HR Challenges: 3 Real-Life Examples That Will Transform Your Diversity Practices

By: Anita Ann Babu on February 5, 2018

If you’re a small-business owner, there are are any number of unforeseen challenges you must prepare for. For example, an external world event can have a negative psychological affect on your workers, even if it doesn’t directly affect them.

And then there are internal challenges that could arise at any time, such as harassment and discrimination. These issues are highly sensitive, and companies—both big and small—must be equipped to deal with them.

Otherwise, they risk lowered morale and bad PR, which can ultimately mean missing out on good candidates. After all, nobody wants to work for a company with a culture problem.

If you want to avoid these risks, it all comes down to preparation.

Here, we talk about the ways small businesses can leverage technology to prepare for specific HR challenges and avert crisis.

We’ll look at a few examples where companies are getting it right, or where they got it very wrong and had to recover. Though the examples given here are larger companies, the lessons learned apply to small businesses too.

Read on to learn how you can meet these HR challenges head on through training, culture shifts and technology.

Sephora: Diverse teams make better business decisions

A recent Gartner survey of Top Technology Trends for SMBs found that “hiring the right people” is the top business concern for most small businesses (26 percent). Hiring the right people requires a balance of insightful leadership, the right hiring technology and the right recruitment plan.

But what do we even mean by “right”?

It could mean increasing diversity on your team. A recent study finds finds that gender diverse teams make better business decisions 73 percent of the time compared with 58 percent for all-male teams.

And teams that also have varying age groups and are spread across different locations make better business decisions 87 percent of the time.

One company that seems to understand this already is Sephora.

The Wall Street Journal reports that 62 percent of Sephora’s workforce and five of the six members of the digital executive leadership team are women.

What sets Sephora apart in its hiring and promoting practices is that it banks on candidates’ potential rather than specific required skills.

In fact, the company encourages high-performing women to move into digital and tech roles, even if they don’t currently have all the required skills for a technical job. This exercise helps women push themselves and gain new skills, and also serves to attract more highly qualified female candidates in the long run.

What they’ve learned 

Diversity at Sephora has created an atmosphere where all employees feel free to speak up and be heard in meetings—on any topic. Employees who had previously worked in other Silicon Valley tech companies—which are male dominated—say they find Sephora’s culture empowering.

What you can do 

Don’t treat diversity and inclusion simply as a business objective without setting a clear goal and purpose for your strategy. Gender diversity and a culture of openness, like the one at Sephora, should ultimately contribute to a stronger business, but you need to understand upfront exactly what you’re hoping to achieve and why.

In order to achieve its goals of maintaining a competitive technical product and a strong connection to its customers, Sephora focuses on potential rather than skills.

As a small business, you can borrow this strategy, and you even have an advantage, since you’re naturally more agile. If you want to increase the number of women in leadership and technical roles, create cross-training opportunities to identify areas where you could promote women, even if they don’t already possess the entire skillset.

How technology can help 

HR software can help you remove some biases from the hiring process, such as gender preference, favorable treatment to fellow alumni or ex-colleagues as well as discrimination against the disabled, pregnant women, older candidates and physical attributes, such as piercings, body art and religious symbols.

Here are some other ways you can leverage technology to reduce biases and improve diversity at your workplace:

  • Look at recruiting platforms that let you create a customized online test as the first step in the hiring process, so you can narrow down candidates without bias.

  • Use social media more often to post career openings and reach a wider, more diverse candidate pool.

  • Rate candidates on their potential—nurturing and allowing them to challenge themselves can increase retention.

Which HR solutions should you try?

Some of the software features you should look into for unbiased hiring are online assessments and social media integration for job postings. BambooHR, ApplicantPRO, ClearCompany HRM and Workday are some of the FrontRunners for applicant tracking software that offer these features.

Uber: Recognize and eliminate sexism to create a safe workplace

After allegations of a work culture where sexual discrimination and harassment ran rampant, Uber’s former CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick was forced to resign in June 2017.

More people were fired in the aftermath: Twenty employees were let go after an investigation found they failed to address some of the 215 cases of reported sexual harassment, bullying, retaliation and bias, and a board member was forced to resign after making a sexist joke in a meeting—which was called to address Uber’s sexist culture.

In light of all these incidents, Uber board members have pushed for a culture change and removed some of the top executives.

What they’ve learned 

Uber hired a new CEO and is working on changing its image. However, the company was tested again in a recent instance where a promotion in Bangalore, India included sending an email about “Wife Appreciation Day,” which urged husbands to order UberEats to give their wives a break from cooking.

After customers complained on Twitter that Uber was perpetrating gender stereotypes, Uber removed the promotion and apologized for it. It’s a slow start to an uncertain future, but will hopefully result in a safer workplace for women.

What you can do 

Let’s look at how Evite succeeded where Uber failed. Instead of setting quotas, it focused on making hiring and promotions gender, race and belief agnostic. As a result, females constitute 60 percent of total employees, 63 percent of managers, 57 percent of directors and above and 40 percent of technology and product employees.

This is not surprising, as one study found that when identifying details (gender, race and school) were removed in a tech job interview, 54 percent of the selected candidates were women.

Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In and COO of Facebook, notes that, while it is important to take these steps to remove biases during hiring, it’s still important to recognize that we’re all biased.

Proactively hiring and promoting more women can help you avoid a gender imbalance and a sexist culture. It’s proven that there aren’t any differences in the leadership behaviors of successful male and female leaders. But, merit-based systems tend to award men for their potential and women for their achievements. This can only change if we get more women in positions of power, Sandberg says.

As a business owner, hold your HR team accountable, and make sure they do the same for you. Sandberg recommends that we all become more mindful of the language we use when evaluating women versus men.

For example, if you find yourself or someone else on the team labeling a woman as “angry,” “emotional” or “aggressive,” point it out, take a step back and determine whether there are unconscious biases at play.

How technology can help 

Technology can help you achieve your goals without gender stereotypes coming into play. After all, software doesn’t have gender biases, so it can help you create a balanced workplace environment.

Seek out HR software features such as career planning management and succession management to ensure male and female employees have the same growth opportunities. As Evite shows us, it’s not about setting quotas, but evaluating equally, providing equal opportunities and encouraging divergent thinking.

Which HR solutions should you try?

Namely, UltiPro, Cornerstone OnDemand and Kronos Workforce Central are some of the FrontRunners for human resource management that offer career development planning, succession planning and performance review features, which can help you eliminate bias from hiring and progression practices.

Banana Republic: Teach employees to celebrate cultural differences

In late 2017, a white store manager at a Banana Republic told a black employee that he wouldn’t schedule her shifts unless she removed her braids, which he said weren’t appropriate for the retailer’s image.

This incident proves that people of different races and ethnicities continue to face discrimination based on physical attributes. The manager, a white male, said the braids were “too ‘urban’ and ‘unkempt’,” and even advised the employee on how she could take better care of her hair. The employee immediately shared the experience on Facebook and it went viral.

What they’ve learned 

Banana Republic acted swiftly to investigate the incident, and ultimately fired the manager and issued a public apology condemning his behavior. This will hopefully send a strong message of zero tolerance to other employees and prevent further racial discrimination, whether at work or in public.

What you can do 

This incident stems from a lack of understanding about different races, ethnicities and cultures, as well as a clear lack of training. The manager penalized the employee not because of her performance, but solely on her appearance.

To avoid such incidents, ensure that employees and managers are well trained on company policies. Make it clear that racial discrimination is unacceptable—and unlawful—and that any such incidents will not be tolerated.

Eliminating discrimination and bias also requires constant conversation about acceptance, harmony and the benefits of diversity. You must ensure that training and internal branding spread this message to facilitate a change in attitude.

How technology can help 

Learning management systems (LMS) automate training so sessions are more consistent, easier to access and update and easier to self-assess than those that are trainer-led. An LMS can also be faster than traditional teaching methods, and it allows learners to try multiple times and learn at their own pace with visual aids.

You can also create a culture of acceptance with an active presence on both internal social networks, such as Yammer and Slack, or external channels, such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Use these channels to celebrate inspiring stories about employees with diverse backgrounds while also promoting your anti-discrimination awareness programs.

Which HR solutions should you try?

Check out LMS FrontRunners such as LearnUpon LMSCornerstone OnDemandiSpring Learn and BizLibrary. And some HR solutions that offer a social network to highlight employee achievement and stories are NamelyLanteria HRPerformly and Small Improvements.

Conclusions and next steps

HR teams have a tough job, and a lack of preparation or mishandling of a situation like the examples we saw above could result in employee mistrust, low retention rates and a damaged reputation, making it difficult to attract top talent.

On the other hand, taking the right steps now will result in greater satisfaction and better business decisions. It’s possible—and beneficial—to embrace inclusivity and diversity in your business.

Here are some steps you can take to promote and improve diversity:

  • Target a diverse candidate pool to encourage candidates from all backgrounds to apply. Develop and promote a positive and inclusive work culture by setting expectations about acceptable behavior and leading by example.

  • Train employees on cultural, gender, religious and social differences, so they avoid using discriminatory language and practices. Encourage openness and celebrate differences so all people feel welcomed.

  • Equip managers and leaders to deal with incidents swiftly and in a sensitive and unbiased way. Avoid instances where employees feel afraid or discouraged to share with their managers by offering other options for reporting, including anonymous ones. Make it clear to employees and managers that you have a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination and harassment.

If you’d like help narrowing down the technological solution that could best solve your HR challenges, you can call our advisors for a free consultation at (844) 675-2849.

Survey methodology

Information on Gartner’s Top Technology Trends for SMBs Survey

Gartner conducted this survey in April and May 2017 among 699 U.S.-based SMBs, with more than 10 employees and annual revenue of less than $100 million. The survey excluded nonprofit organizations. The qualified respondents are decision-makers, or have significant influence on the decisions related to purchasing technologies for their organization.