Working together to increase diversity in business.
Business and academia share a common challenge. While both have made strides in diversity recruiting, inclusion can be treated as an afterthought—an omission that can undo the work an organization or institution puts into its recruiting strategy.
Based on our work at The PhD Project, I know that once minority Ph.D.s secure a position in academia, they oftentimes feel left adrift, alone to navigate a nuanced, insiders’ world that doesn’t include them. That leads to turnover among faculty the institution actively sought to recruit. And we see the same scenario play out in the business world.
In examining the root causes of inclusion issues in academia, we identified three persistent barriers and simple solutions to address those barriers that we believe can apply to the corporate world as well.
First, facilitate access to formal and informal networks.
As humans, we tend to stick with people we know. People who look like us. In academia, it is no different. People of color are often left out. We hear time and again from Ph.D.s that the networks within universities are not available to them. This lack of inclusion hurts diverse Ph.D.s individually, and it hurts the university as a whole. The support that is created within networks is critical for growth and advancement as higher education professionals. In addition, these networks not only become think tanks for problem-solving, but they often become influencers on decisions at the university level. Facilitating introductions can go a long way to addressing this issue. So, what can businesses take away from this? It’s simple: don’t assume your minority employees will naturally fall into informal and formal networks. Be proactive in helping them make these connections from the start.
Second, eliminate unconscious bias in processes critical to growth.
In academia, being published opens many doors, builds credibility and helps forge connections with academic minds across the country. Yet, minority academics still struggle to be published—a problem we’ve traced to two core issues with roots in unconscious bias. It’s a critical issue that, if left unchecked, can prevent a minority academic from moving up in their career.
In business, you see this issue manifest itself in many ways—from who’s selected to present to executive leadership to who’s tapped to lead high-profile projects. These opportunities can change or accelerate a professional’s career trajectory. So, much like in academia, corporate leaders need to examine their selection processes and develop proactive strategies to increase diverse representation.
Third, help alleviate that unwelcome feeling.
Like their corporate counterparts, aspiring minority professors understand that they will often be the only nonwhite face in the room. Whether they’ve come up in the world of education or advanced from the halls of corporate America, they’ve dealt with this issue before. And that’s actually the reason many pursue a career in academia—they want to serve as role models for diverse students. But they still often feel unwelcomed. Over the years, members of the Project have witnessed implicitly biased comments, microaggressions and basic alienation firsthand. At conferences, Black Ph.D.s are left sitting alone amid rooms of white professors and have overheard comments such as calling a group of diverse Ph.D.s “a posse”. Overcoming this issue in universities and businesses comes down to strong leadership who recognize its impact. Leaders need to be proactive to stamp out racism and exclusivity and to build an encouraging, welcoming culture.
To increase diversity in business, as in academia, we need to work together. I call on the white business community to not only recruit more minority employees, but also to ensure that they have the support, access and kindness they need to thrive. Similarly, I call on minority professionals to remain determined—don’t give up. Working together to include people of color in business and to make them feel included will have a tremendous impact on generations to come. All the ingredients are there for the change we all know we want—and that we know is necessary for us to move closer to a world of equity and real collaboration of diverse perspectives and ideas.