Hacking Our Biases: How Tech Can Accelerate Us Towards a Quantum Leap in Inclusion

Jennifer Brown | |

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Stacia Sherman Garr, co-founder, analyst, thought leader, and speaker, joins the program to discuss some of the various technologies that can help create more inclusive workplaces. Stacia discusses how technology is being used to solve issues such as removing gender biased language from job descriptions, and cautions about the potential for bias within AI. Discover how to make employee resource groups more effective, and what organizations can do to help women advance in their careers.

In this episode you’ll discover:

  • How attending a women’s college changed Stacia’s perspective (3:20)
  • Different categories of tech vendors relative to diversity and inclusion  (7:00)
  • A technology that helps remove gender biased language in job descriptions (13:00)
  • An application that helps analyze organizational culture (22:00)
  • The potential for bias within AI (26:00)
  • What organizations can do to advance women (31:00)
  • How to make employee resource groups more effective (36:00)
  • The difference in social networks for men and women (44:00)
  • How to access additional data and research (46:00)

Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:

JENNIFER BROWN: Stacia, welcome to The Will to Change.

STACIA GARR: Thanks so much for having me today. It’s a delight to be here.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yep. I’m so excited to hear about your research, and I first learned about RedThread and your work because I was investigating the diversity and inclusion technology space. So we’re going to dive into that today in great detail, talk about the players, some of the problems that are being solved for with new technology and where we still have yet to go in terms of tech that doesn’t even exist yet, in terms of being more than just technology but actually solutions for these persistent problems that we see with closing the gap on all sorts of fronts.

So I’m excited to dive into that. But we always start The Will to Change with our diversity stories, and I want to open that up to you and invite you to tell us a little bit about what sparked your passion for this focus that you have and what informs your interest in diversity on a personal level.

STACIA GARR: Yeah. It’s kind of interesting. My mom was very forward-thinking when I was growing up, and it never really occurred to me as something except for my dad would often say, “Well, there goes your liberal mother spouting these ideas.” I was young, I didn’t really understand what he was talking about. But then as I got older, I came to appreciate it.

So my mom was a … she was a lawyer. She went back to law school when I was two and she was 42, and she got her law degree and then she practiced law in Tucson, Arizona, where I’m from, in the 1980s. And that was not an easy time to be a woman lawyer. It certainly wasn’t an easy time to be an older mother and also a woman lawyer. So she was very strong in her beliefs and her perspective that women could do anything, that women were equal, et cetera. And so that was an early message for me. And when it came time to go to college, I had these two options. One was to go to the University of Arizona, which was a very well-known path. Everybody I knew was a Wildcat, and I was very proud to be a Wildcat and had actually even accepted a scholarship and was going in that direction.

And then I just had this sense in my belly that I wasn’t doing the right thing. And I had applied to a few other places including, somewhat randomly, a women’s college in Virginia. And at the very last moment, I put the brakes on. I said, “I’m not going to be a Wildcat. I’m going to go to this school, this women’s college that I’ve never been to, that people say amazing things about, but I’m just going to go in this completely different direction.” And that experience being at a woman’s college and then actually immediately after that my grad school experience where I contrasted the single sex education with a co-ed education.

Again, I’d been in co-ed education until then. Really highlighted for me how women and men’s interactions can be different and how those interactions can then translate to the classroom and then to the workforce. So that started my … that was kind of my early journey. I put it a bit on hold for actually quite a long time when I was doing research on other parts of organizations but as the time came right when I was at Deloitte to look at that space again. It was very much so a natural home for me from a just philosophical perspective.

JENNIFER BROWN: So you were comfortable in consulting and then you would subsequently found your own firm and really focus in then on diversity and inclusion technology and a couple other areas, which I also want to talk to you about today and tell us about why D&I technology? How do you define it? Why did you feel it was compelling? Tell us more about RedThread Research and your focus areas and why you find those sort of cutting edge topics.

STACIA GARR: Yeah, so when I was with Bersin by Deloitte I led the diversity and inclusion research that we did there and was seeing this explosion of interest in the subject but when we started that research in 2013 I would ask folks, “Well what are you doing with regard to technology on this topic?” And I got the equivalent of blank stares. People saying, “Oh, well I think it’s, maybe it’s technology that helps with accessibility, website accessibility,” which is good and important, absolutely, absolutely need it, but it wasn’t really what I was going for.

So, anyway, I sort of took that as a note and then continued the research we were doing. Fast forward five years later, and it was … and I decided to launch RedThread with my co-founder, Dani Johnson, and we were talking about, “What do we think’s changed in the world?” And after that we’d had kind of the big Me Too movement in late 2017. I said, “You know what? I think there’s probably something with tech in D&I.” I had just had this sense that something shifted.

And so she … so I actually put something on LinkedIn and asked, “Does anybody know of any technologies that’s focused here?” And my LinkedIn just exploded. We had people who had ideas and comments and so I said, “Wow, there’s really something here.” And so that began really a quest to figure out what was there and the report that we eventually wrote, the first version of it, we had 105 vendors. So going from knowing maybe five or six off the top of my head to 105 over the course of less than a year really kind of paralleled the explosion that we were seeing in the market.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. And so subsequently you’re hearing about more all the time. I know I hear about a lot and you categorized them into things like acquisition, development, employee engagement and retention, analysis. I mean so you’ve literally got so many now that you can actually quantify the categories that they’re being developed in, and by proxy, what are some of the hot topics then that we’re trying to solve for and also the addressable market size, too. How much investment is being needed in these companies, et cetera. So tell us a little bit about those, the categories you’ve been using or buckets, if you will, what types of technology is being created to solve what problems?

STACIA GARR: Yeah, so one of the most important things to think about is first, what types of vendors are out there? So who’s even developing these technologies and we think about them in three groups. One is what are called D&I focused vendors. So these are organizations whose sole reason for being is helping with diversity and inclusion challenges. And we found those were about 33% of the vendors in our survey.

The second group is called D&I feature vendors and they are those who offer a particular feature or functionality that caters specifically to D&I needs, but that’s not their core business. That’s not their primary business, shall we say. And that’s about 30% of vendors.

And then we found this other group, which we call D&I friendly vendors. Meaning that they’re not going directly at D&I but their solution could have a positive impact on diversity and inclusion. And that’s nearly at 37%. The reason I mention this before going into the more detailed categories is because it gets at really the flavor or the amount of focus that we see from some of these different vendors. So we might have a talent acquisition solution, talent acquisition is the biggest group within the talent lifecycle. We might have a talent acquisition solution that’s only a friendly vendor, right?

But there may be somebody who’s a real focused vendor. So there’s levels of gradation within each of the overall groups and that’s important to think about as anybody’s who’s looking to consume a solution or to use it because their vendor will be a specialist to different levels of degree.

So that said, like you said we group them into four primary groups, talent acquisition, advancement and development, engagement and retention and analytics and then we’ve got 13 subcategories underneath those. But really anything in the talent lifecycle you could find a technology solution today that would help you address it.

JENNIFER BROWN: So great. I’m so glad you’re quantifying this market because I don’t even think the market knows about each other of if they do they think their tool is the best and it leaves the buyer in sort of bewildered state and even just the choice of going with a specialist versus a broader solution with a D&I function or focus area. Even a decision like that can be tricky.

So tell us about some of the companies, some of your favorite companies in each of these categories and what is the challenge they’re going after and maybe where do you think tech is a perfect way to go after a certain problem because tech is not always the right tool to use to create change.

STACIA GARR: Yeah, and actually in fact it’s often the wrong tool.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, indeed. I was going to say that.

STACIA GARR: We write a lot about tech so I feel I can say that with almost like-

JENNIFER BROWN: With love.

STACIA GARR: A mother’s love. Yeah.

JENNIFER BROWN: Very true.

STACIA GARR: So to talk about the problems that they’re trying to solve, first off, about 43% of these vendors say that they’re trying to solve the problem of unconscious bias in some sort of way. So certainly that could be unconscious bias training in the learning space but it’s also unconscious bias potentially on the part of recruiters or hiring managers when they’re bringing somebody into the organization. So that’s the biggest one.

After that they say they’re trying to address a lack of D&I analytics or insights or just going strictly at the talent acquisition angle, inadequately diverse talent pipelines. That could also be internal leadership pipelines, as well, actually. But those are the three main challenges that folks are trying to solve at a high level.

When we think about what are they actually doing … I’m going to start talking a little bit about talent acquisition, some of the vendors that we’ve seen and then go into the other spaces later. In the first one, within talent acquisition, they’re either looking at candidate sourcing or selection and there’s one vendor that a lot of folks have heard of, so I’m going to mention them first and then we can kind of build from there.

The one that’s very common is one called Textio, which is a solution, which is, they call it an augmented writing platform. So basically the way that has a D&I application is that there’s some research that shows, particularly for Western, North American individuals that the way that something is … our job description is written will either be … it can be off putting, in particular to women, if it’s written with a certain masculine tone and so the technology solution that they have will highlight where some of this might be happening in your job description that you’re writing and it’ll also do things like, “You haven’t written enough, it’s not specific enough” and give you some additional guidance.

But the idea here is to make job descriptions more palatable for a wider group of individuals, which can be really helpful in bringing in, particularly in this example, women into the talent pipeline, at least not keeping them out of it. Part of the reason that Textio been so well received is that there are very clear analytics around what the job application rates were for the different genders before Textio was implemented versus after and often in HR technology we’re not able to quantify impact but Textio’s done a really nice job of doing that so that’s one of the reasons they’re the most common.

JENNIFER BROWN: I talk about Textio all the time and people in my audiences are just amazed. I think they’re most amazed to learn not that a technology exists that does that but it forces them to wrestle with the possibility that the way we write about someone’s performance or the way that we craft a job description may literally, with the words we choose, repel a certain generation … a certain gender or attract a certain gender, more or less. And I think that that, in and of itself, I don’t think has crossed a lot of people’s minds and so we really, when technology can quickly show us our own biases in the written form it’s so powerful and you only need to learn that lesson once.

Words like, rock star or ninja, I wonder if you have your favorite words that Textio tends to point out but to learn that those words when they’re incorporated into a job description will actually repel female candidates and then we end up, in my world, at the conversation about “Well we can’t find this diverse pipeline. They’re just not there.” I think this gives us such a critical alternative lens to look at why aren’t they there? Are they there but they don’t want to come because they don’t want to work for a company that sends off these signals that has totally unexplored bias in terms of how they write up their core processes, for example.

So, yeah, I love the stories of Textio and there are so many grateful customers out there that use that tool. I think there’s even a free version too.

But this is, even not alone, I think would really remove a lot of the bias that we all pick up on, whether it’s subconsciously or consciously, it can be really small things like one word or two words but all of these things contribute to breaking, I think breaking the trust that we really need to be building in order to diversify our organizations.

STACIA GARR: Yeah, no, I think that’s true and there’s two things that you said that I think are important to note. One is the power of the words that we write. So it’s certainly the case within job descriptions but as you mentioned, performance reviews, it’s there as well. We write up some review of somebody and there’s research and then there’s actually a vendor that we profiled in the report called Zugata, it’s since been acquired by Culture Amp. But where they would look at performance reviews and classify the language whether it was focused more on personality or work output and they found that the feedback that was given to women was much higher likelihood to be focused on personality than work output compared to men.

And so you think about what that is compounding over time and the value that we put on personality versus work output and what we reward and you start to see really the, some of the cumulative effects of the changes that we need to make in order to make for a more transparent workplace and a more equitable workplace.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right.

STACIA GARR: The other thing I was going to say is, really gets at what I think the value of this technology can be, because you mentioned that you can get feedback on the words you write and it’s unbiased feedback, right. You’re seeing a tool that says, “Hey, you consistently use the word … my favorite Textio word is killer … “you consistently use the word, killer. It’s a killer app or it’s a killer designer.” Right? And you get that feedback, not from somebody who may have some reason to give you that feedback but really from a tool that can give you that feedback.

And so I think that I’ve seen, since we published the report, multiple instances of people coming up with these kind of personal, digital coaches that will give you feedback on the way you communicate, the words you use, the tone you use and in a way that, in theory at least, should be less … should incite less defensiveness and more of a willingness to say, “Okay, maybe this is actually true because the machine doesn’t have any incentive to give me this type of feedback.” So that’s part of my hope for what this technology can do.

JENNIFER BROWN: This is a really interesting space to me because we are surrounded more and more by these virtual assistants that I think underscore gender bias whether it means that Alexa and Siri have female names and voices and perhaps, “more submissive” personalities. And that now we’re thinking about how might that be a genderless virtual assistant. I read in your report somebody’s actually developed a genderless virtual assistant called Q, which is really fitting. Yeah, I love that. And then and a Slack plugin that alerts users when bias language is being used. And I love that. Slack, for those of you who don’t know, it’s something that a lot of employees use as a chat at work.

And I’ve literally, if I’m imagining this correctly, you might say, “Hey, guys, how about lunch?” And the plugin will highlight guys and say, “Hey say something like friendly and maybe funny and say, guys is probably not the most inclusive word you can use, here are some alternatives.” And, boom, you’re never going to say that again or if you do, you’re going to catch yourself, and you’re going to say, “hmm.” Because I know some folks in the LGBTQ community … I have a transgender friend who really gets triggered by the word, “guys.” It’s not something that she feels is very inclusive of her experience, and she even goes so far as to say, “how about I just say, ‘hey, ladies’ every time I would have said, “hey guys.”

And once you start to do that with audiences they get annoyed and then they see your point and then they try to become more sensitized to it. So it sounds like it’s small but at the same time, I think these are the little things that just continue to exclude, and they’re so easy to fix in a way as long as we raise them to the top of our consciousness, and I think tech does that in a much better way than perhaps humans do.

STACIA GARR: Yeah, it can. The challenge that we’re going to see I think as we look forward is that not everybody’s going to react the same way, right? So I was actually … it’s funny that you mention the “hey, guys” thing. I’m on one of these social media things for former consultants and somebody mentioned a question about this issue but said, “when it’s an all female audience do people have a problem with using the term, hey ladies?” And there was very wide perspectives on that issue. Even if everybody in the group was ladies, or women, was it appropriate to use the term, “Hey, ladies.”

And there’s, I think, what’s technically right, what is culturally right, what’s right within a given organizational culture and what’s right from an individual’s perspective. And the thing that the technology can’t manage is that complexity. So the awareness is incredible and that’s where the real opportunity lies but it’s still going to remain with people to make the change and the change that’s appropriate and to respond in an appropriate way, which is part of the opportunity we have beyond the technology.

JENNIFER BROWN: Right, oh such a good point. And just to follow up on the “hey ladies”, I think that would never really be necessarily accurate because you may have a lot of gender identities in the room, in a room that appears to be a room full of women. We’ve learned people identify all along the gender identity continuum, right, and that may or may not be expressed or apparent and so I think it’s safer to not assume the gender identities of a room full of people just based on what you can see in a quick glance.

STACIA GARR: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

JENNIFER BROWN: So it’s one of a sensitivities that I’m aware of. So, yeah, this is very interesting. There is a lot of conversation about nudges as a buzzword in the tech space and I’ve heard of diversity nudges. Tell us about, is the nudge viewed as the best way to get people to change their behavior? What is a nudge? How is it different from how we’ve created or encouraged behavior change in the past? And perhaps how is nudging technology being used to alert us to bias or to catch us in a moment when we could make a different choice about a certain work process and effectively catch bias in the act, so to speak?

STACIA GARR: Yeah, absolutely. So for those who don’t know, a nudge is basically an electronic reminder that’s in the flow of work. So you’re doing something and the system’s able to see that you’re doing that thing. They can provide you with that little reminder to do something differently. At least that’s the way I understand it.

The way that we’re seeing this show up in the D&I technology … it’s in a few different ways. So one of the more specific things I’ve seen is giving people feedback on their communication, kind of what we talked about before. There’s a vendor called Cultivate AI, which will give you a nudge or a reminder, in addition to a report and analysis of how you’re communicating with others and give you some resources to potentially make a change in your behavior.

So what it does is it will analyze your email communications, not for the content, and this is something that each individual has to opt into but once they do it will analyze how quickly you respond to someone. It will analyze overall tone and tone is judged by the culture of the organization so it’s not just you but it’s tone within the context of your organization’s culture. And it’ll say things like, “Hey, you haven’t responded to Jennifer as quickly as you have to Doug. Is there a reason for that?” And you might say, “Well, yes, because Jennifer is in Australia and she’s on a time zone that can wait six hours so every time I’m going to wait versus Doug who sits in the office next to me.”

So there could be a good reason. But there could also, potentially, not be a good reason and so that type of nudge that raises your awareness in the flow of your ongoing activities is something that some of these technologies are beginning to play with.

Another one that I think is interesting is from SAP’s SuccessFactors and theirs is completely different. It’s designed to be a part of the talent review process and so what they’ll do is when you’re doing your nine box grids, which we can have a whole discussion on the utility of those but a lot of organizations still use them. But it’ll show you over … two things, first it’ll show you the nine box grid by gender and so you can do a quick check and say, “Okay, while actually about 60% of our employees are men and 40% are women, but in our hypo category it’s 100% men. That doesn’t necessarily add up. Why is that?” And it’ll actually do a flag for you.

It’ll do a similar thing when you have had somebody who’s been marked as a high performer for a number of cycles but hasn’t been promoted. Again it’ll say, “Hey, this has happened for this person.” The reason that one’s particularly important is because we know that both women, as well as diverse individuals, tend to be promoted at lower rates even though they may still be given higher scores than the majority population. So that’s kind of an example of in the flow of work when somebody actually has the technology up on the screen to have the discussion, it’ll give you that little flag.

So is it the most effective? I think it can be very effective but it’s, I think, also a new area that some of these vendors are just starting to go into.

JENNIFER BROWN: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I think these nudges are really powerful. I think you made the point earlier that it doesn’t feel as judgmental when it’s tech telling you that you have a disconnect but it’s also completely scalable. There’s no way to catch all of these disconnects for most of us in our day to day life and bias is so habitual. That’s the problem. It’s unconscious and it’s also built into the DNA of all of our workplace processes. Right?

STACIA GARR: Yeah.

JENNIFER BROWN: So if you’re not really questioning, “Well, why have we always done it this way?” And some companies don’t have the dashboards with which to see that information organically, right? So any kind of algorithm that can help us identify where there are inconsistencies in our practices is so helpful and rather objective. I mean it’s hard to argue with once you see it. I hope that it will habituate you to asking that question every time you undertake that task. How far are we away from wearables that … for example, like Fitbit watches and things like that? My dream is “Hey, I see you have a performance review coming up.” Or, “Hey, I see that you’re going to be going through a talent review soon. How many … what kind of diversity do you have on your slate?”

Or, “remember these things as you’re going into that meeting that this happens, this happens and this happens that thwarts the efforts to create a more inclusive organization so keep this top of mind as you go into this conversation, this meeting, this process, this cadence, this time of year, et cetera, et cetera.” Pay decisions, wouldn’t it be neat to be nudged with knowledge? I know knowledge isn’t enough but for some of us it is enough to be shown something, you only need to be shown it once in order to really be alarmed by it and say, “Well, I don’t have pay gaps in my organization. What is it talking about?” And then lo and behold, you discover that you do. So does that exist yet? I mean what’s that market like?

STACIA GARR: Yeah, well one thing I just want to go back to a point you made just a moment ago because I think it’s really important. And that’s around algorithms. So, yes, the algorithm will show you something but we as HR diversity and inclusion professionals have to be really aware of what that algorithm is showing you. We wrote about this in the report around the potential for bias within AI and that’s since we wrote the report, become an increasingly large issue.

And so understanding, even at a basic level, and we have kind of a little checklist in the report, but what data was the algorithm trained on? How are they testing for bias in it? Can they give me examples of how bias is not showing up? And can they give me examples of it, not just at high level, which is as you know that basically if you ask, for example, for a candidate slate and it will return for you at a minimum one woman and four men or whatever your criteria are, but that those people are equally qualified.

So there’s all sorts of places that bias can creep in because the data on which these algorithms are trained have bias within them because they’re just captures of human’s interactions in the past. So I just want to add a note of caution. I think there’s huge opportunity but we need to be aware and to really push any vendor we’re working with to show us how the bias is not, or has been significantly reduced within their algorithms.

JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you. Great advice. I’m glad you raised that, yep, yep, yep.

STACIA GARR: But turning back to your question, we’re seeing technology, it’s still human driven, right? So there’s the opportunity for some of these HRIS systems or some of these compensation or pay gap analysis tools to push the report two weeks before you go into your compensation review discussions, or to push the awareness right before somebody goes to write performance reviews. Again, men tend to get comments that’s focused on their work productivity whereas women tend to get a greater balance towards their personality.

There’s all sorts of ways to do it but right now because there’s not a single … there are very few, I shouldn’t say not any … very few single holistic systems that talk to each other fully. It takes an awareness on somebody’s part to say, “Hey, this is happening over here and we should push this type of information and knowledge now.” In the future I’m sure that’s where it’s going to go, particularly as we see this market consolidate as we, inevitably always do in the HR tech space. We see some of the more innovative companies get bought up by some of the older ones and they integrate it into systems and all that good stuff. We’re going to see it. I just don’t see it happening holistically today.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, I would agree with that. We have piecemeal right now, but someday the promise is that all these things will talk to each other. Do you use … I’m going to shift a bit to talk about your research on women and men in the organization, which I also found really compelling. You analyzed networks and the subtitle is Different Networks, Different Outcomes and I was captured by the title because there’s so many things we’re trying to diversify the workplace and I always suspect that we’re applying old solutions that we’re not sure are working and we’re not sure why they’re not working and we’re not sure why the numbers aren’t budging from a representation standpoint.

And so you can sort of extrapolate from that that something we’re doing may feel good and may increase engagement, for example, but may not be actually shifting the outcomes for diversifying, in particular up the pipeline as you get into the executive level. So tell us about, how did you analyze the networks of women and men and where did you end up … how did you end up sort of having an “aha” moment in the research about how women and men, what is the same and what is different, in terms of how they need to interact with their careers and particularly, how they need to build their networks and behave within those networks? I thought that was fascinating. So could you give us a little brief on that?

STACIA GARR: Absolutely. So what we were trying to do with this research was to understand what are organizations doing to advance women and to what extent do they include a focus on networks. So who is connected to whom within an organization and the impact that that makes on somebody’s ability to rise.

So we began the research with a literature review, looking at the existing research on networks. And we looked at a range of things, certainly people within organizations but there’s actually a lot of research out there about, for instance, freelancers. There’s an amazing article that we cite in the research on the impact of … for movie stars, which movie’s they’re in for men versus women and the importance of diversifying their network to continue to stay as a movie star.

So there’s just incredible stuff out there. What we came to … the conclusion that we came to and shared in the research is that there are basically four practices that make a difference. The first is that women need to be central within at least one network. The second is that those women need to have a strong inner circle of women and that inner circle, this is the third one, needs to connect them to diverse other networks. So it’s not enough to have a clique of your closest friends who are all friends with your existing friends, they have to be friends with other people.

And then the fourth point was that women need to be energizers within their network. And by energizers, this is actually relying on some research from Rob Cross and Inga Carboni and Inga was a collaborator on the research. Energizers are those individuals to whom others come and bring new ideas and thoughts and that individual serves as a powerful sounding board. And the reason that this matters is because that brings in people who have different ideas that a woman can then use to have in her conversations with her broader network. It basically gives her different power and information within her network that can help with her social capital.

So that’s the high level of what we found from this review of literature. What we did in the research, though, was we went out and we interviewed 50 leaders at different organizations to understand, are they doing anything with regard to networks. And, unfortunately, we found that, by and large, the answer was no. And so in this research that we’re actually now going to be publishing here at the end of the month or beginning of next month where we talk about the practices organizations can put into place into many of their existing practices that would help women advance in a different way.

JENNIFER BROWN: This is so, I mean it’s concrete but it’s a little bit abstract too in terms of “well how do I then shift my networks knowing what this research says. What are some ways I can become more of an energizer,” as you call it, which, by the way, is becoming more of an inclusive leader, in my parlance because if you’re an inclusive leader you have indicated consistently that your door is open and that you’re interested in diverse ideas and that you always build diverse teams, both in identity and thought. And so you create, it’s like you become a hub. You become a trusted place for people to bring all sorts of new ideas and trust you with that information. Right?

STACIA GARR: Right.

JENNIFER BROWN: So I think that that, there’s an inclusion, a practice of inclusion that informs the best energizers in the world. But talk about … so central figure in a close-knit group and then a broker between high powered groups but they need to be diverse groups and then also be supported by a close-knit group of other women but those women need to be of a certain kind or stance or orientation themselves. Can you tell us a little bit more about each one of those so we can picture it more concretely?

STACIA GARR: Yeah. So let me give you an example. So we identified four common practices in the research. One is ERGs. The four common practices organizations use. One is ERGs, second is mentorship and sponsorship, third is leadership development and the fourth is conferences. And so in the report we then talk about how each of these four principles can be applied.

So if we take that and we think about ERGs, ERGs are great. They do wonderful things in organizations but one of the challenges is that if they are not managed and designed properly they can become a little bit of … and this is actually a network term, but echo chambers. So that means that the same type of people are coming, they’re not sharing new types of diverse information, they’re not getting connected to new types of networks.

And so we actually have three recommendations in the report about how ERGs can be structured slightly differently to align to these four principles. So the first one is to create personal, meaningful sub groups that provide leadership opportunities. So the idea here is, particularly if somebody is not able to be kind of central within their work network, their day to day job network, that an ERG can provide an opportunity for a woman to be central within the ERG network, which can give them access to this broader group, to be seen as a leader.

But then we highlight, also, these create personal, meaningful sub groups. So the idea here is to make sure that we’re talking about women in ERGs, that women can get connected to a smaller group, an inner circle of other women that they feel they can trust. So that’s one aspect.

The second point that we make is that you need to encourage and manage toward a more diverse ERG. So this gets at that third point, which is around diverse ties. So if your meaningful sub group that you’re connected to isn’t connected to people at different levels in the organization or different backgrounds or different functions, it’s not nearly as useful. So making sure the ERG itself has a diverse population so you’re increasing the likelihood that someone will be connected to diverse other groups is an important component.

And then the third point we make around energizers is to offer resources to support women in becoming energizers. So we talk about things like not everybody’s a born encourager or a born inclusive. I know that I’m a writer and I can tend to be very critical, actually, and so giving people some feedback and some tools to understand how do I bring people along an idea journey? How do I respond as an effective sounding board? This is something that ERGs could do that they’re not doing right now that could really help women be seen as energizers to the organization, giving them tools and resources to do so. So we actually talk about some tech that could help do that.

So that’s kind of one example of how you might take an existing practice for ERGs and evolve it in a way that’s more friendly from the network perspective to helping women make the connections they need, get the skills they need that will help them rise in the organization.

JENNIFER BROWN: I think in another part of the research you talk about the importance of what is shared amongst those networks and I thought that was powerful too. That women, just by mimicking the career paths of male networks, were not going to have the same results. So there’s something that’s missing that we need to overcompensate for in terms of what we talk about with each other and how we share social capital I think is a good word to use it. So what, in addition, do women need to do, like it or not, I don’t like the fact that we’re doing extra emotional labor too. Right?

However, if we can be more directed in terms of not only the who but the what. What are we sharing in the most optimal sense, how are we … what information is going back and forth that has the most difference and what are we missing if we just mimic an existing power structure that works for a certain group and it doesn’t work for us?

STACIA GARR: Yeah. So I think one of the challenges, and this actually came up a lot in the interview … in the interviews, is that the conversations often in some of these women groups … and I should clarify, we are making gross generalizations so-

JENNIFER BROWN: Indeed.

STACIA GARR: And we recognize that in research and we talk about that. So I don’t want that to go uncommented because we certainly understand that. But one of the things that people talked about quite a bit in the research was how … in the interviews, was how when women got together oftentimes the information shared wasn’t necessarily the most useful. It could often default to the things that … and this is based on research, that women often have been conditioned to know that were acceptable to talk about in the workplace. So things like their children or their clothes or some of these kind of just softer, more fluffy subjects. Not that they’re not important. We all need to dress well and our kids are incredibly important but from a network exchange perspective that can be not necessarily quite as effective.

So in terms of what we do differently a lot of times … and this is based on some of the research out of Kellogg that Brian Uzzi and others did and a lot of this research we cite them quite a bit. But a lot of them, they have ongoing conversations with other women about this is the challenge that I’m facing, how do I overcome this? How do I think about this particular challenge differently? And so they’re giving people insight, they’re giving each other insight on ways to address complicated social situations that maybe they would not be getting otherwise.

We refer to this generally as this concept of articulating the invisible information within organizations and that’s what often is lacking for women, is that insight into the invisible organizations, invisible information. We talk about it in the report about how organizations can do that more but really the fact of these close knit women’s groups with diverse ties is that they’re giving each other information that they couldn’t get otherwise and information that’s often not explicitly stated.

JENNIFER BROWN: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Right. That’s why we just can’t duplicate a system that is going to be missing a huge piece, which is, I think, that navigational help is what you’re talking about. The there is something else going on and here’s what you need to know or be aware of or prepare for because there is a double standard and so denying whoever it’s fault it is, that’s a whole nother podcast, but there’s maybe not a double standard but a different standard and so women do need to take this into account when we’re thinking about what … even if we replicate what we know works for certain groups, it may not work for us and I think that was such a great aha in your research.

So what does work? How do we supplement our journey and the way that we navigate that journey with the help of other women who’ve been there? How do we turn that into concrete advice that we can share amongst each other? And that it sounds like that really kind of makes up for the gap that, as you say, is an invisible dynamic that’s going on and I think that’s probably why we haven’t really nailed it down because it’s sort of like, did that happen, is that true, is it just me? It’s all of those things that go through our heads about our experience.

Why wasn’t I invited to this? Why didn’t anybody speak to me about this opportunity? How should I navigate somebody who seems resistant to supporting my career? That stuff is the real deal. It’s so important to share but we’ve got to, I think, I also hear we need to share it more overtly and find people we can actually have that conversation with, without defaulting to more superficial topics of conversation or perhaps not maybe career oriented conversations. And that’s just so critical, to be real, to be honest, to find people you can really be honest with and then to go from that place, in terms of making choices and lining up your networks, et cetera.

STACIA GARR: Yeah. And I think critically to turn around and reach down to those who are lower in the organization than you. So one of the reasons that we did this research was I had a conversation with a vendor who does organizational network analysis. Actually I had two conversations with two vendors, completely unrelated.

And this actually was the very original impetus for the work. And they said, I said, “well what do you see that’s different in the networks of men and women and looking across numerous organizations?” And they both said, slightly] different flavors, but they said that what happens is when women come into the organization they often have a tenure based network. So everyone who came in at the same time and they all kind of rise up the organization together and that’s their primary network and then they have a strong external network.

By contrast, when men come into the organization they will have that same tenure based network but then very quickly they’ll establish relationships up and then they’ll establish some down. So when they are higher in the organization and they are looking to bring people up they actually often have more female contacts than the women and so they are often the ones who are bringing more women up in the organization. And so it highlighted for me, and we heard this actually time and time again in the interviews how important it is to turn around and lift other women up and not to see it as a zero sum game.

You’re not the only woman who’s going to be at the table of leadership. There shouldn’t be even just two of you because that can create competition. It should be three or more and you should be supplementing and growing that network of women behind you, as well. And that’s okay to do and we should do it because that’s how so many of us got to where we are today. I think that’s easy to forget but from the conversations that we had it came through as so important.

JENNIFER BROWN: And that’s a great note to end on, Stacia, because I want people to go and read more from your team and be equipped with all this data and research on the two fronts we talked about today, D&I tech and also networks for men and women, same, different and how we need to build our careers with all of that in mind. So where can folks find all of these goodies on your website and in social media?

STACIA GARR:    Yeah, so they can find it at redthreadresearch.com and right now everything that we’re writing is available for free. At some point that’ll change but right now all the goodies are just up there for you to check out. And then you can follow us, the Twitter handle is @redthreadre or you can follow me directly at @staciagarr and also on LinkedIn, I’m Stacia Sherman Garr. So we love folks following us, giving us feedback. We have a different approach to doing research where we kind of do this follow … publish as we go so people can follow along. And so we’d love to hear people’s thoughts and feedback as we’re doing the research because that makes it so much better.

JENNIFER BROWN: And you are making our lives, as practitioners, so much better. So thank you, Stacia, for looking at these problems in new ways and quantifying what the future looks like when it comes to technology and inclusion. We really appreciate everything that you’re putting out there.

STACIA GARR: Thank you and thank you for the opportunity to share it.

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