EGAL and SODI collaborate to advance racial equity in the workplace

On October 29, 2020 the Science of Diversity & Inclusion Initiative (SODI) partnered with the Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership (EGAL), to host their second virtual convening of the year. The goal? To bring together behavioral scientists and business leaders in diversity, equity, and inclusion to advance racial equity in the workplace.

Amidst a year of tremendous movement to demand racial equity across the globe, supporting a virtual space for the SODI and EGAL communities to come together was a top priority for the partnership. Filling an important gap between research and practice, the convening aimed to advance research in diversity and inclusion while also making the important findings accessible to individuals and companies outside of the behavioral sciences.

The event brought together 120 participants — including over 50 researchers and business leaders from more than 25 companies — and welcomed three leading experts in workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion to share their work.

Dr. Laura Morgan Roberts — Professor of Practice at University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business and CEO/Founder of The Alignment Quest Enterprise

Three Zones of Action for Leading Racially Just Organizations

With a focus on maximizing human potential in diverse organizations and communities, Professor Roberts’ research explores the powerful question: how do we bring out the best in ourselves and others, and make our best selves even better? In particular, she has focused on understanding and amplifying how our identities can serve as our greatest sources of strength.

For the SODI Convening, Professor Roberts shared key lessons from her book (co-authored with Anthony Mayo and David Thomas), Race, Work, and Leadership, a collection of essays that examine how race impacts people’s experience of work and leadership. Centering the voices and subjective experiences of Black professionals, she shared four key barriers which must be acknowledged and acted upon in order to achieve more racially just organizations:

  1. Access: Racial disparities exist across a multitude of systems — education, criminal justice, employment, and access to wealth, just to name a few. Therefore it comes as no surprise — and it is well documented — that these disparities also persist when it comes to workplace diversity. For example, this means Black professionals have less access to professional networks and less representation across all levels within a company. But, this is just the beginning of the story; it is imperative we acknowledge the barriers that are present once individuals join an organization, too.
  2. Authenticity: Research has underscored numerous challenges regarding workplace inclusion for Black professionals. This means that often, Black professionals find themselves at a company whose organizational culture does not create adequate feelings of psychological safety. In turn, this inhibits the ability to feel connected, develop a true sense of belonging, and ultimately show up each day as their most authentic selves. All at once, many Black professionals are forced to battle both a feeling of invisibility — often facing little acknowledgement of their achievements and best selves — as well as hypervisibility with regard to long standing stereotypes and biases.
  3. Advancement: There are numerous ways in which Black professionals face barriers to equitable advancement opportunities. Beyond biases present in performance evaluations, leadership development is also inhibited by a lack of access to sponsors and mentorship. Individuals reported challenges with regard to professional development due to fewer opportunities to secure projects that are “mission critical” to the company. Individuals have also reported primarily getting pulled into activities — such as diversity recruiting events — that although important to them and the company, do not contribute to their ability to advance individually.
  4. Authority and Accountability: Even as Black professionals continue to rise in the ranks of a company, bias persists. Many report legitimacy challenges, such as being mistaken for lower status workers, or face push back to gain the same level of support, power, and authority as other leaders in the company. Finally, research has also shown that Black professionals in higher ranking positions are judged or penalized more harshly for their failures than their white counterparts.

Professor Roberts offered three zones of action in which individuals and companies can address these barriers:

  1. Head: We must acknowledge and recognize how race shapes careers, organizations, society, and our lives.
  2. Heart: We must affirm the value of racial diversity, and the potential for growth and advancement.
  3. Hands: We must act — directly and indirectly — to create a culture, a climate, a workforce, that stands for and delivers on racial diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice. And companies must create systems that hold them — and their executive team and employees — accountable for doing so.

Professor Roberts closed with an important reminder — to achieve any of these zones of action, each of us must commit to our own self-work. This means moving away from the trap of the zero-sum game for how we view other people’s oppression versus our own privilege. Individuals with privilege — and especially those that are white — must adopt a willingness and openness to learning rather than getting stuck trying to justify their own self-worth. Individual-level change, “hinges upon the necessity that two things can coexist: the present acknowledgement of bias and affirming the value of difference while also still maintaining the worth of my own contributions and the validity of my hardships.”

Dr. Conrad Miller — Assistant Professor of Economic Analysis and Policy at UC Berkeley Haas and a Faculty Research Fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Learning from Variation in Diversity across Employers

With a background as a labor economist and an interest in researching in-firm sorting and discrimination, Professor Miller shared key findings regarding determinants of company’s racial composition.

To begin, Professor Miller acknowledged that research has already revealed a great deal as to why diversity varies systematically across companies. Firms now have the opportunity to leverage that research to understand what steps they can take to become more racially diverse.

In particular, Professor Miller focused on two key findings that act as determinants of firm racial composition.

  1. Larger firms are more racially diverse and have less non-White employees. This holds when accounting for location, occupation, and industry. Additionally, as firms grow, they often become more racially diverse; Professor Miller showed the increase in the number of Black employees specifically.
  2. Temporary affirmative action measures increase diversity even after the regulations are removed. This persistent effect is supported by strong evidence observed from patterns at companies who have won government contracts. In order to move forward with the contract, regulations required that the companies adopt affirmative action. After adopting affirmative action measures, the percentage of Black share of employees rose. What becomes even more interesting, is that evidence showed that even after the contract has ended, hiring patterns persisted — the diversity of the company and the percentage of Black employees continued to rise.

What’s more, both findings are driven by a similar mechanism, which shed light on strategies and practices firms should immediately adopt. So, what is the mechanism? Screening and recruiting practices. The ability for a company to implement hiring practices that make them less dependent on referral hiring — often the cheapest and easiest approach, but can impede diversity efforts — becomes incredibly important, and larger firms are often able to do this. Additionally, they often have the resources that allow them to implement more formal practices and recruit and screen candidates more intensely. Ultimately, more data — on personnel practices, hiring outcomes, and diversity — and experimentation is needed to translate these findings into precise solutions for different firms.

Dr. Iris Bohnet — Albert Pratt Professor of Business and Government, co-director of the Women and Public Policy Program, and Academic Dean at Harvard Kennedy School

Supply and Demand-Side Effects in Performance Appraisals: The Role of Gender and Race

As a behavioral economist, Professor Bohnet’s research is focused on bringing together insights from both economics and psychology in order to improve organizational decision-making. For SODI’s virtual event, she shared outcomes from research she conducted with a global financial services company after unexpected changes in employee annual reviews led to the exclusion of self-evaluations in managers’ evaluation process and overarching assessment.

Leveraging data from before the year in question, and comparing it with previous years — during which self-evaluations were shared with managers — Professor Bohnet identified three key findings:

  1. Across the race and gender, individuals typically gave themselves better ratings than their managers. However, women generally gave themselves lower ratings and women of color evaluated themselves even more harshly compared to their male counterparts.
  2. Manager’s ratings showed a reduction in this gender gap — women received better ratings as compared to how they rated themselves. This means that the gap between their own self-evaluation and the evaluation from their manager was smaller than the gap for men. However, the intersectionality effect persisted: employees of color received lower ratings than their white counterparts.
  3. Seeing self-evaluations before conducting their own created an anchoring effect for managers. When these were not available, managers’ rankings — across both gender and race — were lower on average and the same gender or race effect were not observed.

Professor Bohnet also acknowledged the study’s limitations and closed with two poignant points:

Subjectivity is the home of potential bias.Ultimately, the appraisal process is difficult to study given that both self-evaluations and managerial evaluations are subjective.

In our collective efforts to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion, we have to think hard about which of our instruments help … large groups, and which might do less for smaller groups.As with any set of research, sample size matters. It is important to acknowledge limitations posed for studying race effects and intersectionality and continue to mindfully strengthen our approaches.

The three presentations provided much food for thought and participants were given the chance to discuss their question, reflections, and experiences with one another after research findings were presented. We hope you’ll consider these topics, engage with the research further, and spark similar discussions with your own colleagues, peers, and networks, too.

At the heart of UC Berkeley's Business School, the Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership educates equity-fluent leaders to ignite and accelerate change.