Consultant: Businesses can increase diversity using data

The Vantage Group says objective benchmark of essential traits, skills can reduce bias in hiring, promoting.
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Darrell Crawford and Missy Jackson of The Vantage Group say employers often don’t realize their actions in hiring and promotion are leading contributors to the bias problem. Courtesy of The Vantage Group

A local consulting firm says it can help create true diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the talent pipeline through data-driven assessment tools and benchmarking.

As more and more companies are making commitments to prioritizing DEI in the workforce, often what they don’t realize is their actions in the hiring and promotion process are leading contributors to the problem.

That’s according to Missy Jackson, who is co-managing partner at The Vantage Group in Grand Rapids, along with Darrell Crawford.

Jackson said her firm has been addressing the issue of eliminating unconscious bias in companies’ talent decisions for nearly 20 years. The firm’s solution is to use data-driven assessment tools and benchmarking to make decisions based on skill and potential rather than gut feelings.

While this sounds like something every business should do, Jackson said most organizations make decisions related to recruiting, hiring, onboarding, development and advancement with a bias toward those who are similar to themselves, whether they realize it or not.

When companies lack diversity, rather than blaming it on the internal culture or external factors, employers should understand it’s often due to the unconscious bias in their approach.

Jackson said employers can reduce this bias by participating in a process that includes assessment, benchmarking, coaching and opportunities for leadership development for employees. The suite of tools The Vantage Group uses come from its data partner, Phoenix-based TTI. She said unlike other tools, the TTI suite has the ability to steer the decision-making process across the entire talent lifecycle.

“A lot of the competitive products that are out there don’t offer the ability to be able to help and support from the recruiting and hiring aspects to the development to succession planning and to internal promotion aspects,” she said.

The Vantage Group uses the TTI product to create custom benchmarks for a given employer’s open position(s) using input from hiring managers, supervisors, previous employees who successfully held that role and team members with whom the candidate would need to collaborate. The benchmarks they look to create include a mix of technical and soft skills.

“We identify who the right people are to help us identify those key accountabilities and what is really needed for success in that role. We bring them through a whole assessment process where they answer a bunch of different questions, and the result is that we get a benchmark that tells us key ranges for success on varying aspects,” including behaviors, motivators, competencies, acumen and other metrics, Jackson said.

Once the benchmark is established, matching a candidate to a role through the hiring and promotion process becomes more of a process of in-depth interviewing and assessing, rather than relying on bullet points on a resume, such as where a person went to school and what previous jobs they held. Jackson refers to the latter as a “pedigree”-first approach to talent considerations.

“We tend to focus on the wrong things,” Jackson said. “(Our approach) is not going to solve bias completely, but it is going to level the playing field and make sure that everybody has been given a fair look. …

“And if you have a range of employees that all can check that box and employers still continue to show a tendency to not hire people that are coming from more diverse makeups, whether that’s gender, ethnicity or race … you now have a way to objectively look back at what those decisions are and to hold people accountable.”

Studies have shown diverse businesses have better creative thinking abilities and bring different perspectives than businesses with homogenous employees, Jackson said. If the workforce is compared to a baseball team, it doesn’t make sense look for an entire team of pitchers, she said.

Additionally, there’s a competitive advantage to DEI. A 2018 McKinsey report showed that companies in the top quartile for workforce diversity are 33% more likely to financially outperform their less diverse competitors, Jackson said.

While the TTI tools The Vantage Group uses are Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant, and they can help with bias removal in the talent management process, Jackson conceded they will not help employers find new external pools of applicants. The need to cast a wider net by promoting job openings in unfamiliar spaces is a separate issue the firm can help clients address.

The Vantage Group has success stories that have come out of this approach to diversifying the talent pipeline. A software firm client was able to diversify its gender makeup by over 30% over the course of a few years, including appointing its first female managing partner. Jackson said the company’s openness about its commitment to and success with diversifying its workforce had a snowball effect in attracting more female applicants who were interested in being in a gender diverse environment.

When it comes time for internal talent assessments of existing employees, Jackson said the TTI system allows hiring managers to highlight one benchmark and rank all of the assessed employees within the database in order of who is best aligned with that benchmark. She said this is helpful in large organizations in which employers struggle with pigeonholing talent or even just keeping track of who is on their payroll.

As hiring managers scroll through the list of best fits, the ranking system also can trigger thoughts of how to develop and mentor the employees farther down on the list who show potential, so that next time a position opens up, they can be ready. She said this will help with diverse employee retention, as well.

Jackson said using benchmarking and assessment can help organizations move from making reactive changes to proactive changes.

“It’s being able to say, ‘Hey, we’re committed to this. We want to make a difference in our organization in diversity and inclusion’ and actually having systemic change implemented into your organization.”

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