The global pandemic and subsequent social justice events shined a spotlight on the importance of diversity in the workplace. And there is no time like now to encourage company leadership to change homogenous workplace environments. And more importantly, contingent labor provides a huge and often overlooked opportunity to fill gaps in diversity. 

Workforce Logiq’s VP of diversity and inclusion, William T. Rolack Sr., discusses the impact of diversity and why it’s a philosophy, not a policy. He addresses how supplier diversity is as important as workforce diversity as long as the push is equally and strategically applied and part of the overarching enterprise-wide D&I plan. He goes on to outline how organizations can achieve their diversity goals. And an obvious benefit is a boost to the company’s bottom line — but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

William T Rolack Sr., VP of Diversity and Inclusion, Workforce Logiq

How important is diversity in a contingent workforce program, and what is an appropriate diversity goal for a CW program to have?

It really depends on the organization and where they are in their journey. I think that the main question that everyone tries to answer is, “Are we doing a great job when it comes to diversity mix within our talent pool?”

People have to begin with determining their goals. And the methodology is going to be most important. Most organizations that are doing this well are utilizing their internal measurements — what does my workforce look like now? — and then looking at some external factors and benchmarks to put their organizational performance into context.

The two major external benchmarks currently being used are industry and designated market area (DMA). For industry, what do we look like versus our industry as a whole and how do we become best in the industry? And then setting goals to meet and exceed that number in all demographic categories — including people with disabilities, LGBTQ and veterans — showing that you have a richness across the workforce.

The other main benchmark being used is the designated market area, where organizations want to resemble the places in which they live, work and play. Whether they’re in San Diego, New York or in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, they want to look like and represent those environments.

DMA is the high marker, while industry is usually the low marker.

Sometimes, falling somewhere in between the two benchmarks is a sound goal. Some executives will say, “We’re not doing well in this particular area.” And a lot of times I disagree. Because if they are in cities that are highly diverse — for instance, New York City or San Diego or Miami — that are richer in diversity compared to other places, they could be still be exceeding their industry even if they are not quite representative of their DMA. So, a lot of times they really have to look deeper, segment appropriately, and come up with a sound methodology to determine their actual diversity gaps.

And within contingent labor, there is a huge and often overlooked opportunity for organizations to fill their diversity void by having demographics that represent their broader workplace, workforce, designated market area, and the counties that make up that particular region. Leveraging their contingent workforce is a great way to fill the gaps that they might not be able to meet with just their full-time employee population.

Within a CWM program, how do you balance supplier and workforce diversity? When it comes to supplier diversity, what should that look like?

They are generally equally important. While you want the richness of diversity reflected in both the supplier and workforce sides, the supplier side is really about creating a competitive landscape for your business. Big, national suppliers may be able to generate talent capacity quickly and effectively; but the smaller, diversity-owned businesses, which are more often “locally based,” can usually do better on delivery of diversity candidates. Diversity suppliers are also usually overlooked and have a difficult time breaking into large corporate opportunities. Opening the doors to organizations owned by under-represented populations is good for the competitive environment, good for business — and a good thing to do.

So, it’s not at all about wanting to set a goal of 5% or 10% for minority-owned businesses. It’s about improving competitive dynamics well beyond the stated goal and expanding the pipeline of diverse candidates.

In terms of workforce diversity, many Fortune 500 companies have tried to address it over the past 30 years but the needle of progress has barely moved. What are they doing wrong?

From my personal experiences, the problem is that organizational leadership does not understand that diversity and inclusion is more than workplace and workforce compliance. That’s only the first level that they need to be considering. Workforce diversity is much more complex than that, but for many leaders, that’s where their knowledge caps out.

Additional levels of understanding include the economic value that all of the pillars of diversity and inclusion impact for a business, as well as how diversity and inclusion facilitate innovation; for example, being able to utilize their full range of employees as innovation teams.

A lot of organizations make the mistake of setting up diversity councils and treating them as governance bodies, but they are absolutely not. They should be utilized as innovation teams. There are governing bodies that already exist for compliance — there’s HR, there’s legal. That is not the work of the diversity council, but many people believe that it is, which diminishes it from developing innovation.

If you have people across different demographics, people from different backgrounds, different cultures working in different functions of the business — from order entry to order delivery or product development, to product delivery outside the organization — you actually have a richness of an organization and an innovation team that can actually solve complex business problems. If everyone feels included and comfortable to “speak up,” they can add their voice to the mix, challenge the conventional thinking, and help to come up with creative and innovative solutions to the myriad business challenges of their organization.

Finally, the ultimate goal is business integration: understanding how diversity and inclusion can be empowered for positive impact across the organization — making it an ongoing, integral differentiator and enabler of positive change.

What is an organization’s biggest challenge to achieving its diversity goals?

Well, it’s going to come down to leadership accountability — inclusive leadership or inclusive leadership behaviors and where senior leadership “shows up.” A recent diversity inclusion study by the organization Diversity Best Practices showed that 97% of all CEOs reviewed their diversity strategy, but only 42% have accountability measurements.

If you have a department with 80% women and 20% men, but 80% of the men and 20% of the women are being promoted, there’s an equity problem. But no one’s held accountable and there’s no attachment to anyone’s performance evaluation or performance review to make sure that we have a diversity of the candidates and that equity is happening within the organization.

And that’s really the biggest challenge to achieving any of these diversity goals, because it’s really set around the performance metrics that are attached to it.

Any organization can set D&I goals, but do they have the tools to be successful? For example, does the talent acquisition team have the strategic alliance partners to drive those new pipelines of diversity? If they stay within the old paradigm and the old strategy of looking in their HRS system and looking in the online portals that they currently have, but not turning on strategic alliances around Hispanic workforce, LGBT, people with disabilities, African Americans, Asians, etc., then they’re not likely to accomplish what they have set out to achieve.

You can’t continue to do what you’ve always done and get a different result, right? They have to continually challenge themselves by asking what they can and should do to do better.

Let’s talk about AI (artificial intelligence) innovation. What it’s doing around data and workforce diversity?

[Editor’s note: In October 2019, Workforce Logiq acquired Engage Talent, a predictive analytics and AI software innovator for workforce recruiting, retention, and business intelligence.]

There’s tons of data out there. But data alone doesn’t help people make better decisions. AI can enable people to recruit and retain diverse talent, for specific skill sets, in specific locations, at specific levels more efficiently and more cost effectively. We call it predictive workforce management. That’s one of the key differentiators we bring to our clients — and was enabled by the integration of Engage Talent into our Total Talent Intelligence platform.

AI-powered algorithms help us anticipate when candidates are more likely to be open to unsolicited recruiter calls, when employees are most likely to be looking to leave an organization, as well as what messaging will be most effective to recruit or retain the impacted worker. And, our AI algorithms are even able to supercharge diversity recruiting pipelines by predicting which candidates are more likely to be members of an underrepresented talent population. That’s an edge our clients need — especially in today’s hyper-uncertain talent market.

And we have real-time predictive insights on more than 100 million candidates and 7 million organizations in our US platform alone.

AI has been touted as a way to improve diversity in hiring. However, there have been cases of AI programs that have reinforced human biases. How can an organization address this?

AI is key to our business strategy — and a tool we use to build effective solutions that include improved diversity workforce planning. Organizations can address this by ensuring the tools they are using are structured carefully. Our commitment to ethical AI means we adhere to a strict set of data science guidelines that are informed by our key science advisors. Our algorithms undergo a four-part validated discrimination test that is designed and reviewed with outside counsel to ensure parameters are free of bias; we review historical data for any hidden bias, audit results for any statistically significant disparate impact, and track how users utilize the AI results. However, as with any technological advancement, the power of AI must be deliberately and carefully marshalled in order to ensure positive impacts for employers — and the individuals they recruit.

A great example of a challenge created by AI that has been in the news is recruiting programs that include facial recognition that may rate candidate mood or other inputs to recruiting decisions; if candidates appeared excited about the job, then they might actually get a higher rating and a higher likelihood of an offer.

Looking at it through a diversity and inclusion lens, we’ve found that the rating system doesn’t always result in the best results. For example, it may discount someone who has Down syndrome. Or someone who was in an accident. Or someone who needs a screen reader. So, we have to ensure the technology we use is inclusive enough to support our diversity pipelining and recruiting strategies.

Through addressing situations like the facial recognition challenge, AI has evolved and gotten richer and better. But I think as long as we go with the fundamental belief that AI is good and that its intent is to make our lives better, we can get the best out of it and continue to create systems that don’t have biases. It just takes applying a “diversity lens” to that algorithm, as you are looking at what the intended outcomes are. And that’s where we’ve gotten really good at leveraging AI for the benefit of all organizations as well.

What recommendations would you have for organizations that would like to get started with improving their workforce diversity?

First, I’d say diversity is not a marketing project. You can’t buzzword it. It has to be something concrete and sound, but a lot of organizations are doing the workforce piece very arbitrarily. It’s about having an understanding of the business impact and being able to articulate it.

My second recommendation goes back to having that sound methodology. Look at getting started in improving workforce diversity. I think the methodology of identifying and answering that age-old question, “How do I know I’m doing a great job?” is vital. Because again, I’ve seen executives say they are not doing well when, in fact, they are. (And the reverse is true too!) Sometimes they’re over-indexed in areas that they said they were falling short in because they have never set a methodology to determine their gaps.

And I’ve had a chance to set data points like that myself. In my tenure at Major League Baseball, we wanted the clubs to look like the places we lived, worked and played. And it was imperative that we produce a slate of candidates that would give us the opportunity to look like those places and we set the strategic alliance strategy to ensure that we had the right relationships in the right communities to produce those skillsets for those missing demographics. But it all came back to where we measured up and where our environments measured up.

And we were the industry, so we were the industry number; we can’t celebrate anything because we are the industry. But we needed some external factors to do that.

It’s fun work, but it’s hard and is never “done.” But there’s no talent acquisition specialist or executive that will be challenged when they have the right intent and a methodology that leverages both industry and external market benchmarks to gauge diversity and inclusion success.