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Building equitable firms requires bias check

From the pages of In Business magazine.

When interviewing someone on the subject of diversity and inclusion, one local training program invariably comes up. Led by Naomi Takahashi, its race and gender equity manager, the YWCA of Dane County offers training to create equitable and inclusive organizations. Their creation, however, could involve some painful self-reflection by individuals and organizations.

The YWCA program now entails a mixture of pre-training consultation and post training follow up. At first, the organization offered such training on an individual skill-based model, where people engaged in racial-justice learning to build their capacities and increase awareness, but it proved difficult to translate that into practice within organizations. More recently, the YWCA has used a model developed by Dr. Kathy Obear, author of Turn the Tide: Rise Above Toxic, Difficult Situations in the Workplace.

Obear has developed a multicultural organizational development tool, which Takahashi describes as a method that moves organizations along a continuum of equity and inclusion. Obear’s train-the-trainer approach led the YWCA to develop a program whose mantra could well be, “Organization, heal thyself.”

“The nice thing about this training is that it actually allows folks to do the actual assessment themselves,” Takahashi explains. “As consultants or people from the outside, we don’t really know the internal culture and organizational needs, so it’s really up to folks in the organization to dedicate themselves to doing that assessment.”

The training is actually the beginning of an internal process that often is a bit of a wretch, especially when it includes the topic of implicit bias and how it impacts hiring decisions. This level of introspection can produce a fair amount of organizational shame, but it’s important to face up to it. Sometimes, the response involves tearing down destructive cultural norms; other times, it involves reconsidering inappropriate, unnecessary job requirements that make building a diverse organization impossible.

As painful as the process can be, it’s also potentially rewarding because of the business benefits of a more diverse workforce — more customers, higher revenues, greater market share, less absenteeism, and less turnover. “The world by 2042 will be much more diverse than it is now,” Takahashi notes, “and we’ll have to include all kinds of folks in the workforce to continue the work that we’re doing.”

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