? One easy action to take: avoid talking about expensive vacations, hobbies or company perqs during the interview process. These can turn off candidates from lower-income backgrounds who are accustomed to living more frugally.


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