DE&I Requires a Culture Reset That Starts with Unbiased Data

By Jennifer VonHagen

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Embrace an Inclusive Workplace and Take Steps to Advance a Meaningful Cultural Reset at Your Organization


As we close out 2020, nearly all talent leaders can agree that a diverse, inclusive workplace culture is non-negotiable in building and sustaining a high performing organization for the future.

Yet many leaders still fail to advance meaningful change beyond checking compliance boxes. According to Deloitte, 71% aspire to have an “inclusive” culture in the future, yet actual maturity levels for inclusion are very low (1). What’s holding them back? Deloitte suggests that organizations underestimate the depth of the change required, and for most, real change will require a culture reset.

Where does a culture reset begin? From the top down? From the bottom up?

At Plum, we believe it’s both. At the top, a culture reset starts at the heart of how talent decisions get made. From hiring, to employee and leadership development, to workforce planning, and re-orgs - if the data used to make talent decisions carries bias, the outcomes will too. At the employee level, a culture reset starts with helping individuals understand what drives and drains them, and empowering their immediate leaders to keep them in roles, on projects and on teams where they naturally thrive.

Purpose-driven leaders instinctively get this. It’s why they’re embracing bold changes in the core data they use to not only drive talent decisions, but to empower their people. They realize traditional data, such as education, past job experience and current org titles - data you’d find on resumes or across HR systems - is a limiting, “rearview mirror” mindset. The data itself is inherently biased via systemic barriers such as access to education and early job opportunities. What’s more, this ‘traditional HR data’ does nothing to help leaders really get to know what drives their people to bring their best every day.

Instead of perpetuating bias, purpose-driven leaders root inclusive talent decisions in a universal metric that is consistently transparent, accurate, and fair: quantified human potential. Grounded in scientifically validated industrial/organizational (I/O) psychology, quantified human potential measures more than hard skills and knowledge, it reveals a person’s innate Talents, including innovation, persuasion, teamwork, adaptation, and communication. Often referred to as “soft skills,” these Talents represent how we are consistently hardwired as humans - no matter our race, gender or background. By it’s very nature, Talent data remains relevant offering leaders a more resilient, forward-looking approach to their decisions. Read more about Plum’s Talent Model here.

Here are three reasons why centering talent decisions around a universal, unbiased metric helps these leaders advance a culture reset and achieve meaningful diversity, equity and inclusion outcomes: 

1. Bias in equals bias out

Quite simply, removing bias from the data before it feeds decisions naturally reduces bias in the outcomes. Today, it’s common for HR teams to rely on AI to retroactively remove human bias in certain processes, such as hiring or internal mobility. Many HR technology tools use algorithms that “mask” resume data, such as education, gender, or full name. While the intentions are good, the outcome is flawed. By their very nature, algorithms learn from the data they are fed, which means they can eventually reproduce or even exacerbate human bias.  

A notable example of AI backfiring can be found at Amazon. In 2014, their engineers built algorithms with the sole purpose of removing bias from their hiring process. Unfortunately, they built those algorithms using a decade’s worth of resumes from Amazon’s predominantly male candidates. The resulting bias against women was simply the result of a machine assuming male candidates were preferable. That project was scrapped in 2017. 

Using a metric that is consistently accurate and unbiased from the start not only improves the quality of talent decisions, but improves equity in the decision intelligence at its core.

2. Say no to virtue signals

If we’ve learned anything this year, it’s that employees deserve and demand authentic actions from their employers. They see right through empty mission statements and they are anxious to hold leaders accountable for defensible decisions. Using a universal metric that is consistently fair and accurate signals to employees, in no uncertain terms, exactly what an organization values in the people they hire, develop, and promote. When employees and candidates have tangible proof that they are understood and valued for their unique talents, organizations naturally embed a more inclusive experience throughout the employee lifecycle.

3. Speak a common language

In far too many team scenarios, employees resist speaking up and bringing their ‘whole selves’ to work. The resulting ‘employee silence’ stifles innovation and hurts team performance. When team leaders have insight into what drains and drives individuals, they are better equipped to provide the right encouragement where it’s needed. When team leaders understand an employee’s unique Talents, they can help individuals avoid or improve in areas that drain them, while helping them lean into career paths where they would naturally thrive.

What do bold changes in DE&I look like in practice?  

“We know… this might sound crazy, but for students applying to one of our campus programs, we are no longer requiring resumes.” - Scotiabank 

Scotiabank’s new student hiring process is a timely inspiration. In 2020, the bank formally removed the requirement for students to submit resumes. Right in the LinkedIn job description, they explain the move: “For students, we are focused on learning about who you are and what you’re interested in to uncover your true potential. In short, we don’t believe resumes will provide us with an accurate depiction of what you’re truly about to properly assess your potential. Instead we want to get to know YOU and hear about the experiences that have shaped you. 



As talent leaders strive to accelerate meaningful change in the coming year, the boldest of us will embrace a “culture reset” and explore the benefits of upgrading our talent data. We recently interviewed Edward Hurley-Wales, an expert in DE&I strategy, and he summed up this cultural imperative perfectly: “For years, I’ve helped organizations realize that diversity efforts alone, without inclusion, don’t produce the workforce outcomes they’re looking for. Building inclusion into the fabric of a company’s workforce takes insights, analytics and data that feed a strategic HR plan.”