A call for intervention: Lack of diversity in career pyramids

[We’re pleased to welcome author Claartje J. Vinkenburg of VU University, Amsterdam. Vinkenburg recently published an article in The Journal of Applied Behavioral Sciences entitled, “Engaging Gatekeepers, Optimizing Decision Making, and Mitigating Bias: Design Specifications for Systemic Diversity Interventions.” Below, Vinkenburg discusses the motivation for pursuing this research, along with future applications. From Vinkenburg:]

3374725110_74426ba883_m.jpgWhat inspired you to be interested in this topic? I was triggered by the cover article of the July 2016 issue of Harvard Business Review which stated that diversity efforts fail. I have seen such failures, but also examples of quite successful diversity interventions in up-or-out systems such as academia and professional service firms that deserve a wider audience of researchers and practitioners. This journal and especially the special issue addressed questions around systemic change that provided a great fit with my story of design specifications for successful diversity interventions.

Were there findings that were surprising to you? I was surprised to discover in writing the article but also in presenting it in various forms to different audiences that so many people are unaware of the existence and effects of bias, and firmly believe that the way people are promoted in their organizations reflects meritocracy. Making them aware is one thing, but doing something about it is a wicked problem that requires working through paradox.

How do you see this study influencing future research? While the successful diversity interventions described may not challenge meritocracy directly, but they help to achieve ³true² meritocracy by reducing bias in the assessment of merit, focusing on the often capricious application of criteria in performance evaluation and/or reward allocation. Future action research or intervention studies could look at mediated sensemaking and other forms of working through paradox with gatekeepers, as well ways to de-bias our HR or people decision making such as selection and promotion.

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Diversity pyramid photo attributed to Ben Mason (CC).

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