Establishing Equitable Management PracticesDennis Kardys Director of Design & Production
#Industry Insights, #News & Culture
Influencing change through actions, large and small, to reduce bias and discrimination.
Today is International Women’s Day, and it’s a good time to reflect on what we are doing individually and within our communities to reduce bias and discrimination, and to promote gender equity. As our social feeds fill up with posts talking the talk about inclusion and our email inboxes fill up with celebratory 10% off sales from retailers, it makes me wonder if we can’t dig a little deeper to share what we have done, are doing, and what we still need to work on to accelerate gender parity. So, I’d like to share some things we’ve done at Diagram to be mindful of bias and take steps to embrace diversity.
As a manager of teams, I know the salaries of the people I manage as well as the salary requirements of people applying for roles at Diagram. I have a pulse on the salary expectations for job-seeking developers, designers, and QA engineers. Women have applied for a specific job and have had a lower salary expectation than men applying for the same job. Often it’s because they have been paid less than their male counterparts in their current and previous jobs. In the workplace, women may be perceived to be more junior than men, even when their experience is similar. I have interviewed women who underestimated their own skill, only to hire them and discover they have much more depth of expertise than they had indicated.
So what can we do, as managers to address these types of things?
Establish Salary Parity
A few years ago, while reviewing a spreadsheet I noticed some significant salary disparities for people I manage who have similar roles and responsibilities. Various factors contributed to this, none of them the result of deliberate discrimination within our organization. As a manager it can feel like a terrible mess, especially when you don’t control the fluctuating market rate for different roles, the competitive hiring landscape, what salary a person had when you took over as their manager—and when you don’t have a magic wand to instantly materialize the money needed to make the problem go away. So, what can one do in a situation like this?
Here’s what we did.
- Audit salaries. In review of the spreadsheet of salaries, I did first pass to flag the disparities by comparing people in similar roles relative to their skill and experience. I then summed up how much money we needed to account for to bring everyone into alignment. Bringing the disparity to light was the first big step.
- Work the cost into the budget. With the amount established, it was a matter of getting approval for salary increases for anyone not being paid what they should. Here (at Diagram), there was no debate as to what the right thing to do was, it was a matter of quantifying how much additional salary was needed and figuring out the logistics of how to work the salary increases into the budget and when to roll them out.
- Plan the salary adjustment rollouts. For our team and budgeting we decided to spread things out, addressing the larger disparities quickly, and then layering in salary adjustments for others throughout the year. We also recognized that auditing and recalibration should be (and should always have been) ongoing.
Here’s what we can work on.
- At the time, we identified these disparities and recalibrated salaries individually with people. We perhaps missed an opportunity to have a more open and transparent discussion around salary parity, gender pay inequality, and what else we could or should be doing.
Institute More Structure for Growth
As a mid-sized agency, we did not have a formal or consistent way to compare skills and experience across teams and disciplines—something that is important to track and measure if we want to be proactive about salary parity. As managers, we felt we were being fair when promoting and giving raises to individuals based on our perception of their observable growth. But the informal nature of it all left a lot of room for bias to influence career development.
Here’s what we did.
- Develop skill matrices. We created skill matrices for each role with the intention to be more transparent with the knowledge, performance, and skill expectations for team members as they progress in their career. This allowed us to be more consistent and less biased in our assessment of individual performance, while prioritizing merit and performance over seniority when evaluating the people we manage.
- Supplement manager reviews with peer feedback cycles. This has helped managers be less prone to their individual biases based on the fragments of what we observe day to day. It also helps shine a light on the accomplishments of people who may not be the best at talking about or acknowledging their own achievements.
Here’s what we can work on.
- Although we have put structure in place, we still have a lot of work to make sure we are following through with a consistent cadence of assessing and measuring the growth of the people we manage.
Better Hiring Practices
Team diversity is not the result of happenstance, it is the result of deliberate actions. It is hard, because as a manager you may feel limited by the applicants who apply for the open roles you’re hiring for. Given the statistics surrounding the numbers of women and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) in tech, your recruiting inbox will likely be filled by white dudes.
Here is the state of women in technology1:
- As of 2022, women make up 28% of the tech industry workforce.
- Only 15% of engineering jobs are held by women, making it the STEM field where women are most highly underrepresented.
- 65% of tech recruiters believe bias is an ongoing problem in technical recruitment.
- White people comprise around 68% of the tech industry, far outpacing representation of Asian Americans (14%), Hispanics (8%) and African Americans (7%).
- Hi-tech workers also benefit from disproportionate representation in executive roles (83%), while African Americans hold only 2% of tech executive roles and Asian Americans hold around 11%.
Definitely not optimal. So if you are a manager and a white dude like me, what can we do to promote change?
Here’s what we’ve done so far.
- Develop interview scripts. In the days of yore, the questions I would ask a candidate varied depending on the details of their resume. There was an improvised nature to the interview. We had a checklist of things we wanted to learn but the conversation tended to be unique person to person. In screening for “cultural fit”, we’d ask about hobbies and personal interests—all things that we felt helped us get to know the candidate. It wasn’t until I read The Best Team Wins by Adam Robinson that I realized I was going about it all wrong. Though well-intentioned, the process I was using was not only prone to bias, it was unintentionally favoring the candidates most similar to myself, in effect discriminating against others—not exactly a recipe for diversity. The biggest change we made was developing interview scripts for each role. Every candidate interviewing for a position on the team I manage is now asked, and evaluated upon, the same set of questions. Certain topics and questions that we used to ask are now off-limits. Each candidate now goes through exactly the same steps. I can’t emphasize enough how helpful standardization has been to both streamlining the interview process and reducing bias.
- Seek out candidates from under-represented groups. The majority of applicants for design, development, and QA jobs are male, as expected. While we haven’t figured out a way to change the proportions of inbound applicants, we have made a point to participate in events like Womenhack Chicago and other local recruiting events aimed toward women in technology.
Here’s what we can work on.
- We have a long way to go building better and stronger ties with organizations that help connect women and BIPOC tech professionals with career opportunities.
- We could also prioritize our long-planned but never-launched paid apprenticeship program to equip people who are under-represented in the tech industry with training and skills that will help them get started with their career.
Who you are as a company and who you are as a manager are things you have the ability to shape. Diagram is a women-owned company now, but was not when the company was formed in 1995. It was the result of intentional evolution and growth. We have 21 male employees and 19 female employees. 6 women are in software development or other highly technical roles, and 5 in a management or lead role. This wasn’t because there was an uptick of women applicants, but rather the result of active recruitment, less biased interview practices, and creating a culture where women are supported and empowered to grow in their careers. Still, we have a long way to go. While we are progressing with gender equality, we lack representation in other areas. Progress doesn’t happen overnight. And so, we must look at ongoing efforts and continual improvement.
In principle, it is easy to reject the notion of discrimination. I believe that decent managers don’t make decisions that are knowingly discriminatory. But that’s the trick with biases, they inform our actions and behaviors below the surface of our consciousness. If you are in a position of authority, it’s your responsibility to identify those biases and address them. Don’t expect somebody else to come along and do it for you.
So what can you do to celebrate International Women’s Day? Or Black History Month? Or to be a better manager any day of the year? Find something that you can influence and make a small change that helps make things a little more fair and a little less biased. Remove some obstacle that’s keeping a person you manage from being as awesome as they can be. Just. Do. Something. #BiasTowardAction.
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