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McKinsey interview with Iris Bohnet focuses on using design to achieve diversity

McKinsey’s Rik Kirkland interviewed Iris Bohnet, Harvard Kennedy School professor of public policy, who is well known for her view that design can address unconscious bias. After doing extensive research on approaches to diversity, Bohnet said she did not find “a single study that found that diversity training in fact leads to more diversity.”

Instead, she’s studying what steps actually lead to a more equitable workplace. She points to the example of what some famous orchestras did in the 1970s when they wanted to increase the percentage of women in their ranks. A curtain was added for auditions so orchestra directors could hear the music but not see who was playing it. The percentage of women in the orchestra rose from 5% to 40%.

Applying that same type of design to businesses, her advice includes:

    • De-bias the language of job descriptions
    • Omit the demographic characteristics of job applicants (names, ages, and photos, for example)
    • Use machines, algorithms, and data more intelligently together with humans in making decisions about employees

Bohnet said she’s confident that big data and analytics will “move the needle” on diversity dramatically in the next 10 years.

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