Focus On Harassment, Diversity, And Inclusion At Work: New Tools Now Here To Help

I don’t need to remind you of the importance of diversity, inclusion, and fair treatment at work. Not only has the #metoo movement made HR and business leaders take notice, the problem seems to be increasing. The EEOC saw a 50% increase in workplace harassment suits last year and 2019 is looking like a record.

(Read all about the Progress on #MeToo in this report just published. It describes more than 200 bills in progress and 16 new state laws covering harassment and different forms of employment discrimination.)

Right now we are in a world where racism, harassment, and bad behavior is everywhere. Not only do we have to read about sexual abuse in the news, but our politicians have become more coarse and seem incapable of setting a good example. As much as I’ve loved Twitter over the years, it suddenly seems like a place for yelling things you’d never say in public.

Why This Topic Is So Important Now

I just read an important article in the New Yorker, The Fight to Redefine Racism, by Kelefa Sanneh. He discusses Ibram Kendi’s book “Stamped from the Beginning” and makes the point that everyone is racist to some degree: it is rules and the laws and standards that keep us in check. I recommend you read the article: it will help you understand how polarized we have become and why we need to go back to basics in our beliefs about race.

Another author discussed in the article is Robin DiAngelo, the D&I trainer who worked with Starbucks on their 2018 training program, rolled out to all 8,000 stores on May 29, 2018. She believes “white identity is inherently racist,” which again points out the need to monitor and enforce D&I rather than only “train” people on how to behave.

What I’ve learned is that it IS possible to build a safe, inclusive, and respectful environment at work. Unlike the public sphere, where almost anything seems to be ok, we can set standards, enforce rules, and expect leaders to set a good example. But you need data and standards, and many new tools are making this easier.

The Problem Remains, Opening The Door To New, Better Tools

In my 40+ year experience at work, I’ve seen plenty of bad behavior. Micro-aggression, passive-aggressive behavior, and implicit bias seem to be a built-in part of life in the business world. None of us intend to behave this way, but under pressure, we tend to adopt “group-think” in our organizations, so it’s quite common for minorities and women to feel uncomfortable or possibly even abused by others.

While I’m not going to get into all the training and compliance solutions you can develop, I will say the HR Tech market is now waking up to this problem in a big way. Dozens of new companies now offer diversity, bias-identification, and harassment technology solutions and I want to mention a few of them. And given the trend to eliminate the “forced arbitration” laws around the country, these systems are going to become more mission-critical every day.

Harassment is a particularly big issue for employers because it is carefully regulated at the Federal level. And it’s subtle. As the Federal statutes state:

Offensive conduct may include, but is not limited to, offensive jokes, slurs, epithets or name-calling, physical assaults or threats, intimidation, ridicule or mockery, insults or put-downs, offensive objects or pictures, and interference with work performance. Harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including, but not limited to, the following:

The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, an agent of the employer, a co-worker, or a non-employee.

The victim does not have to be the person harassed but can be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.

Unlawful harassment may occur without economic injury to, or discharge of, the victim.

As I think about the way people (including many in the Federal Government) use social media today, one could argue that social-media-based harassment has almost become normalized, making it more important than ever for employers to take notice. New York State just passed a groundbreaking law (A08421) which expands the liability of employers and makes it even more painful for misbehavior, making HR departments and CEOs even more focused on this issue.

Interestingly, Emma Watson, the star of Harry Potter, has just announced her own hotline in the UK for this issue. We should see more of the same here in the US.

Before I discuss some of the new tools now available, let me state that before you look at tools and programs, companies have to start at the top and make sure the CEO and leadership team take diversity, inclusion, and fairness as a business priority.

This is not a topic that can be “delegated to HR” or “assigned to the head of D&I.” Making work fair, inclusive, and unbiased is not only a legal responsibility, it is also the hallmark of a well-run, successful organization. So please start there, before you rush out and buy all these tools.

(Read about Schneider-Electric’s CEO-driven diversity strategy for more.)

Impressive Tools and Technologies Here To Help

That said, the technologies help a lot – because they give you the data, tools, and secure systems to help managers and individuals self-discover their problems, they help teams understand how to work better, and they help HR managers identify and root out bias and misbehavior in a reliable and protected way.

Let me mention a few.

Vault, a company founded by entrepreneur Neta Meidav, is founded on the finding that 75% of harassment goes unreported. The company’s platform replaces the need for a third party “harassment hotline” and gives employees a highly secure, confidential and private platform to report problems, identify patterns of misbehavior, and automatically capture evidence and a track-record for later investigation. HRAcuity and Spot are similar platforms designed for employee relations management. Bravely and BetterUp also serve this market with AI-recommended coaching to help with leadership problems.

Textio and LinkedIn and GenderDecoder offer tools to help recruiters and hiring managers avoid writing “gender-biased” or “racially-biased” job descriptions, which are essentially an unconscious way to discriminate.

Pymetrics‘ AI-based neurological assessment removes bias from candidate assessment, and has opened up its algorithms to avoid bias in its design. Unilever, McDonald’s, and many other companies now use it to attract a more diverse and globally inclusive workforce.

SAP SuccessFactors and Greenhouse offer reporting tools and interview reports that identify gender and other forms of bias in interviewing, promotion, succession and pay.

STRIVR Labs, Equal Reality, DebiasVR, and others now offer real-world diversity training, putting you directly in an uncomfortable situation to teach you what bias you have and help managers and team leaders improve their own practices and behavior.

Jopwell and Blendoor offer specific solutions for job candidates and hiring teams to use AI and social tools to better attract, identify, and recruit minority candidates in all areas of business. Websites like Fairygodboss, Kununu, Glassdoor, and others let you see how employers rate their companies for diversity and culture.

Ever major HCM platform (ADP, Workday, Oracle, Ultimate Software) is adding reporting and analytics tools to identify pay-equity gaps, helping line managers and HR departments quickly see if various groups are underpaid. There’s really no excuse for vast pay disparities any more, the data alone is enough to encourage change.

Trust: It’s The Most Important Corporate Asset You Have

New laws, tools, and platforms are important. They give organizations the data, security, and information they need to remove bias. But beyond it all, the big issue is Trust. As the Great Place To Work Institute has found over many decades, it isn’t the “HR programs” or “management training” that makes companies great – it’s the sense of trust and responsibility people feel in the organization.

I’ve done many studies on D&I programs and while education and training are clearly important solutions, the most effective companies look at inclusion, diversity, and fairness as “safety” programs. In other words, they consider every violation as a “preventable accident” and put in place measurement systems, tracking, and training to “prevent” such accidents.

Chevron, for example, convenes a series of diversity committees to oversee each and every talent decision (hiring, promotion, movement, salary change). This type of “compliance-oriented” approach reminds everyone that “safety is our #1 priority.”

If you want to build a high-performing company in today’s noisy world of online arguments, name-calling, racial politics, and poor behavior, you simply have to decide that “we are an organization that cares.” And that means dealing with poor behavior in a focused and determined way, investing in the tools and systems to identify and root out bias, and keeping senior leaders involved to make sure every people-related decision is fair.

The Edelman Trust Barometer this year found that global trust in political and social institutions is at a 30 year low, creating a world where the most trusted institutions in the world are our employers. Employees today have deep anxiety about their jobs and skills, so they are relying on their employers to be honest, open, and purposeful.


Inclusion, Trust, and Listening Are Now Keys To Success

Our job as business leaders and HR professionals is to fill this gap, making our work the safest and most inclusive it can be. New tools now make it easier than ever to make sure your company is a safe, fair, and harassment-free place to work. In today’s environment of untamed conversations online, this may be one of the most important strategies you have for business success.

Note: This topic is covered in our new program People as Competitive Advantage in the Josh Bersin Academy, and we are now looking for senior faculty who would like to join us to explore this topic in more detail.