Quarter-Inch Binders and Privilege: Takeaways for a Diverse and Inclusive Workforce

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Although I’m almost 40, I’ve spent over two-thirds of my life as a student.  This means when I think about my trajectory over time I’m often reflecting on feedback and experiences from different stages of my education.

With so much school, naturally I have a lot of memories about preparing projects and presentations.  I always delighted in, even going back to my early childhood, building out a big project or paper (U.S. State reports, anyone? I lived for those).  I enjoyed the creativity and unifying and organizing distinct ideas and arguments into a (hopefully) informative and captivating final product. Now, if I were preparing a paper or assignment longer than a few pages I would place it in a quarter inch binder.  The kind with a laminate cover where insert a printed coversheet and even a bespoke label for the spine.  (In middle school with the Algerian font for the title and headings, because when you’re in middle school and you have important things to say you use Algerian).

Now, just a couple years ago, while strolling down memory lane, I thought about my initiative from a new perspective. I realized this was a significant artifact of privilege.  For starters, I had access to a computer and printer at home.  I benefited from supportive parents that encouraged my skills and abilities, and provided me with a computer from grade school onwards.  My binder habit was also made possible because my parents ran their own business and always had them on hand.  I was further privileged that my frequent use of them was never a problem.  In fact, my parents encouraged me to go beyond requirements for presentation.

My practice of presenting more substantive assignments in a binder with a cover sheet, or shorter one-pagers typed, regularly got me bonus points.  Now, was this fair?  I was showing an element of preparedness and professionalism, but the binder and how I came to use it to better my performance largely came from my environment and privilege. While everyone could create a coversheet, not everyone had in-home access to a computer, or parents with the time and knowledge to coach and support on assignments.

Fast-forward to today and my calling is building remarkable places to work.  Remarkable teams consistently reach their intended results while creating diverse and inclusive environments that allow all of us to thrive. We know companies with diverse workforces are 35 percent more likely to outperform their competitors.1 When hiring and promoting, our objective is to evaluate each person on their potential to contribute to remarkable. As we make upwards of 35,000 decisions and inferences a day, unconscious bias around race, gender, class, or any myriad of factors can influence our decisions working our ability to build a diverse and inclusive workforce.  How do we fairly and consistently evaluate and support others without bias?

Unfortunately, it’s exceedingly difficult to take action to avoid all the binders that could affect our judgment.  Without systems, our decisions are vulnerable to bias from our own preferences and experience (which may or may not predict performance – or support a diverse and inclusive team).  It’s easy to think we’re measuring what we should while falling short.  Indeed, common approaches to selection are often no more accurate than flipping a coin.

Briefly put, to increase diversity as well as your potential success start with understanding the core competencies your team requires. Then you can build systems with evidence-based tools like performance management and feedback (for promotion), and validated pre-employment assessments and structured interviewing (for hiring) that accurately measure those competencies.  In this way you’re making decisions on performance, or potential to perform, and avoiding hiring or promoting who you’d most like to be stuck with on a layover (you can pick your favorite bias example). As students we were more likely to learn and achieve excellence if we started with intention – and the end in mind.  The same is true for growing your team. Sustaining your own definition of remarkable and building a diverse and inclusive team start with thinking intentionally about you hire and grow.

Seeking to build a more diverse and inclusive workforce? It starts with how you hire.

Reference.

  1. McKinsey & Company. 2015. Why diversity matters.
Hiring Process EBook
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