The study, Day-to-Day Experiences
of Emotional Tax Among Women
and Men of Color in the Workplace,
found that nearly 60 percent of
professionals working in corporate
and non-corporate settings—reported
being “highly on guard” at work,
meaning they were in a constant state
of preparedness to deal with potential
bias or discrimination. Such employees
reported disruptions in sleep, which
Dnika J. Travis, lead study author, says
can have negative implications for an
“If health and well-being of
employees aren’t taken care of,
companies can’t maximize the talent of
their workforce,” Travis says.
Nearly all (90 percent) of the 1,600
respondents who reported being highly
on guard were also very ambitious.
They want to be influential leaders
within an organization, she adds.
“These professional men and
women have such high aspirations; if
companies don’t leverage it, they’re
missing out on critical talent,” Travis
says. “Leaders need to hold themselves
and their organizations accountable
to mitigate emotional tax and make
a difference in creating inclusive
Research from the McKinsey Global
Institute found that companies ranked
in the top quartile for racial and ethnic
diversity are 35 percent more likely
to have financial returns above their
respective national industry medians.
Those in the top quartile for gender
diversity are 15 percent more likely to
have better financial returns than the
respective national industry medians.
Though it shouldn’t be the driving
focus, the business case is there for
tackling bias and ramping up inclusion.
But workplaces appear to be dragging
their feet, and one of the most
problematic industries is tech.
Troubles in Tech
Data from the NCWIT show that 26
percent of U.S. professional computing
occupations are held by women, which
is in stark contrast to the proportion of
overall professional occupations held
by women (57 percent).
“The creators [of tech] are few, and
the consumption is large,” says Gómez.
“We need to think about who’s creating
the technology and who’s consuming
it. When it stays in the hands of a
homogenous group, that group reaps
the benefits while everyone else is left
This creates an ethical problem,
but also a staffing issue. ISACA, a
global nonprofit that develops and
advocates for best practices in IT
governance, reports that globally there
will be 2 million unfilled cybersecurity-
professional jobs by 2019.
While some experts say there’s a
talent shortage within the industry,
others counter that unconscious bias is
impeding smart hiring decisions.
Ashcroft says bias can be overt and
conscious, but most often, it’s subtler.
“We, as humans, construct a world
that fits our needs,” she says. “If a
homogenous group is building a team
or starting a company, then those
needs are limited to that group and that
Pooja Jain-Link, vice president and
associate director of research at the
Center for Talent Innovation, says
addressing this group-think problem is
one of the main challenges in tech.
“There is such a strong male
presence in tech that biases are
amplified,” says Jain-Link. “One of the
biggest problems with hiring people
who are like you [the dominant group]
is that you’re blinded to other needs in
an organization. Research has shown
that if you don’t personally think there’s
a need for something, be it diversity
or inclusion, then you will never
understand why it really is necessary.”
Another issue in tech is the speed
at which the industry is growing and
changing. According to Imo Udom,
CEO of WEPOW, a video-interviewing
platform, tech companies often view
success as how quickly a company can
grow and/or meet goals. This velocity
puts diversity, inclusion and other
issues on the back burner. Udom says
the mentality of “growing at any cost
becomes a justification for dealing with
As evidenced by numerous studies,
“later” still hasn’t come for many
businesses. With that said, some large
organizations are leading the charge in
diversity and inclusion practices.
Lead By Example
Nancy Testa, chief diversity officer
at American Express, takes diversity
for its diversity and inclusion efforts,
including its People Leadership
Matters training, which encourages
employees to pause before making key
“We teach attendees to … ask
themselves, ‘Is it a preference,
tradition or requirement for a role or
opportunity?’ This question allows us
to reflect and remove the potential for
unconscious bias,” says Bouyer, who
says such training has been personally
impactful. “Before undergoing
unconscious-bias training at EY, I
thought I was Mr. Fairness—I treated
everyone equally. The trainings we’ve
implemented have opened my eyes to
my own biases.”
EY also provides recruitment
training, which helps recruiters define
bias and explains how it can creep into
the recruiting process. Additionally,
newly promoted leaders undergo
training at the yearly Milestone Event,
which has a two-fold purpose: to
celebrate the promotions and develop
these new leaders. Each year, EY
invites Dr. Mahzarin Banaji, a leading
expert in unconscious-bias studies, to
speak at the event.
Banaji explains to the leaders that
everyone has bias—and accepting it is
part of the process of addressing it.
“Unconscious bias is a scary topic
for folks,” says Bouyer. “We [HR
leaders] know it exists, but if you want
to move your organization to the next
level, you need to have the courage
to hit this problem head-on—you
have to be comfortable with being
uncomfortable in this space.”
Addressing the Human Component
Training and education are
important in addressing bias, but
without the right tools and consistent
follow-up, those efforts often fall flat,
say the experts.
The first crucial tool, according
to Catalyst’s Travis, is simply to talk
about bias—listen to employees who
are at risk for emotional tax and break
through possible “roadblocks” to the
Travis says people want to
feel valued, heard and seen in an
organization, and these three factors
are critical in creating an inclusive
environment. On the heels of listening,
she adds, is learning, which includes
conducting climate surveys and
continuously collecting data on the
organization’s demographics and
comparing it to national benchmarks.
“HR leaders need to embed
a focus on unconscious bias and
intersectionality [of race, gender,
ethnicity] into the fabric of the talent-
management process—they should be
able to identify gaps in intersectionality,
from recruiting to onboarding,” she
says. “Leaders need to ask themselves,
‘What are we doing to ensure that
everyone is valued, heard and
contributing to the organization?’ and,
‘How are we ensuring people stay?’ ”
American Express partnered with the
NeuroLeadership Institute and created
the DECIDE program. The initiative
was designed to help employees
recognize unconscious bias and
understand how it impacts decisions in
hiring, recruiting and promoting talent.
Testa says the program had a
tremendous impact: 98 percent of
participants said it helped them
understand unconscious bias and how
it influences daily decisions.
This year, the company is requiring
every vice president and C-level
executive, up to the CEO, to complete
an inclusive-leadership experience,
which focuses heavily on unconscious
bias, Testa says.
“It’s important for leaders to be
educated about this because they role
model our company values,” she says.
“When they take this knowledge and
mentor other leaders, that’s when
we’ll continue to see the change we’re
Testa also emphasizes the
importance of employee networks.
American Express has 16 networks
with more than 100 chapters globally,
including the Black Employee
Network, Disability Awareness
Employee Network and Women in
Technologies Employee Network.
According to the company, employee
networks broaden participants’
community of colleagues, as well as
their knowledge of the business by
driving employee engagement and
promoting a culture of inclusion.
Ken Bouyer, the Americas director
of inclusiveness recruiting at Ernst &
Young, says EY has received praise
Tackling tough issues, like unconscious bias, is hard to do alone— thankfully, there are resources and networking opportunities that go beyond the usual box-checking initiatives, such as this year’s Women in HR Tech Summit at the HR Technology Conference and
Attendees will learn about The Business Case for Diversity from the
opening keynote speaker, ADP’s Chief Diversity Officer and Corporate Social
Responsibility Officer Rita Mitjans.
Jeanne Achille, chair of Women in HR Tech Summit, hints at other compelling
session topics, including pay equity, climbing the leadership ladder and using
analytics to drive gender equality.
The 2018 conference runs from Sept. 11 to 14 at Las Vegas’ Venetian Hotel.
Details can be found at hrtechnologyconference.com.