We were talking earlier about how management research has tended to be race-agnostic. It's great to see more work, such as your book, not treating people and organizations as monoliths.
If you look at the world of academia, the faculty, we really have a long way to go in terms of intersectional opportunities. We're seeing universities putting into effect a lot of practices that we know aren't going to change anything and not really being willing to put into effect the kinds of practices that are likely to change, practices like how they hire people, how they mentor people, and how they promote people. Universities are not really willing to change those things, and nor are our corporations, which is why we're seeing slow progress.
You've been doing this work for a long time. Could you highlight two to three key takeaways from your book?
I think one of the most important things that social scientists have figured out in the last 10 or 15 years is that efforts to change biases in people's minds and discrimination in their behaviour directly by, for example, diversity training that's focused on reducing bias or HR rules that are supposed to prevent managers from actually practising discrimination—focusing on the individual just hasn't worked. In part, that's because the individual isn't the big problem; the system is the big problem—how we set up hiring, and promotion, and mentoring. But in part, it's because when we focus on the individual, a lot of those individuals react negatively, so they make things worse. Get people in a room and tell them that they're biased, and they won't want to admit it. You're not going to make any friends, and they may not try to help you with your projects.
On the positive side, as I've started to say, organizations that systematically try to change how they start recruiting people, how they make hiring decisions, how they mentor people when they get on board, how they train people to move up, see very dramatic increases in the diversity of managers, which is I think the best measure of how a company is doing. It's pretty easy to diversify the front line where there's a lot of turnover. It's hard to keep those people on, help them gain the skills that they would need to move up, and keep them in management jobs.
But changing systems, changing where you look for people, for example, recruiting at colleges and universities that are majority non-white, how you mentor people, making sure that every single person gets a mentor, not only the top 10% of high achievers, changing how you train people so that everybody gets training to upgrade even if they're happy in their job, give people other skills and they may find other jobs in other departments where they are happier and better suited to the work and may move up there. If we stop trying to change what's in people's minds and stop trying to prevent individual-level discrimination, stop thinking that the problem is with people, and start thinking that the problem is with our systems, that will lead to rapid change.
Thinking about it from a systemic perspective resonates with me a lot.
A lot of companies have some sort of mentoring system, but it's only open to people in the top 10% of jobs, say. People in entry-level jobs aren't offered mentoring on the assumption that they don't want to move up. Well, that's just not a good assumption. When organizations offer mentoring to everybody, they have a chance of changing things. So, you have to change the system. You’ve got to just scrap that system of focusing on the top 10% and offer mentoring all the way up and down. When companies send recruiters to the Ivys, and send diversity recruiters, they go to diversity fairs—they still don't go to majority Hispanic-serving institutions or HBCUs, and that's where they're going to find a lot of black and brown people.
What advice would you give scholars like me about how to study diversity and inclusion in organizations?
I think there are a lot of different ways to study diversity and inclusion in organizations, whether it's ethnography from the ground up or whether it's interviews. We do a lot of interviews to try to get into people's heads, or whether it's using large-scale quantitative data, which is the other thing we do a lot of. I feel like people have been studying a pretty narrow range of what goes on in organizations. It's kind of like looking for your keys under the lamp post where the light is shining instead of where you might have actually dropped them. For example, we can do experiments on implicit bias reduction because we have the tools to do that. So, people keep doing that again and again without necessarily thinking, well, how do people live their careers in organizations and where are the places where we might re-engineer that?
If I were to extend your analogy and look beyond where the light falls under the lampshade, where else might one look?
I think it's useful to look across different organizations and try to find some that are making progress and then try to figure out what they're doing. Rosabeth Kanter and others at Harvard Business School looked into Deloitte in the 1990s because they were clearly making progress on gender diversity, and they documented what they did. I think their documentation in a couple of cases and some articles are in some ways still the best how-to guide on how to actually increase diversity and inclusion, especially in professional services firms. I think what they find is pretty generalizable. There are lots of people writing about high-profile diversity and inclusion programmes of tech companies and financial services firms that are demonstrably not working. So, I think we need to be identifying more places like Deloitte and figuring out how they do it.
Great. Now that you have the book, where do you see yourself going from here?
Xandra Kalev and I have been collecting data on universities for a while now, looking at what kinds of programmes can actually change the diversity of the faculty, especially tenured faculty over time. We're seeing a very interesting set of patterns. We have data similar to the data we use in the book on corporations where we look at hundreds of organizations over dozens of years and look at all the practices they put into place and run the numbers to isolate what things are having positive effects, what things are backfiring, and what things just aren't doing anything.
My question is, will university administrators listen to the scientific evidence better than corporate leaders have? Because corporate leaders have listened pretty well. When you can get them to listen, they will. We have gotten companies to change their behaviour just by saying, "That has never worked in any other organization, so you can keep trying it if you want. Whereas this works in 75% of organizations that try it. So you might try this, it's free." So, I'm particularly interested to see whether university administrators are more likely to listen to the evidence.