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Minimizing Unconscious Bias in Talent Management


Collectively, as companies work to balance the scale for the inclusion of more women, minorities and other diverse groups within their teams, a focus on raising awareness of unconscious bias in the talent recruitment and management lifecycle remains a top priority for leaders seeking to tackle what exactly diversity means for their companies.

A 2005 Harvard Law School paper on unconscious bias theory in employment discrimination litigation borrowed from social psychology to make its case. Our natural human reliance on stereotypes to categorize information can cause discrimination regardless of our intent. This 'unconscious' or 'implicit' bias, as evidenced in the disparaging data on the lack of diversity within major U.S. companies despite an increasingly diverse workforce, has manifested itself in the form of biased hiring practices over the last several decades.

We sat down with Elena Richards, talent management and minority initiatives leader in the office of diversity at PwC, to gain her insights on frameworks that power talent development as a “whole leadership” strategy to increasing diversity. 

TriplePundit: PwC has committed to increasing diversity throughout the talent management lifecycle – from recruiting through leadership development. How do you stay focused on these goals?

Elena Richards: We are a people business, so our commitment to diversity and inclusion (D&I) is critical to our ability to serve our clients and our broader communities. Studies have shown that having diverse teams bring together different perspectives that can achieve better outcomes than if you have a group of people who think alike. So, diversity is really about more than one’s gender, skin color, sexual orientation or physical and cognitive ability.

As such, D&I - is embedded in every part of the talent management process – including in recruitment, learning and development, and even in our succession planning process. For example, we incorporate accountability by requiring each of our partners to select three diverse individuals for whom they are responsible for developing as part of the annual plans. We’ve also adopted a framework that requires partners who want to be considered for a new role that is a part of our US Leadership team to demonstrate how they have supported the firm’s D&I initiatives.

I would also add that all that we are doing is part of a bigger discussion within the firm about diversity and inclusiveness. Programs like the ones I've talked about are important, but it's also important to build a culture where differences can be discussed openly - person-to-person. PwC is part of a world in which issues like race, religious and cultural difference can be very divisive. We don't have all the answers, but we're encouraging everyone from our leaders to our staff to have respectful and brave conversations about differences. We believe getting this right is a source of competitive advantage for us, because the organizations we work with expect us to bring the best thinking -- and we can't do that without the ability to bring teams that are diverse on every dimension to solving important problems.

3p: When it comes to mitigating potential unconscious bias in the talent management lifecycle, what are some examples of trainings or learnings you share with your team to increase their understanding?

ER: Research shows we all have blindspots that are the result of our collective learned behavior and experiences. To address this, we are working with leading specialists in the field of unconscious bias to raise awareness about possible blindspots and teaching partners and staff ways they can help reduce any potential impact they may have. We started offering blindspots training to targeted groups throughout the firm and expanded to include our human capital professionals because of the important role they play in fostering an inclusive environment. We’ve also built unconscious bias awareness into the recruitment training that is mandatory for our interviewers.

Also, we’ve rethought our performance development process to create a model that can help us develop leaders at all levels. Our PwC Professional career progression framework sets expectations at each staff level for five dimensions we think are important, including global acumen and whole leadership. Questions designed to assess potential candidates against this framework are incorporated into the interview process; and once they join, all PwC professionals take part in mandatory training to prepare them for playing an active role in their career development.

3p: How can companies implement a diversity policy strategy in the recruitment process? What is PwC doing to reach traditionally underrepresented groups of candidates?

ER: The recruiting process is a great example of where many businesses are moving beyond what has “always worked” and looking for ways to proactively reach underrepresented groups of candidates who may not have considered them in the past. We have PwC professionals on the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants’ National Commission on Diversity, which is developing strategies to increase the retention and advancement of traditionally underrepresented minorities in the accounting profession.

3p: What are your thoughts on preparing candidates in advance for understanding the diversity and workplace culture of PwC? What methods are helpful to demonstrate that you offer an inclusive environment in which everyone can apply and grow their skills?

ER: D&I is incorporated throughout the talent management lifecycle – starting with the questions around global acumen and other dimensions of the PwC professional. At PwC we embrace our diversity and want people to be proud of their differences. We work hard to offer an inclusive environment in which everyone can feel comfortable being themselves and have the opportunity to succeed.

Our commitment to diversity starts at the top with Chief Diversity Officer, Maria Castañón Moats, who reports directly to U.S. Chairman and Senior Partner, Bob Moritz, and extends down through the Diversity partners and leaders who are responsible for executing our strategy in our lines of service and markets.

A key part of our diversity strategy is to appreciate differences and develop targeted initiatives. We offer development programs. For example, Diamond provides coaching and advocacy to high-potential minority senior managers and directors. And we’re making significant investments to develop cultural dexterity within all our staff—critical leadership skills that include investing in relationships, building trust, communicating with impact and developing a global business perspective.

Image credit: Pixabay 

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Sherrell Dorsey is a social impact storyteller, social entrepreneur and advocate for environmental, social and economic equity in underserved communities. Sherrell speaks and writes frequently on the topics of sustainability, technology, and digital inclusion.

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