An instructor stands in front of a board to discuss crowdsourcing with graphics.

Seeking Diversity and Inclusion Solutions Through Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing is a practice used by many organizations to obtain goods or services, source ideas and innovate solutions. The practice is now making its way into diversity and inclusion for organizations looking to find better ways to promote it.

Crowdsourcing is typically done via the internet, and methods include virtual labor markets, competitions and open collaboration.

The latest example of crowdsourcing in the D&I space is from Autism Speaks, which describes itself as a “nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting solutions across the spectrum and throughout the lifespan of people with autism and their families.” The company recently launched the “Autism Employment Connector Challenge” with a crowdsourced solutions platform and open marketplace provided by HeroX.

“The goal of the challenge is to increase accessibility to employment networking and career development opportunities with a solution that supports autistic job seekers with navigating the employment search and application process while effectively communicating skills and abilities to prospective employers,” Autism Speaks said in a press release.

The organization added that for the 1 in 45 adults on the autism spectrum, finding a job can present challenges; although many people with autism have talents and skills that employers want, autistic job seekers can have “difficulty navigating certain interfaces, understanding abstract language and communicating their abilities using traditional text and talk.”

The Challenge

Autism Speaks’ challenge was designed to search for solutions that would  increase accessibility for autistic job seekers searching for employment opportunities and then help them navigate the application process. Ultimately,  the end goal is connecting autistic job seekers with potential employers.

This process requires identifying and removing structural biases embedded in the hiring process.

“Entrepreneurs, researchers, scientists, students, existing employment platform services, staffing experts and anyone eager to include cognitive, sensory and intellectual differences into the diversity and inclusion movement is invited to take on this challenge and create a solution,” Autism Speakers said.

Contestants can win prizes of $15,000, $10,000 and $5,000, respectively, for the top three winning solutions.

The DOD’s 2020 Crowdsourcing Campaign

In August 2020, the U.S. Department of Defense turned to crowdsourcing to find better ways to promote diversity and inclusion.

DOD News’ Jim Garamone reported that Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper had asked for the process as part of his Board on Diversity and Inclusion. The Board, chaired by Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett at the time, also used crowdsourcing as a way to field “input from service members and DOD civilians.”

According to Garamone, the effort served made the DOD realize that “the old ways of doing things have taken the department as far as it can go.”

“New ideas are needed to continue the process of inclusion and to promote diversity in the ranks,” Barrett said.

So, how did the crowdsourcing campaign (which was conducted from Aug. 17 to Oct. 16, 2020) turn out? According to the Office of People Analytics, respondents gave recommendations that were consistent with the DOD Board’s focus areas, which included:

  • Recruitment and accessions
  • Retention
  • Barriers
  • Career development
  • Organization climate
  • Culture
  • Worldview
  • Identity

The Office of People Analytics added: “Respondents varied in their specificity when providing their recommendations and whether they regarded D&I as a problem in the military, particularly by race/ethnicity.”

Crowdsourcing for Idea Generation

While the results of the DOD crowdsourcing campaign may not have been what the department was looking for exactly, it did serve as a blueprint to generate ideas around diversity and inclusion.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)’s Kathy Gurchiek said asking for ideas through crowdsourcing from your own employees is a great way to “invest in learning and development that resonates with your employees.”

Boeing Company (No. 17 on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2021) did this by surveying its 141,322 employees in 2018 on its learning and development function.

Gurchiek reported that through the survey, employees generated more than 400,000 ideas about how the aerospace company should “invest the $100 million it had pledged toward a workforce development program.”

Employees also had the opportunity to suggest other ways to invest in learning and development, including increased work-swap and rotation programs, new tools and software, rapid prototyping and enhanced options for continuing education. Thereafter, Boeing started offering an online network of resources areas employees identified from the survey.

At the time, it was unusual for companies to crowdsource employees for ideas about learning and development, but in the era of COVID-19, learning what will serve employees best is becoming more commonplace.

For other organizations looking to generate ideas from employers like Boeing, a review of surveying platforms, as well as engagement and collaboration tools, is a good place to start. While it’s inevitable that there will be suggestions and comments that are not conducive to achieving your end goals, it’s important to remember that it’s all part of the process.

Crowdsourcing can be a powerful tool for generating new ideas and gauging what issues employees or the public believe are most important and need a solution. As you search for new approaches, tools and methods to address your DEI concerns, crowdsourcing warrants consideration as a vehicle to achieve your goals and gain investment from people who have often been left out of the DEI goal setting process.

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