When my former company asked me to research unconscious bias many years ago, I began with Google. At the time, there wasn’t a tremendous amount written about the topic. At least, that is what I thought. The truth is that I was looking in the wrong place. The real research is going on in academia, not in the workplace, and much it was not accessible through a simple Google search box. Locked-up in academic publications with paywalls, there was a plethora of information and guidance.
Having spent twenty years in the IT industry, I know how diversity programs work and you probably do, as well. Your HR diversity strategy is built on whatever airport bestseller is trending at the time; unfortunately, little of what is trending is backed by research. Instead, it is based on anecdotes and “what worked at my previous job.” Time strapped and overworked much of the time, we buy the slick packaging and promises of quick fixes. All the while, the real solutions languish away in the academic world, largely untouched by practitioners.
Take, for example, unconscious bias. There are meta-analyses and rich research on what does and does not work to change implicit biases. So, why aren’t we implementing what the research says? It’s not accessible to everyone. This is a problem with location and time. The academic journals are many times off limits to anyone outside of the university or require expensive subscriptions. And even if you do get access, you’ll need to read through 10-15 pages of unfamiliar, academic speak to find the key findings of the research. You can see why that airport book is a more popular choice for busy practitioners.
What we need is a bridge between the academic and practitioner world – one that allows researchers to see their work implemented outside of the classroom. Consultants can play that role, but they must be educated in how to understand and critically appraise the latest research and sift through the noise. It also requires a commitment from both the consultant and the practitioner to evidence-based management and measuring results. It all comes down to a simple question:
Do you want a strategy built on proven research that will deliver measurable performance results of diverse, inclusive teams, or are you just checking a box until the next trend comes along?