The last two stages of the talent lifecycle
In our last blog post which you can read at this link, we covered recruitment and onboarding. This post covers the last two stages of the lifecycle of a diverse talent hire: development and retention.
Stage 3: Development
Studies show that leadership opportunities and leadership development training are simply not as accessible to underrepresented groups as it is to the dominant majority in tech. Again, this is often unintentional, but the results are the same.
One reason this happens is that women end up doing more of the “housework” in the company than men -- the less glamorous behind-the-scenes work like taking notes or minutes at meetings -- which does not showcase their unique talents or set them up for being noticed or promoted. In a national study surveying 3000 engineers, female engineers of color were 35% less likely than white men to report having equal access to desirable assignments; white women were 20% less likely. Because women are so busy and so invisible doing these thankless jobs and become identified with low-level activities, they’re not considered or selected when leadership training is available, or when a key job becomes vacant. The guy who knocked it out of the park on the glamour assignment is the only obvious choice. One way to combat this is to rotate the “housework” jobs among members of the team so no one is “stuck” with then and everyone gets a chance to shine.
Performance management is a significant part of most companies’ professional development and it is an area where management attention to unconscious bias is critical. Kieran Synder showed that there is an “abrasiveness bias” in tech and it hurts women disproportionately when it comes to performance reviews. “Men are given constructive suggestions. Women are given constructive suggestions – and told to pipe down,” she writes, as their assertiveness in teams is interpreted much more negatively than the same characteristic is with men. Of the critical performance reviews in her study, men received negative personality criticism in 2 out of 83 reviews. For women, that form of criticism was found in 71 of 94 reviews.
Development is another area where huge payoff is possible by helping tech professionals be clear about their contributions and abilities at work. Performance attribution bias is a fancy way saying that credit is not given where credit is due, and it comes not only from others but from oneself. This brings up the need to coach individuals on the finer points of self-advocacy.
Claudia Schabel of Schabel Solutions noted that it is often difficult for women, in particular, to advocate for oneself. “It is helpful for organizations to counter this with an organizational culture that promotes peer-advocacy and for recognition to be consciously given so it is publicly acknowledged.” Schabel continued, “It is not uncommon in meetings to observe men receiving credit for ideas that originated with female peers, and this can be gracefully handled when a colleague verbally notes, “Yes, that is building off the idea that so-and-so offered moments ago.”
The point of this is that when we create space where all contributions are heard and acknowledged, it is more likely that more people will make contributions. Schabel elaborated: “Rectifying gender imbalance by removing structural barriers to women's professional development and progress is critical to businesses growth."
Here are a few points of potential obstacles and suggested solutions that Schabel Solutions offered:
Stage 4: Retention
If an organization and its leaders do what they can to eradicate both known and unconscious bias in each of the first three stages of the lifecycle, better retention is the logical result. You’ve found, brought in and trained these candidates with as much inclusivity and sensitivity as you can. But what if hiring managers and HR do everything right, and yet they still fail to retain women and minorities? Why do these people still leave?
The role of culture
Sometimes despite the best intentions and actions on the part of managers, the organizational culture is just not yet up to speed with newer, more inclusive hiring practices. There’s a sense of disconnect, disappointment, and even betrayal when candidates who have been attracted and onboarded in a way that makes them feel included and valued, then discover that the workplace culture itself has not gotten with the program.
Small, seemingly innocuous missteps can foment a lot of resentment because of what they represent. Elaine says, “When I was a developer, I would attend a tech conference and come home with a bag of large men's t-shirts, which I promptly doled out to my boyfriend and brother. In the first year it's sort of funny, and even the second year you may not mind, by year five, year 10, year 15... the question becomes, why is there still nothing here for me? Companies need to take a holistic approach to how they treat underrepresented groups at their organizations and make sure they aren't unintentionally sending signals that ‘you do not belong.’ "
The Good News
If we can bake in bias, we can bake in inclusivity - it just takes intention to do it differently. It requires installing a new set of habits at every stage of the talent lifecycle, Recruitment, Onboarding, Development, and Retention. It means giving everyone, not just HR, the memo -- and the responsibility -- of supporting the company’s inclusivity mission.
The good news is, that with time, the new “unconscious bias” will be toward diversity and inclusion in cybersecurity and other tech industries, rather than away from it. How will we know the shift has happened? We’ll see it in the faces of our new hires...especially the women and minorities who are still with us years later.