Transparency as a Means to Address Workplace Discrimination
Transparency forms the backbone of the employee experience, simply because people want to know about the organization that they belong to, and rightly so. After all, an organization’s processes, decisions and actions, all have ramifications on the employee – directly or indirectly. Transparency also instils faith and trust. The more a company communicates to its employees what they have the right to know, the more they feel respected and acknowledged. Right from hiring processes to L&D and career growth opportunities, information is only truly useful to your teams when it is widely and uniformly disseminated.
The vision, mission and values of a company also factor into this. It is not enough to tell your employees what these are, it’s necessary to tell them how you as an organization emulate these. What makes you fair, growth-oriented, inclusive, open? These are not just buzz-words, these are part of a code that your organization lives up to. And for your employees to follow suit, they need to understand the basis.
When it comes to a subject like discrimination, an organization’s stance matters on every level – Right from inclusive, zero-tolerance policies to an inclusive zero-tolerance mindset. One cannot exist without the other. So, how can higher levels of transparency be a way to combat discrimination at the workplace?
Transparency enables feedback and introspection
Not everyone understands the nature of discrimination, especially if they have not been on the receiving end of it. And considering the myriad classifications that discriminatory behaviour falls into, there need to be myriad perspectives to address this organizationally. When you foster a culture of transparency, you essentially tell your employees that they can talk about what bothers them and you will listen. This ensures an environment where feedback is welcome, and where decision-makers are forced to confront this feedback and act on it.
Everything from how anti- discrimination and harassment policies are crafted, to how the panel is assembled, right up to clear, coherent processes that leave no space for ambiguity and red-tape – These are pieces of information that your workforce should be aware of for them to feel truly secure. The only way people will even begin to voice their concerns is if they feel that the policies have indeed been crafted for their benefit.
When a grievance is brought to the HR department or to a committee, it is also essential for the complainant to know how far along the issue is in the system. Is their complaint being considered? Will there be a meeting to discuss it? Has it been dismissed and if so, why? To be able to have open conversations around race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, age and ability, transparency is of utmost importance. And this is the first step to building a workplace that includes everyone and stands up against discriminatory practices, both individual and institutional.
Transparency enables inclusion, reducing chances of discrimination
When processes like hiring, promotions, increments and appraisal mechanisms are all transparent in nature, it eliminates the chances of personal and cognitive bias creeping into decision-making. All this data when regularly collected and reviewed by committees within the organization along with external experts, also ensures that problem areas are identified and addressed. Is there a pattern in promotions within certain departments? Are certain roles filled by candidates from a certain demographic on repeated occasions? Are AI softwares for hiring, themselves biased in nature? Is there a concentrated subset of people in the leadership team? These are questions that organizations need to answer regularly, and when a pattern emerges, the problem must be nipped in the bud.
Of course, for such mechanisms to work to everyone’s benefit, the teams responsible for interpreting this data (often the HR team) require regular training and sensitization to understand and work on their own biases. Every company tracks their sales and analyses the data to consistently do better. Why not, then, track people management numbers in a more systematic manner?
To put in perspective the dire need for such reformations: A report by PayScale states that when organizations are more transparent about their pay practices and actually disclose data on salary setting and the criteria for raises, the chance of a gender pay gap gets reduced. Employers immediately become more accountable for who they pay what, and why. Additionally, decision-makers are forced to examine the basis on which they offer salary hikes, a process which can lead to more unified criteria-setting across gender and race. To talk about statistics closer to home, in Singapore, working women still make 6% less than their male colleagues, and without adjustment, the pay gap amounts to 16.3%. This is seen across hierarchies, designations and whether the job is blue- or white-collared in nature.
Clearly, there is a need for transparency across the board – From one-on-one conversations between leaders and teams, to documented policies and processes in the organization. Your employees have a right to know the kind of organization they belong to, and to go a step further – They have a right to belong.