Article: Using a skill-based approach to reduce bias

Skilling

Using a skill-based approach to reduce bias

Boosting the D&I of your workforce isn’t just the right thing to do, but can also have positive effects on innovation, productivity and market competitiveness.
Using a skill-based approach to reduce bias

Without a doubt, improving diversity and inclusion (D&I) has become a boardroom prerogative. Especially in India, where the corporate landscape is going through significant changes due to the pandemic and other economic and social factors. 

Boosting the D&I of your workforce isn’t just the right thing to do, but can also have positive effects on innovation, productivity and market competitiveness. So, there’s a clear business case for improving diversity and one effective way of achieving greater D&I is to take a skill-based approach to all workforce decision-making.

By drawing on skill data, hiring and people managers can make unbiased decisions on who to hire, who to promote or redeploy, who to upskill (and in what areas). More than ever, having people with the right skills, working on the right projects and roles, is critical to performance and recovery post-COVID. Irrespective of who brings those skills to the table. 

The benefits of greater D&I

Tapping into a more diverse talent pool will enable organizations to expand their diversity of thought, leading to greater innovation and creativity. Diverse teams outperform less diverse competitors by 35% and innovation increases by 20% thanks to diversity of thinking. 

It can also help to reflect a diverse customer base and meet their needs more effectively. Plus, having a wider talent pool to recruit from and internally mobilize, provides a solution for India’s widening skills gap. 

Furthermore, greater D&I has been linked to greater employee engagement and performance, and also makes it more likely that senior management is rated favourably. There’s also the overall impact on employer branding, loyalty, and brand reputation to consider. 

Falling short

However, despite the well-documented benefits of improving D&I, most approaches are undermined when it comes to project recruitment and promotions. When a hiring manager needs to find someone to fulfil a new role or project, they automatically turn to their network for people they either know or who have been recommended to them. This immediately introduces bias into the process. Relying solely on recommendations and word-of-mouth is a sure way to hire someone from a similar background, social situation and with close characteristics to yourself.

To truly improve D&I, managers need to, as standard, look beyond their regular communities to consider people from other teams and business areas, or other sectors and industries.

Skill data is the answer

That’s where skill data can help. Simply, skill data is the measurement of what your people can do. It’s an accurate, up-to-date overview of their current skills, learning (what skills they’re building), performance data, their interests and career goals. 

Skill data is generated throughout the workday. It is created as people start and finish their tasks, learn, when they’re recruited or promoted, during their feedback sessions and performance reviews, and much more. Skill data builds over time, combining data from many different sources including an ATS (Applicant Tracking System), HCM (Human Capital Management) tools, performance reviews, learning system data, assessment tools and resumes. 

By leveraging this data, employers can ensure that everyone is offered work opportunities that align with their skills, experience, learning and goals. With skill data at their fingertips, hiring managers gain access to a talent pool that extends far beyond their immediate network. 

Levelling the playing field

Taking a skill-based approach, levels the playing field as only someone’s current skills and future skills (inferred through their learning) is taken into account. It makes workforce strategies such as internal mobility, upskilling, retention and recruitment much more consistent and objective. 

When managers rely on anecdotal experiences, influences like unconscious or recency bias can impact decisions. But with skill data, there are clear reasons why someone should be offered an opportunity. Likewise, if they aren’t ready for an opportunity that they want, a skill-based approach clearly tells them what skills they will need to take the next step (like gaining more experience in a certain area or upskilling). 

Pitfalls to avoid

That said, skill data isn’t completely infallible. You need to be careful that your data itself isn’t biased and you need to understand how to use it correctly. 

First of all,  representing data in certain ways can introduce bias where none existed before. This can lead to inappropriate assumptions about how well the data reflects reality. For example, if you only sample a handful of people in your organization and they rate their proficiency as high in machine learning, you cannot then assume that your organization is prepared for machine learning technologies.

Likewise, managers shouldn’t take a reductionist view of skills. All roles and functions have nuances and gradations. Oversimplifying a skill or roles means you’ll be blind to normal subtleties in different people and roles. For instance, one software developer might be particularly good at user interface (UI) design and another may specialize in database transactions. Both are ‘software developers’ but they have entirely different skillsets and experiences.

Finally, bias can be introduced when collecting skill data. A good rule of thumb is to collect as much data as possible (resources and storage allowing). This extends beyond just data points, it also means collecting a more diverse set of data points. This ensures that your data offers a highly accurate and comprehensive view of your workforce’s skills and skill gaps.

A significant change

Like all worthwhile efforts, shifting to a skill-based approach will involve a huge cultural and process change. But it will pay off in the long run, with people who feel empowered by the opportunities they are offered, and managers who look farther afield to build the best teams for their projects. 

Offering opportunities to everyone, based on their skill data, will make your workforce more innovative, engaged, productive and agile. And it will set your organization apart as a true champion of equal opportunities. 

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Topics: Skilling, Diversity, #GuestArticle

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