To Complete the Acronym, Humans Must Focus on Unconscious Behavior

By Drew Vass

In the short time since ChatGPT and other artificial intelligence (AI) platforms have surfaced in public hands, the shortcomings are already obvious. In addition to made-up information (which some developers refer to as “hallucinations”), among the biggest systemic flaws are examples of racism, sexism and bias in AI-generated content.

If AI is to become a trusted tool—including for human resource departments—it goes without saying that it will need to be instilled with programming and safeguards against immoral and unethical behavior. But this dilemma also raises important questions about how technology ended up so morally and ethically lacking to begin with. Platforms such as ChatGPT were created by people and designed to draw on our collective knowledge. So what does this say about our progress toward diversity, equity and inclusion?

What About Us?

While the state of DEI among fenestration companies is an elusive data point, according to a study conducted by Hr.research Institute, most of today’s companies and organizations, generally, continue to lack mature and effective DEI programs. In a survey conducted by [DWM], including 26 door and window companies, four said they have implemented DEI-related policy changes over the past five years. Six out of 26 said they have worked with DEI consultants. Less than half of companies said they maintain data pertaining to diversity. Four said they made that info publicly available.

A representative from PGT Innovations said his company believes the industry has made progress in recent years. A representative from Jeld-Wen indicated the industry is “about average,” but has more to do yet. Some respondents said they’ve seen progress regarding the representation of women, specifically, and especially in leadership positions, while others said they don’t think diversity is well represented among managers and directors.

Among companies from outside of the industry, 48% of those surveyed by Hr.research Institute in 2022 said they agreed or strongly agreed their workforces were more diverse than they were two years prior. At the same time, more than half (57%) said ethnic and racial minorities made up no more than 20% of their organizations’ leadership, while 20% said the same about women. As recent as 2021, a study conducted by the research firm McKinsey showed that women of color held only 4% of C-suite positions, compared to 62% of white men. White women held 20% while men of color made up 13%.

In construction, a field that’s closely allied to the door and window industries, matters are even worse. According to 2022 figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 87% of construction workers identified as white and only 3.9% identified as women.

Meanwhile, a report by Dodge Data and Analytics casts serious doubt on how much effort construction firms are making to instill progress. One of Dodge’s latest reports shows that the construction industry has begun to engage with DEI, but a relatively small share of companies have done so to a degree that fosters real change in their organizations.

This begs the question: Why so little progress?

The short answer might be “human nature,” says Robyn Hatcher, a keynote speaker and inclusive communications consultant who specializes in DEI.

Genetic Programming

“People do what they do because they’re afraid for their own survival,” Hatcher suggests. “Our brains are wired for survival. And, as human beings, we are a tribal species. From the beginning of humanity, there’s an in tribe and an out tribe. When you’re in the in tribe, then you’re safe, because that tribe will protect you and help you survive.” In this way, the tribal instinct is “an innate part of our brain chemistry and structure, and is in our DNA,” she says.

When asked to provide examples of genetic instincts that humans must learn to overcome, among the results ChatGPT cites is tribalism, explaining that “Humans have a tendency to form groups and identify with others who share similar characteristics or beliefs.” While tribalism can lead to a sense of community, “it can also lead to prejudice, discrimination, and conflict,” the AI platform declares. “To function in day-to-day life, individuals must learn to recognize and resist the pull of tribalism, seeking out common ground with others and respecting differences in opinions and lifestyles,” ChatGPT says.

In this way, it seems that AI is aware of the need for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI); it just fails to apply DEI principals to its own decision making and will continue to do so until it’s programmed to recognize its own bias. The same is true of humans, Hatcher suggests.

“That’s why there’s so much talk in training around unconscious bias—because it is unconscious. At least, it’s a bias that is unconscious most of the time,” she says. Meanwhile, “A lot of people don’t know how to get past that,” she adds. That’s where discrimination and exclusivity often come in.

In some cases, “You’ve got a company that has had—for years and years and years—people who hired people and interacted with people who were all in their tribe,” she says. With DEI, “Then you’re thinking, ‘Oh … I have to open it up.’” For those who are unable to consciously confront their tribal instincts, “That’s scary for them,” Hatcher says—subconsciously, at least.

Of all the ways that human beings have changed over time, “this particular part of the human brain hasn’t evolved that much,” Hatcher says.

Meanwhile, the higher up the corporate ladder you go, the more potent the issue becomes, suggests Subha Barry, president of Seramount, an end-to-end provider of DEI services.

“For many in senior leadership, and those in power, there is a fear that they will lose their power,” Barry says. “A mentality that it’s a zero-sum game causes individuals to become insular and protective. It is important to have an abundance mindset—one that says there are opportunities for all of us.”

It isn’t that companies don’t want to do the right thing, says Bonnie Blueford, of the Blueford Group, a consulting firm that helps leaders with DEI planning. But human beings sometimes have a way of rationalizing inaction, Blueford says.

“I feel like companies are doing this,” Hatcher says. “Like, it’s right here. We see it. Oh, but look at our budget. Let’s rationalize a reason why we can’t do that.”

But there is a business angle to DEI and that’s okay to embrace, suggests Rhonda Moret, CEO of the consulting firm Elevated Diversity.

“I think sometimes it’s a combination of both,” she says—companies doing the right thing for moral and ethical reasons, and for business purposes and benefits. “In recent years, there’s been a heavy push for organizations to ensure or put into place strategies which align their business objectives to their DEI objectives,” she says. In those cases, it’s perfectly fine to discuss a return on investment, Moret suggests.

“You know, we’re in business and business is bottom line driven, right? So, we always have to be mindful of, okay, we’re spending X number of dollars and this number of hours on resources, what’s the ROI on this DEI investment?” she says. “That’s always an area that we cover with our clients and provide them with some insight on. Yes, you can get a return on your DEI advocacy, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.”

Starting From Ground Zero

For companies that are behind in their DEI efforts, at the very least they should start by examining long-standing practices with a fresh eye, experts say.

“It’s about how we’ve always done business and the mindset,” Moret says. “Whether it’s starting with your employee handbook, or looking at where you’re sourcing your candidates from, or looking at even how you write your job listings—it’s really about taking a fresh look and peeling back the layers of that onion to find a starting point.”

In the process, it’s important to take an honest look at company culture from the perspective of employees, experts say.

“We see organizations say, ‘Oh, yeah, everybody’s great here. We all get along. We haven’t had any problems,’” Moret says. “Then we do some surveys or fact-finding with their staff and that’s not always the case. Often there are issues that are there, but employees just simply don’t share [with their employers].”

Barry suggests that organizations also employ a dedicated person for driving DEI plans, preferably someone who is “as senior as possible and who has access to the CEO, as well as the senior leadership team,” she says. Among the door and window companies surveyed by [DWM], numerous report they have someone dedicated to DEI, but in some cases those individuals hold additional roles and responsibilities.

Barry also says companies should establish at least two to three employee resource groups, sanctioned and run by the company, as well as formal mentorship and sponsorship programs that include cultural competence training. By pairing those groups and individuals by race, ethnicity and gender, as well as other dimensions of diversity, companies send a strong
signal about their commitment to DEI, she says.

Tying Results to Leadership

In addition to overarching plans, there should be well-defined performance goals for executives and specifics for how they are measured against the company’s DEI efforts, Blueford says, including how effectively leaders engage with employees.

In the process, it’s also important to recognize that training and compliance programs aren’t the be-all end-all of DEI efforts, Barry says. “Many organizations implement mandatory diversity training for all employees, but these trainings don’t address bias, inclusivity, allyship or real-world concerns,” she says.

For this reason, even removing bias from hiring doesn’t ensure that new employees will last. An annual workforce benchmarking survey by Pricewaterhouse-Coopers (PwC) found that women and racially- and ethnically-diverse populations were more likely than all employees—as a whole—to voluntarily leave their jobs within the first year of employment. This emphasizes a need for organizations to understand the various experiences of sub-populations within the workforce, experts say. To increase retention, companies and organizations need to thoughtfully create
tailored experiences for individual groups, some suggest. And that’s where the latest addition to the DEI acronym comes in.

‘B’ Is for Belonging

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, diversity refers to the inherent differences that exist amongst a group of people. Equity—unlike equality—refers to providing individuals with the support they need to be successful. Inclusion is about creating supportive, welcoming and respectful environments within the workplace for people of all backgrounds.

But all combined, diversity, equity and inclusion fail to address one important factor that could lead to better employee retention and happiness: belonging.

As an added factor for DEI (now DEIB), belonging is what, in many ways, caps off DEI efforts, ensuring that the process follows through on behalf of every employee.

“You can include people, but if they don’t belong, or they don’t feel like they belong, they’re not going to do their best work, and [DEI efforts] aren’t going to work,” Hatcher says.

Unlike the other components in DEIB, belonging is the one aspect that stems from personal experience and perspectives. In this way, one could argue that belonging is what transcends all DEIB efforts from the realm of inclusivity to genuine acceptance.

“How are people feeling?” Blueford asks. “Do they feel like they belong? Do they feel like they can bring their whole self to work?”

So far as what belonging looks like in practice, “Let’s say you have individuals within your company who are Muslim, so you make some provisions in your handbook for accommodations,” Moret says. “But wouldn’t it be wonderful if that organization went that extra step and created an employee engagement event where they shared information on what it’s like to be Muslim, or the history—just going that step beyond that says, ‘Hey, we accept you, and all that you’re about, and we want to learn more about you.’”

Leaders can also work to instill a sense of belonging by opening up to employees in order to form more meaningful connections with them.

“People won’t do what you say until you see who they are,” Hatcher says. “But they won’t share who they are until they see who you are. So it’s really about having a way to interact with each other and have communication that connects at some level. Just hiring them isn’t enough.”

Leaders can start the process by sharing something personal about themselves, Hatcher says—something about their families, a hobby or something they enjoy watching on television. While those tidbits might seem insignificant, “It’s about finding out where you may have something in common with another person so that person then feels like they are seen and that you want them to share something interesting about themselves,” she says.

Once you get to know someone, it’s also easier to identify how they fit into the big picture.

“So much conversation is transactional—like do this, do that. It’s all based on what is being done,” Hatcher says. “But if you can communicate a vision, and then communicate how you see that other person fitting into that vision, that’s another way of making them feel they are included and belong.”

Eventually we might be able to consult ChatGPT for even more insights on belonging. But only once we’ve given it the right resources to draw from. Human resources, that is.

Industry Bright Spots

Equal Pay & Gender Gaps: Associated Materials

A representative for Associated Materials tells [DWM] the company conducted a formal gender gap assessment, which it followed with changes that were based on its findings.

Thought Leadership: Jeld-Wen

A representative for Jeld-Wen reports that in 2022, over 200 of the company’s senior leaders participated in virtual reality simulation training, aimed at helping them recognize microaggressions. They practiced addressing scenarios through challenging conversations that are often difficult to breach in the workplace.

In the past five years, the company has also:
• Made significant investments to help build representation, prioritize inclusion and provide equitable growth opportunities;
• Added six new employee resource groups, including for leadership development; and
• Added dedicated sponsors on the company’s senior leadership team representing young professionals, veterans, Hispanics, Blacks and LGBTQ+ team members.

Empowering Women: PGT Innovations

In 2017, the PGT Innovations “Leading Ladies” program was created to empower the company’s women through mentorship, to learn, encourage and celebrate accomplishments.

“Our enterprise fosters a culture that supports gender diversity and is creating a legacy of inspiring women to become admirable leaders,” a company representative said.

To date, the company has more than 960 females in various manufacturing roles, 89 females in STEM roles, over 110 female leaders and 51 females participating in the Leading Ladies program.

Leading by Example: Andersen Corp.

In an exclusive interview with [DWM], Andersen’s CEO, Chris Galvin, said his company’s motto, “All together,” has taken on new meaning in recent years, as its leadership team focuses on DEIB.

How is the company doing? In early 2022, Andersen was designated one of the “Best Places to Work for LGBTQ+ Equality,” having earned a score of 100% on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s 2022 Corporate Equality Index (CEI). In October of last year, the company was named one of the “World’s Best Employers” by Forbes magazine. The company was also recognized by Forbes as one of America’s Best Large Employers, America’s Best Employers for Diversity, and one of America’s Best Employers for Women.

Leveling Up Healthcare: Therma-Tru

Officials for Therma-Tru (part of Fortune Brands Innovations) say the company now offers benefits that ensure equivalency in same- and different-sex families, including coverage for adoption, infertility treatments, surrogacy and fostering. The company also expanded medical benefits for individuals who may identify as transgender.

“By doing so, we aim to support and empower all of our employees, in accessing the healthcare resources they need,” a company representative says.

Robyn Hatcher, a keynote speaker and inclusive communications consultant, says a lack of progress in DEI could in some cases be linked to unconscious bias.

Company leaders should have well-defined goals for DEI and be held responsible for ensuring success, says Bonnie Blueford, of the Blueford Group, a consulting firm that helps leaders with DEI planning.

Drew Vass is the executive editor for Door and Window Market [DWM] magazine.

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