Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: Eliminating the Word “Fit” to Remove Unintentional Bias in Hiring

There's increase in Diversity, Equity and Inclusio

There’s increase in Diversity, Equity and Inclusio

During the past two years, life sciences companies have made a commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion - but have they taken internal actions?

There’s an increase in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the life sciences. (Amanda Grant_courtesy of Calibre One)

Over the past two years, companies throughout the life sciences industry have named increasing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) within their organizations as a priority. But, have these companies since taken internal action that increases diversity and promotes inclusive measures?

Possibly the most significant takeaway from BioSpace’s 2022 Diversity in Life Sciences: Current Perspectives report is that the standards for DEI accountability have increased, as “the community has become more critical of their employers” and “the sentiment regarding (employees’) own experience and (the) employer’s commitment to diversity has declined.” On top of this, 85% of those surveyed said they would take diversity into account when considering a new job – a significant jump from 2020 when only 68% said it was a key consideration.

In June, BIO (Biotechnology Innovation Organization) and Coqual’s Annual Report highlighted the necessity of backing up words with action.

While nearly eight out of 10 organizations claimed that their DEI programs prioritized “attracting, recruiting, and promoting diverse talent,” they were not found to be implementing actual strategies to achieve these goals.

Eliminating “Fit” for Actual Cultural Alignment

One organization taking Diversity, Equity and Inclusion head-on in the executive search process is Calibre One. James Gregory, a U.K.-based partner with a focus in life sciences, told BioSpace that the company partners with leadership teams across a wide range of sectors in Europe and North America.

Calibre One uses a unique technology called Culture Quotient (CQ) to expertly align talented candidates with companies while considering cultural alignment. New York-based partner, Amanda Grant, said the tool was born from a need to serve both clients and candidates, increasing diversity across the industries the company reaches. Each client comes to Calibre One asking for a diverse slate of candidates that above all else, “fit” their company.

Grant said the first thing the company wanted to do was eliminate the word fit, centering the dialogue instead around alignment. “If you’re looking for someone who fits, you are more than likely looking for someone who is the same as what you already have,” she said. “In order to really embrace not only attracting diverse talent but retaining and including diverse talent in an authentic way in a business, we recognize that you really need to give voice to diversity in the hiring process.”

To determine in advance how candidates align with an organization in relation to belonging, diversity, equity and inclusion, Calibre One developed CQ. Grant said that both clients and candidates have confirmed that no one else in the market is approaching executive search this way.

CQ is a three-step series that’s well integrated into the company’s robust search process. It begins with outlining a precise definition of a hiring company and its DEI objectives, which may include increasing racial diversity, gender diversity, educational diversity or geographic diversity.

The second step of the CQ process prioritizes the candidate. In the existing fabric of Calibre One’s search process is a focus on the candidate’s needs and personal voice. The company asks each candidate a series of questions from which the answers are extracted and stored. “Here’s the really important part. We are not scoring human beings. We are scoring the alignment between the individual and what they bring in this particular role against what the company is seeking for a particular role,” she continued.

At this point in the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion process, the focus shifts to the interplay between the specific company and each unique candidate. “What’s really fascinating is that candidates tell us when we have these discussions that they have never before had a potential employer interested in hearing their voice,” Grant added.

Once the candidates’ voices are brought to the table, the third step of the CQ process scores alignment from five to one. A “five” is known as a cultivator, and a “one” is called a detractor, but neither is considered good or bad, as the scoring is circular. “These are both disruptors in an organization, but one in a more positive way and one in a more negative way. It becomes a very fluid score that can be used by clients to understand how to compare candidates for this component of the evaluation,” Grant said.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Means Removing Unintentional Bias

Overall, CQ helps companies assess data on their hiring practices, and allows them to choose candidates based on conversations, eliminating unintentional bias. Calibre One is also able to provide information to hiring companies about the expectations of each candidate, she explained. “How are you prepared to exceed what they need? Can you give them the voice to bring their authentic selves to the company?”

When asked what biotech companies can do to increase Diversity, Equity and Inclusion on their teams during the hiring process, Gregory said the starting point has to be recognition. Teams need to ask themselves, “do we have unconscious bias? Do we require some organizational change?”

He pointed out that one mistake made by executives would be to only search within their own network to fill an open position. If a single executive has hired 80% of employees, it may be time to consider other perspectives.

This sentiment was highlighted by Dr. Stanley Lewis, founder and CEO of A28 Therapeutics, in a recent interview with BioSpace.

"...In many ways, the measuring stick is based on conformity to a mold,” he said. “Minorities and women will always fall short of fitting into the mold of...the innate qualities of others. If the hiring manager is consciously or unconsciously looking for male, pale and Yale, it will be hard for a black woman from an HBCU ([Historically Black College or University] to compete.”

Retaining Diverse Talent by Listening

Outside of the hiring process, there are a number of steps that organizations can take toward Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. “There needs to be a much more directed focus on retention and inclusion,” Grant pointed out. “If companies attract diverse talent, but aren’t prepared internally to give authentic voice to that talent, or to support the community, they will lose that talent.”

Of course, creating space for diverse voices has to start with listening. “This requires some extra work. It requires listening to conversations that may be uncomfortable. To embrace the talent that you have, find out from them what it is that drew them to your company in the first place, and what is keeping them there now,” she said.

As an industry that continually works to improve the lives of a diverse range of patients across the globe, the life sciences community has a responsibility to nurture teams that reflect and support diverse voices. Grant said that “diversity in any form is so much more interesting and innovative than a company that chooses sameness over advancing the diversity of their organization.”