When recruiting for tech positions that often require a fast turnaround time, it can be easy to fall back on unconscious biases and hiring patterns that worked well in the past. It's human nature but it's also detrimental to the recruiting process.
This is something Gunjan Aggarwal, the vice president of talent acquisition, diversity recruiting and mergers and acquisitions for Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), has learned in her time spent in various human relations functions across the US, Switzerland, the UK and India. In her current role, she is responsible for attracting 22,000 new recruits to Ericsson, and she'd like a significant number of them to be women. (See Ericsson CMO: Diversity Is Critical to Transformation.)
That's why making sure she's aware of the factors that may be limiting her team's job search, and pulling in a homogenous candidate base and actively working to change them is so important to her. It's also where the idea of "good and bad buckets" comes into play. The notion comes from a book, The Organized Mind by Daniel Levitin, which breaks down how humans categorize things, situations and other people into good and bad buckets and how this pattern recognition behavior can become hardwired into our brain.
Read on as Light Reading catches up with Aggarwal to find out what this behavior means for recruiting and promotions, as well as her thoughts on other pertinent issues for women in comms.
Light Reading: How can we, as an industry, encourage more young girls to enter -- and stay in -- the comms or STEM space?
Gunjan Aggarwal: I think the behavior modification and unconscious gender-based selections start right in structured school systems from kindergarten. We have to start engaging with the schools and teachers in our school districts and influence a change in behavior there. For example, why should it be okay for boys and girls to only invite "all boys" or "all girls" to their birthday parties? How can the classrooms have heterogeneous seating arrangements, and how do we ensure we sensitize teachers to monitor for the class participation and extracurricular participation that is evenly represented by both boys and girls?
An "aha moment" for me at the Grace Hopper Conference this year was that we were talking about including women in a male-dominated industry by excluding men -- doing exactly what we don't want men to do and also excluding the majority of voices from the discussion. We need to create heterogeneous experiences for boys and girls right from the elementary school system and encourage a heterogeneous conversation in the industry rather than a one-sided, women-talking-for-women discussion.
LR: Recruiters will often say that there simply aren't women applying for engineering/computer science/STEM-related jobs. Is this a matter of the way they are recruiting, the pipeline or both?
GA: In short, it is both. We need to inspect our job descriptions, work environments and job requirements and stamp out any gender biases if the actual job performance is not dependent on gender. But, hypothetically speaking, if we removed all gender biases from the recruiting process, we would still not have enough women available in pipeline to reach a 50% women population in the workplace.
At Ericsson, we are a very data-driven company, so in 2014, we analyzed all the 52,000 applicants to our 2,200 open jobs in the US. When we studied how our female candidates fared versus our male candidates, we found that we did not have an unconscious bias problem -- our big problem was that not enough women were applying to our jobs. So, my team has been laser-focused on gender diversity candidate outreach to solve for this issue. But as we get more in-depth into the issue, we realize that there are not as many technical female candidates as we would like to reach out to.
LR: How does unconscious bias come into play in recruiting and promoting?
GA: There's an excellent book called The Organized Mind by Daniel Levitin. Daniel talks about how humans categorize things, situations and other people into good and bad buckets very quickly. This is rooted in our basic survival instinct where split-second evaluation would be the difference between life and death for humans. These patterns then get hardwired as we continue to learn from our experiences and also develop our in-groups and out-groups.
Now, you will ask what does this have to do with recruiting or promotions? In terms of promotions, it is very straight forward -- we may be looking at various candidates for promotion and our unconscious bias will kick in where we'd feel biased towards promoting someone who resembles our "in-group" versus an "out-group."
In recruiting, there would be an added layer that could pose a problem -- pattern recognition. A typical recruiter would be working on 20 open positions at any time. For him or her to hire quickly and meet their Time-To-Fill KPI, a good recruiter will start to learn from prior experiences on what kind of candidate profiles did well with the hiring manager. Now, if the company has less diversity to start with, this pattern recognition behavior by the recruiter might end up reinforcing that diversity problem in the candidate profiles. Luckily, there is so much awareness now about diversity that many recruiters actually have quality targets to bring in a diverse slate of candidates to the hiring managers.
LR: It's great to have initiatives and make an effort to recruit women, but making a real, lasting change for women in the workplace has to include changing the company culture. How can we achieve that in a meaningful way in large, oftentimes slow-moving companies?
GA: While there are several initiatives that will be needed to solve for this multi-dimensional challenge, doing this one thing in big corporations will give instantaneous results -- ensure there is a balance of men and women in the C-suite, board and the extended executive leadership. Having an equal number of men and women at the top is a clear "signal" to the next levels and levels below that the organization is embracing and requiring diversity. While doing that, companies can also bring in their customers to validate this approach as most companies have as many women customers and men. Managed well, this can give a positive brand boost as well to the company.
LR: For those of us who want to help transform our own companies and recruiting processes, what do we tell our managers, bosses and coworkers? What's the first step?
GA: First step -- look for diversity in your next hire. Second step -- network with people that you wouldn't typically "hang out" with and then start to build your recruiting pipeline yourself this way. Finally -- seek out opportunities to talk about this in your community, especially if you are a man and a senior executive.
— Sarah Thomas, , Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading