Image by Matthew Henry

Learning From the Rescinded Diversity Training Ban

President Joe Biden held his post for only a few hours before rescinding former President Donald Trump’s executive order banning some forms of diversity and inclusion training.

The highly controversial order, executive order 13950, prohibited federal contractors from implementing training programs that promote “race and sex stereotyping and scapegoating.” It was signed as the country reeled from mounting racial tension and a pandemic that exposed severe inequalities. Ultimately, the order was met with lawsuits and blocked by a federal judge on First Amendment grounds.

In an effort to shift the federal government’s focus back to equity, President Biden revoked the ban immediately. Now, compliance professionals are taking a hard look at the goals of diversity training and affirmative action compliance. Specifically, they’re wondering how to move companies forward in light of the revocation.

How Compliance Professionals Received the Revocation

It’s easy to assume that compliance professionals embraced Biden’s rescission of Trump’s executive order. After all, more than 160 organizations—including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—called upon Trump to reconsider the order. Their reaction illustrates the danger of using unilateral government action rather than the legislative process to make major changes.

Although the intent of the executive order was fairly clear, it permitted the federal government to punish employers for “unpopular” speech in a way that was overly broad in application. This put employers in a challenging position, which is why many halted diversity and inclusion training altogether. As a result, this chilled efforts to prioritize anti-racism training at a time when diversity and inclusion messaging mattered the most.

When companies really looked at the hard numbers behind discrimination in corporate America last year, it became clear that we have a long way to go to reach a state of equality. Diversity and inclusion messages and training play a big part in that, but they only work when they bring everyone in—not when they call some people out and let exclusion and intolerance germinate.

The Forgotten Voices in Affirmative Action Compliance

Despite evidence of systemic racism in America, many Americans still resist the notions of equality and nondiscrimination. For some, these attitudes stem from a place of hatred and animosity. Others don’t see why diversity training is important because they fear these initiatives will put them at a disadvantage. On the opposite side of the spectrum, progressives sometimes lump these people into baskets and treat anyone who disagrees with their views as unsalvageable.

Too many misconceptions exist because of poorly communicated diversity and inclusion messages. Speaking down to people who question the goals of diversity training or treating them like they need to be “saved” won’t create a more inclusive workplace.

Lasting change begins with reaching out to people who do not understand or support the goals of diversity training and hearing the reasons why. 

After all, if you work to really understand why people are resistant in the first place, you can create the right messages to help them see the practical benefits of diversity and inclusion work. Leaving workers who think differently out of the conversation is not the answer.

How Revoking a Ban Became a Band-Aid

The fundamental goal of diversity training should be enlightenment, which can be emotional for those new to the idea. So if you’re going to dig deeper into social science, prepare to do some social work. If you’re teaching people to be more sensitive to others but show only insensitivity toward them, expect poor results.

Because of these realities, compliance professionals must take diversity training a little bit deeper. Right now, companies largely double down on anti-bias training and diversity and inclusion messages when there is a crisis or a public relations disaster. That’s the wrong approach. Successful programs require an understanding of skeptical people and a long-term commitment. Don’t coddle employees who struggle with the concept. But also make sure they don’t leave training sessions feeling shamed or ridiculed.

Unfortunately, many diversity training efforts fail due to skepticism or improper implementation. That’s because people react to them differently, and sometimes in unexpected ways. Still, compliance professionals should carefully examine the ban created by President Trump’s executive order, its revocation, and how to now get doubtful audiences on board.

Charting a New Course in Changing Times

As you renew complex discussions about equality and inclusion, do so with care and compassion. Here are a few ways to ensure more success in diversity training and affirmative action compliance moving forward:

1. Review your compliance and diversity training programs

Take some time to look at your communication. What message does this training send? Does it feel inclusive or exclusive? Your communication should convey the idea that everyone belongs. This requires identifying, recognizing, and confronting what “good” people experience, including the trainers. Fear is human, so keep compassion top of mind.

2. Do not alienate the other side

Both sides of the political spectrum can house inequality. The answer to discrimination and division cannot be more discrimination and division. It is hard to gain credibility if you host programs that attack one side of the political spectrum. And why go into these critical conversations knowing you’ll offend at least 47.4 percent of the population?

3. Be skeptical of trending ideas

Although it is tempting to subscribe to every “breakthrough” idea, research it before you incorporate it. Yes, people are having a lot of great conversations right now about race theory and dominant culture systems. But fixing race relations takes time, thought, and hard work. You need more than flashy concepts with a “just do this” or “just do that” prescription.

4. Support outreach statements with action

Saying your “door is open” with no meaningful action is not enough. Actively reach out to employees and provide opportunities for them to share negative feedback—and not just positive thoughts. If you provide programs without getting feedback on your messaging, you’ve failed employees. Without input from others, diversity training becomes unilateral and chilling, much like the executive order. Instead, use feedback to achieve meaningful, lasting change.

If diversity training and affirmative action compliance were easy, it would be a non-issue at most companies; however, that is not the case. If you are exploring new ways to address inequality in the workplace, communication is key. It’s time to collaborate with employees—with varying current belief systems—to address systemic racism in a way that works.

Employers May Soon Base Hiring Decisions on Your Social Media Posts. Will They “Like” You?

In almost every hiring process, there are competent, qualified candidates who don’t get a job offer.

Ask people why this is, and they might suggest such things as strong competition, poor interview skills or a lack of experience in a particularly important area. Few would answer: “because they put too many exclamation marks in their private Facebook statuses.”

Yet this could indeed be a hiring deal breaker in the not-too-distant future. Why? Because our social media profiles are set to become ever-more important to employers. Even seemingly minor traits, like our punctuation choices, will influence our job prospects.

Mirror, Mirror, on the Facebook Wall

Our social media reveals a lot about us. It shows who our friends are, where we work, what music we listen to, where we go on holiday, and even what we’re thinking, in the form of status updates or tweets.

Even our “likes” can reveal a great deal about us, as a research team at the University of Cambridge found out. Their computer program analyzed the Facebook likes of volunteers before making predictions about aspects of their personality. After just ten likes, the computer proved a better judge of a person’s character than their colleagues. Given 70 likes, the computer could outperform a friend, and 150 likes made it more accurate than a family member. After shifting through 300 of your Facebook likes, this computer would know you better than your partner or spouse.

The average Facebook user has 227 “likes”. Michael Kosinski, the lead researcher, enthuses about his technology’s potential to transform recruitment.

Why Would Employers Want This? 

For many hiring managers, pinning down the personality of their applicants is key. This is because they want to employ a great “culture fit”; someone whose temperament suits the aims and ethos of the business and the role. Such employees gel better with existing staff members, stay longer, and perform better.

Moreover, Kosinski’s data can be used to analyze a candidate’s competence in the various soft skills employers look for – things like responsibility, decisiveness and self-motivation. Still wondering about those exclamation marks? The reason they may be regarded as a warning sign by hiring managers is because people who overuse them on their social media also tend to be reckless and overconfident.

Our social media is filled with similar tells. Claiming on your CV that you’re responsible and diligent? Better check that when you make plans with friends you use precise instructions (“let’s meet at 7.30pm”) rather than general, open-ended comments (“let’s meet tonight”).

When Will Employers Start Using This Data?

Odds are, very soon. In fact, an attempt to use social media to judge people was announced by the insurer Admiral in late 2016. Admiral planned to use the data to generate car insurance quotes for drivers. (And yes, an abundance of exclamation points would have worked against you). Unfortunately for Admiral, Facebook blocked the project, citing privacy concerns.

However, there’s no guarantee that Facebook – or indeed, any other social media platform – will always refuse to hand over its data. Moreover, employers are already using social media to make decisions about candidates, as hundreds of internet stories of people being caught with inappropriate photos, statuses and comments will attest.

Companies are also likely to put pressure on candidates to voluntarily share their data, perhaps by forcing job applicants to apply via Facebook.

Are There Any Benefits for Candidates? 

Yes! One’s of Admiral’s reasons for its social-media scheme was to offer cheaper insurance to new drivers who couldn’t prove their responsibility through years of no-claims history. Inexperienced job seekers could similarly gain. If their social media proves that they are hard-working and reliable, employers may be more willing to take a risk on them despite a lack of work experience or hard skills. That will help both ambitious career starters and people who want to make a career change later in life.

Moreover, the culture fit employers are screening for is important for candidates too. Having a job that suits your work habits and interests will make you happier and more successful. Indeed, because different companies want different things from candidates, most personality traits thrown up by social media analysis will strengthen your application in certain companies. Exclamation-mark-users may be sought out by employers who want staff who try new things and take risks.

What About the Negatives?

There are legitimate downsides to placing too much emphasis on data-driven decision making. For a start, although the software can detect personality traits with impressive accuracy, it is still fallible.

Moreover, it ignores the fact that many people are capable of adopting and sustaining a more professional personality for the workplace. Just because someone uses text speak on Twitter, for example, does not mean that they are incapable of creating well-written client emails. People change, but social media is forever. Software that burrows far into the past when making judgements may assess people only as they were once, and not as they are now.

Once this software is widely employed, savvy candidates will simply edit their social media to reflect the qualities employers want. Not only will this negate the point of the software, such manipulation of personal expression is enough to send George Orwell spinning in his grave.

The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same

Being judged on your Facebook likes seems like a terrifying prospect. But the fact is that employers have been using even the slightest of signals to make sweeping decisions about candidates for years. CVs containing a single typo have been unceremoniously thrown out. Middle-aged candidates are assessed on academic results they gained decades ago.

Incorporating our social media data into the hiring process will not eliminate bias and unfairness. Neither will it exacerbate it. No matter how much our technology advances, job hunting and hiring is likely to remain a process that is challenging, time-consuming, and, occasionally, unfathomable.

Photo Credit: Edkent media Flickr via Compfight cc