Giving Everyone a Voice: Best Practices for Inclusion

Diversity, while important, means nothing without giving those diverse folks a voice in the workplace – without making those diverse voices feel included. There are numerous ways to create inclusion, but they must have strong buy-in from leadership.

To create inclusion, it’s important to first understand the concept of “covering.” In its 2013 study Uncovering Talent, Deloitte explained why true inclusion is elusive: “The ideal of inclusion has long been to allow individuals to bring their authentic selves to work. However, most inclusion efforts have not explicitly and rigorously addressed the pressure to conform that prevents individuals from realizing that ideal.”

That pressure to conform is “covering” or hiding parts of us to avoid stigmatization. Deloitte found that an astounding 61% of workers cover parts of themselves at work, including 45% of straight white men. People may hide elements that could draw unwanted attention to their race, religion, health, parental status, political party, and so forth. And when people can’t fully be themselves at work, they under-perform.

How do we create a workplace where the pressure to cover is minimized, where people can truly feel like they belong and can bring their full selves to work? Here are five best practices:

1.    Create psychological safety. Truly inclusive work cultures have psychological safety. This means that people feel safe enough to bring their ideas to the table without fear of rejection from their team. They feel safe enough to take risks. One way to create psychological safety is for leaders to demonstrate this themselves, to show genuine emotion and be vulnerable enough to admit failure, talk about their own fears, concerns, and areas to improve. Google conducted a two year internal study and found that the number one indicator of high performing teams is psychological safety. This really matters.

You can start small to create psychological safety. One health care organization asks employees to smile and greet anyone who comes within 10 feet of them. That’s a small, actionable habit that creates a welcoming environment at work.

2.    Train your team on unconscious bias. Trainings are safe places for people to learn how to behave, and then truly understand that DEI strategies are financially prudent and good for them as leaders. A comprehensive training on unconscious bias, the science behind it, and how to reduce it can go a long way towards better understanding and then empowering the whole team.

3.    Create a DEI council or committee. The goal here is to enlist leaders who will use their seniority to advocate for DEI initiatives. Involve 8-15 volunteer leaders from all parts of the organization, especially those with a large span of responsibility. Their role will be to educate themselves, then drive and inform DEI strategy and initiatives, particularly advocating to the “resisters” at the firm. These council members are not subject matter experts nor a stand-in for a paid DEI team.

4.    Create or strengthen Business Resource Groups (BRGs). Your firm may already have BRGs (also known as Employee Resource Groups or ERGs) – the women’s group, the veteran’s group, the LGBT group, etc. These groups are important spaces for employees to connect with one another while also supporting the firm’s business goals. BRGs should always have a business imperative, which can lead to them being more highly valued by leadership. BRGs should each have a unified strategy, even when there are chapters in different offices. BRGs are an important space where employees can find their voice and sense of belonging in the workplace.

5.    Develop sponsorship programs. Sponsors are senior executives who directly enable their protégées with career advancement, and increase objective career outcomes. Deloitte embedded sponsorship in its culture after a pilot program that paired women in a leadership training program with an executive sponsor. Within a year, nearly all participants had received promotions. You can start small with a sponsorship program, even beginning with one department as a pilot.

Kelly Rau from KPMG wrote in the 2018 Prequin Investor Study, “It also takes having senior men in our industry to sponsor women and help them progress inside of their organizations. Given the number of firms that are run by men, it is vital they be involved, to enable this process to happen much faster.”

This work is not easy, but it’s important to make your firm a more attractive place to work, to reduce turnover, and increase revenue by better understanding the market.

Bernadette Named to Top 25 Women in Meetings List

Equality Institute founder Bernadette Smith was honored earlier this year as one of the “Top 25 Women in Meetings” by Meetings & Conventions magazine.

Bernadette’s background is in weddings and events and although she’s no longer a planner, she understands the importance of creating inclusive meetings and events. In her talks, she addresses not only LGBTQ-inclusivity, but ways to be inclusive of all diverse groups.

What an honor to be included in such a prestigious list!

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Strategies to Increase Diversity in the Hiring Process

You may have heard the story of a man named Jose, who was having no luck on his job applications. He began applying with the name “Joe” instead, and suddenly started receiving calls. The same is true in numerous studies where two resumes were submitted for the same job that were identical in all aspects except for one: the name. Resumes with male names consistently get more calls for interviews than identical resumes with female names.

If you’re reading this, that story probably doesn’t surprise you, so let’s talk about solutions. By now, hopefully you’re clear on the business case for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workforce. And hopefully you’ve successfully made the business case to leadership at your firm. Getting their full support is critical in authentically achieving DEI goals.

Now that you’ve got full buy-in and commitment from the firm’s leaders for a comprehensive DEI strategy, I’ll outline the steps needed to achieve the firm’s DEI goals.

Start with the D: diversity. Diversity is mix of people in an organization. Diversity can be many things: gender identity, race, country of origin, disability, sexuality, generation, gender expression, religion, political ideology, and much more. In this post, I’ll focus on increasing gender diversity – starting with a mini lesson on unconscious bias.

Unconscious bias is the act of instinctively making assumptions about people or things without taking the time to think things through. Every last one of us is guilty of unconscious bias, and it’s because of the ways our brains have been wired for centuries to make decisions quickly to keep us safe – ie, to fight or flight. Unfortunately, unconscious bias leads to a lack of diversity in hiring and promotions. Here are just some of the ways bias leads to less diversity in leadership positions:

•       Gender bias (eg: women are given fewer opportunities than men if they have kids then but then are disliked when they are not seen as nurturing)

•       Association bias (eg: favoring those who went to the same college, are members of the same organization or association, etc)

•       Similarity bias (eg: hiring/promoting someone that is similar to the person who previously had the position, similar to others in the department, and/or similar to the interviewer.

Before undertaking DEI initiatives, I highly encourage your firm to undergo an unconscious bias training, especially for leaders. Establishing a common language and common goals around unconscious bias and diversity will go a long way towards ensuring the success of the programs.

Here are 5 more tips to increase diversity at your firm:

1. Address the pipeline diversity issue. One of the main excuses firms use when explaining a lack of gender diversity is a pipeline issue. They may say that they’re simply not receiving many job applications from qualified women.

In the 2018 Preqin Investor Survey, Sandra Legrand from Alter Domus shared, “Diversity begins at the lower levels, starting with private equity education programs in universities to build up a pipeline of talent. Stirring up the curiosity of young women by sharing knowledge and experience, as well as participating in coaching and mentoring programs, will lead to increased diversity within our industry.”

Legrand’s advice is a great first step towards diversifying your firm’s workforce. 

2. Weed out biased words in job descriptions. Job descriptions often have hidden biases that attract male candidates over women. For example, driven, competitive, and analyze are male-biased words while collaborate, loyal, and support are words that are female-biased. There’s actually a solution to the unconscious biases that show up in job descriptions: Textio software notices biases when someone is typing a job description and suggests more neutral changes. This simple change will begin to attract a more balanced talent pool.

3. Remove identifying data from resumes. Software such as Ideal strips all identifying details (including name, location, and affiliations) from a resume so decisions who to bring in for interviews are less biased. This allows interviewers to seek out candidates based on their qualifications, not based on any biases that may show up unconsciously.

4. Have collaborative interviews with standardized questions. Collaborative hiring with diverse team members reduces bias because more voices are part of the process. For those interviews, use standardized, role-based interview questions which are important for many reasons: they force interviewers to focus on the factors that affect job performance; and if a scorecard with a scale is used as part of the process, this data can inform future hiring.

5. Give a work sample test. WeSolv is an online platform which connects diverse MBAs with companies by creating online practical “challenges” that job seekers can anonymously solve. Employers can then choose candidates based on practical experience and fit – not based on the hidden biases they may bring to the hiring process. WeSolv and other work sample platforms allow performance to be a direct factor in hiring.

These strategies are by no means a panacea, but should make a impact on gender diversity when used together along with strong support from leadership.

How to Make the Business Case for Diversity and Inclusion

“Women account for less than 10% of senior positions in the private equity industry: a lower proportion than that of other alternative asset classes with no apparent reason. In an industry so vast in terms of investment opportunities and nature, any increased diversity – not just in gender – in management should be of benefit to the whole industry,” shared Sandra Legrand of Alter Domus in the 2018 Preqin Investor Survey.

We know you aren’t surprised by this statistic in only one industry – the fact that you’re reading this article reinforces that.  We believe it doesn’t have to be this way.

The need for diversity and inclusion may seem obvious to us, but perhaps it's a harder "sell" to the powers that be. Here are some strong selling points to make the case for diversity and benefit your bottom line.

You'll better understand the needs of your target client.

When a workforce is diverse, that talent has a broader understanding of the needs of their diverse clients. Naturally, when an organization better understands the needs of its target market, they can better innovate their products and services – and that leads to an increase in revenue. 

According to their 2016 analysis of more than 20,000 global firms, McKinsey found that companies leading in executive board diversity had returns that were 53% higher than others. Organizations with high rates of female executives are also more profitable.

McKinsey & Co also found that companies that exhibit gender and ethnic diversity are, respectively, 15 percent and 35 percent more likely to perform better than those that don't. Their research shows that organizations with more racial and gender diversity also have better sales revenue, more customers and higher profits.


You'll save money in employee turnover.

Diversity is either a sexy or terrifying word, depending on whom you’re talking to – but there’s no doubt that it matters. Not only can comprehensive DEI strategies lead to higher revenue, but they can also save companies money in employee turnover.

35% of the workforce is made up of Millennials, those who most value diversity. Generation Z is bigger still - and right behind them. We must pay attention to their needs. 66 percent of the millennials (including 57% of those in senior positions) expect to change jobs in the next five years, according to Deloitte’s 2016 Millennial survey. And, according to, 67% of job seekers said that a diverse workforce is an important factor when evaluating companies and job offers.

All this, yet many large firms still don’t have comprehensive diversity and inclusion policies in place - and many do not have paid staff dedicated to this opportunity.

“Part of this conversation is about the bottom line and superior returns, but I think part of it is also about the extraordinarily talented female portfolio managers that exist. If the conversation and the need for diversity is not being talked about and prioritized within their firms, then those top talents will find firms where diversity is a top conversation” Kelly Rau, Audit Partner, KPMG, wrote in the 2018 Preqin Investor Survey.


You'll create champions of your brand. 

While diverse teams are important, a comprehensive diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy is necessary to truly reap financial benefits. Diversity is the people: the mix of everyone on the team. Inclusion is the strategy of ensuring the diverse mix of people feel welcome, are given a voice, and permission to truly be themselves at work. Without comprehensive inclusion strategies that include buy-in from leadership, diversity is ultimately shallow and employees will leave.

According to Gallup, ”Companies with highly engaged workforces outperform their peers by 147% in earnings per share.” An engaged, included workforce means that employees can express their passions at work, allowing them to effectively be champions of projects that will ultimately advance the company’s mission. Their passion leads them to be agents of positive change within the company.   

Even companies like Johnson & Johnson, Prudential, and Kellogg that pride themselves on their heritage and tradition are prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategies and are now considered among the top 50 Companies for Diversity, according to DiversityInc.

Diversity and inclusion work has to be authentic and you can't just check boxes -- or it won’t work. You now know some of the facts on why diversity contributes to the bottom line, next we'll show you HOW to implement a program that is genuine, authentic and truly drives results.

This work is hard but the rewards are great. With authentic investment from leadership, and a comprehensive DEI strategy, private equity firms will see benefits that go far beyond increased revenue. In the next three articles, I’ll share tips on how to set a comprehensive DEI strategy.

The Use of Artificial Intelligence to Minimize HR Bias (part 2)

Note: this is part two of two posts on how artificial intelligence can be used to reduce bias in various Human Resources processes. This article was co-written by Bernadette Smith and Rhodes Perry. You can read part one here.

So how do we prevent AI from perpetuating these biases in Human Resources processes? We offer five key strategies to consider that will help you keep unconscious biases in check. These strategies include:

1)   Expose Workplace Bias

2)   Train AI to Spot Bias

3)   Offer AI Transparency

4)   Acknowledge Workplace Culture

5)   Monitor & Audit AI

When used properly, these strategies can actually help circumvent bias. After reviewing this section, you will realize that making these careful considerations now will give your organization a competitive advantage over other leaders in your industry.

1)    Expose Workplace Bias

As technology advances, AI will take on more sophisticated decisions, like identifying new markets where a company can be profitable, or finding the most qualified candidates for jobs by supporting HR to look beyond dominate groups or traditional referral networks.

Before programming AI to take on these tasks, we must first design algorithms and leverage AI to expose our individual and organizational biases. By taking this action, AI will have the ability to spot bias with respect to organizational decision making, and help redirect us to make more fair and accurate decisions that are in the best interest of the organization’s performance, growth, and profit.

For example, say an organization has historically fallen short of recruiting and hiring qualified women for leadership positions. The senior executive team recognizes this historical trend, and they want to change it to get more women in their executive pipeline. When programmed correctly, AI can help the organization examine past job postings for gender biased language, which may have discouraged some applicants from pursuing these positions.

Updating job postings using gender neutral language can increase the number of women applicants & ultimately have more women in the leadership pipeline. Once your talent pipeline has become more diverse, AI can help track the pattern of hiring decisions made by individual managers, and alert them—and HR leadership —if hidden biases against female candidates (or candidates from other underrepresented groups) arise.

2)    Train AI to Spot Bias 

In order to train AI to spot bias, your team must first carefully program the algorithms. For the organization committed to recruiting more women for executive positions, programmers must consider how candidates for executive positions are recruited starting with the job announcements.

By programming AI to spot gender biased terms like outspoken and aggressively pursuing opportunities, terms proven to attract male job applicants, and other terms like caring and flexible, which do the opposite, AI can help alert recruiters to their unconscious biases when drafting job announcements.

The initial process of training AI to spot bias currently will require a high level of human intervention. Fortunately, the more your organization invests on the front end to train AI to spot bias, the more sophisticated your HR team will become to avoid replicating unconscious biases for this aspect of your workload.

Similarly, companies should look for specificity in how they program AI to search for new talent as there’s no one-size-fits-all definition of the best engineer. Rather, there is only the best engineer for one particular role or project at one particular time. When carefully programmed, AI is well suited to find the ideal candidate for that role or project. 

Offer AI Transparency

Humans create AI, and all humans are prone to bias. Therefore, we must be extremely careful that we are not confirming biases or introducing new ones when training AI, especially when using AI to meet our HR needs.  In order to overcome these biases, it’s important to create a system of checks-and-balances with safety standards in mind.

In Cathy O’Neil’s 2016 best-selling book, Weapons of Math Destruction, she says that automotive companies wouldn’t design a car and send it out into the world without knowing whether it’s safe. Safety standards are at the center of a car design, and by the same token, algorithms have to be designed with fairness and legality in mind with standards that are understood by everyone, from the business leader to the people being served. 

To try our best at riding algorithms of bias, some call for transparency in how they are constructed. Transparency at its most basic level is knowing whether or not a human or machine is making decisions online. Given the growing influence AI has in how it is shaping our world, it is critical that we know when a machine is making a decision, and to also know the rationale for how it made the decision.  

When algorithms affect human rights, public values or public decision-making we need oversight and transparency. Unfortunately most algorithms are opaque for the average outside user to understand how they are constructed. Therefore, some are strongly urging AI programmers to first consider the values and desired results of various AI technologies before designing them to ensure they are in the best interest of the public.

At this point, there is no silver bullet to holding AI accountable to the impact it has on the public. Fortunately, there is some good news with respect to concerns around transparency. A collaboration between Facebook, Google, Microsoft, IBM, and Amazon has established the Partnership on AI. The group was formed to increase the transparency of algorithms and automated processes, ultimately keeping AI in check.

Acknowledge Workplace Culture

While we may have a vision for creating a future workplace culture where we all can show up as our authentic selves, it’s also critical to acknowledge that for most workplaces, we aren’t there yet. It doesn’t take sophisticated predictive modeling to determine, for example, that women are disproportionately likely to jump off the corporate ladder at the halfway point because some may be struggling with balancing the demands of their jobs with the demands of their family.  

An organization committed to smart talent management will ask what it is about the demands of senior level positions that make them incompatible with women’s lives, rather than assuming that women simply aren’t qualified for executive level positions. When the leadership team begins asking these questions about their workplace culture, they are then responsible for exploring what they can do to shift it so that their organization doesn’t lose the talent and institutional knowledge of women, or incurs the high costs of replacing them.

When leaders take this responsibility, they can supplement their efforts by applying a second layer of machine learning that looks at its own suggestions and makes further recommendations. For example, AI can be programmed in the following manner: “It looks like you’re trying to do X, so consider doing Y,” where X might be promoting more women to executive level positions, making the workforce more ethnically diverse, or improving retention statistics, and Y is redefining job responsibilities with greater flexibility, hosting recruiting events in communities of color, or redesigning benefits packages based on what similar companies offer.

Monitor & Evaluate AI

When correctly programmed, AI excels at alerting us to workplace bias; however, in isolation it cannot eliminate it. In order to reduce workplace bias, it’s up to all of us to pay attention to the existence of bias, leverage AI to spot it, and work together to overcome it.

As we begin to entrust AI with more complex and consequential decisions, it’s critical that we continuously monitor, evaluate, and train AI over the long-term, just as we educate our people, to stay up to speed on the latest changes in our industries to remain relevant and competitive. The most proactive organizations programming AI to do good will be best positioned to leverage AI to help their organization perform well. 

For more information about the power and pitfalls of AI, please consider watching a webinar we facilitated earlier this year for International Association for Human Resource Information Management members.