My name is Sophia (top girl’s name of 2020!) and I am a newborn, with all the wisdom of foresight and hindsight that brings. Even though I cannot speak yet, I can type about 80 words a minute on my Mom’s cellphone. I’m totally digging SHRM’s "When I Grow Up" campaign and wanted to share some thoughts.
As I think back maybe eight generations to the start of the Industrial Revolution (again, I’m all-knowing as an infant!) the world got its information in limited ways. There were books, some newspapers, maybe a town crier (hey, that’s my kinda job!) to share the news, the latest findings, maybe even some gossip. These options grew with the advent of the telegraph, the ticker tape, radio, and television.
My grandparents were the first to see cable tv, and the explosion of different options to get their information and entertainment. That continued to expand with the internet. Today, there are very distinct differences between these avenues of information. In fact, I can read or watch a story on one channel, then go elsewhere and read the exact opposite. In addition, machine learning algorithms can detect my preferences and feed me stories they know I’ll be interested in – further shaping my views.
What this means, beyond a divided society, is that the world of work – any given team in an organization – can be very like-minded in their perspectives and their thinking because they are sharing the same feeds, and hiring people like themselves -- because that’s who they are comfortable with. This can be dangerous to their business because to be successful, they will need to reach their customers, partners, and constituents who will not be like them – who will have different, maybe opposite, views. Therefore, a team must take specific steps to avoid this insulation.
These custom channels are new to the human race and have been magnified by lockdown, illness, or job displacement. An unemployed electrician has a very different view than a stressed-out tech worker, and they gravitate towards information that is customized to -- and makes sense for - their unique situation.
Oops, my mom is looking for her phone, so I might have to stage a diaper incident to distract her, but before I go, a couple words of advice to HR professionals and organizational leaders in 2021.
- Hire for diversity – not just gender, race, and ethnicity, but consider age, political views, background, geography, etc. We know the research shows diverse teams are more innovative – so think outside the box in hiring.
- Once you’ve hired a diverse team, build a culture where people can speak their minds. Inclusive cultures are built on trust. If the boss strikes fear such that no dissenting views are ever shared, you don’t get the “diversity bonus”, as University of Michigan professor and social scientist Scott E. Page calls it in his book of the same name.
- Leaders, understand your own biases. Whether interviewing or holding a team meeting, be aware of your unconscious bias. You could be for or against a certain person or topic based on your own limitations. Take time to think through and understand yourself.
To close, I will be entering the workforce in about 2040. They are calling my generation the Quaran-Teens! I really hope you can all work on this now because the number of channels for information is only going to increase. Machine learning will get smarter at targeting information. Let’s not let that make us even more divided – in society or in the workplace. Inclusive workplaces will help build a better future for all of us!