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María de los A. Rivera on eliminating recruitment bias

María de los A. RiveraBased on her own experience as partner in charge, tax, at Kevane Grant Thornton in Puerto Rico, María de los A. Rivera believes that removing gender bias at recruitment level helps businesses beat the competition.






What evidence have you seen that diverse teams lead to better business performance?

There are plenty of studies that conclude just that at the global level, but at our local level there are no robust statistics to support that conclusion. However, given our involvement with various organisations that promote gender diversity and inclusion of women, we have seen examples of local businesses, large and small, where their senior level teams are diverse and promote inclusion. These businesses tend to be ahead of their competitors and definitely perform better. Our firm has been an example of this: out of 10 partners, six are women.

How do you think talent identification and interview bias can be eliminated to ensure more women are recruited to senior positions?

The two biggest drivers of representation are hiring and promotions, and the 2018 ‘Women in the Workplace’ McKinsey study shows companies are disadvantaging women in these areas from the beginning. This research identified six actions companies need to take to make progress on gender diversity:

  • Get the basics right – targets, reporting, and accountability
  • Ensure that hiring and promotions are fair
  • Make senior leaders and managers champions of diversity
  • Foster an inclusive and respectful culture
  • Make the “only” experience rare – being the only woman in the committee, the only woman in the room, the only woman in the discussion panel
  • Offer employees the flexibility to fit work into their lives.

Talent identification and interview bias elimination should start with a top-level executive commitment. They should be the champions of diversity. This commitment is put into practice in the HR department. HR leadership should keep up to date with best practices for diverse work environments. Furthermore, firm practices during the recruitment process should ensure that there is no pay gap between compensation packages for equally experienced and capable candidates of different genders.

How can female mentors, and visible female business success be made more visible?

We definitely need more of these and need to drive and create more visibility for them. Based on the McKinsey study, women get less access to senior leaders than men do, even though employees who interact regularly with senior leaders are more likely to ask for and receive promotions, stay at their companies, and aspire to be leaders. Substantive and informal interactions between senior leaders and employees can provide visibility both for the female leaders of the organisation, and to women in the organisation.

Visibility can be achieved by offering opportunities to women in areas leading to career advancement, and not in areas that do not lead to professional growth (the so-called ‘office housework’). Visibility can be achieved, for instance, by advocating for women in senior management to serve on a board of directors and professional associations. A fair and responsible assignment of tasks across organisations should lead to senior management investing more time in tasks that drives success for them and their organisations.

To achieve results in this area, top management must promote cultural change from top to bottom and actually practice what they preach. Tasks must be reviewed and fairly assigned in order to facilitate the participation of women in these activities outside the organisations without creating additional burden to them.

How can flexible working practices be used to help retain female talent? What are the most successful policies, in your opinion?

In the past, flexible work arrangements were mostly offered to women. Nowadays, we are seeing more men requesting these agreements, which indicates a shift in household responsibilities, which in turn should help in providing opportunities to women in professions too. A reduced work schedule and flexible hours are the two most successful policies for us in the firm.

During the talent interview process, female talent can be successfully retained through an open dialogue about flexible working practices and the firm’s commitment to these practices.

Additional research: Caroline López, tax manager, Kevane Grant Thornton

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