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Creating Inclusive Workplaces

The Lab's research on Creating Inclusive Workplaces aims to uncover and diagnose where bias embeds itself in key people processes and workplace culture, as well as to develop approaches and tools to effectively remove bias from operations.

Studies show that stereotypes can introduce errors in managers’ decision making about talent throughout the employee lifecycle, including hiring, evaluations of performance, assigning high visibility projects, and giving credit for contributing in groups. While most people agree that bias exists in the abstract, many cannot see their own role in enacting bias or how it functions in their organization. Further, resistance to the idea that bias exists at all is what we call “bias backlash.” We conduct our work inside organizations to identify the exact mechanisms by which bias mechanisms lead to uneven assessments of performance and potential. We then create and test a change model across various organizational settings, and translate the findings to actionable steps companies can take to reduce bias’s impact on critical human resources decisions.  

The Stanford VMware Women's Leadership Innovation Lab is conducting multiple research projects with these goals of identifying and diagnosing bias in order to create more inclusive workplaces:  

The Future of Work

As a result of the pandemic and the massive shift to remote work, we are now living through a monumental transformation in how we work. To study this change, the lab has launched a new study on the future of work. We are conducting interviews with senior leaders to examine the range of ways companies are thinking about and approaching new ways of working. We are also conducting interviews with women working in remote roles to better understand their experience, particularly in relation to DEI.

A “Small Wins” Approach to Blocking Bias

In collaboration with Corporate Program members, we have developed an evidence-based change model that describes how to deploy effective solutions to block bias in organizational functions. The approach co-creates solutions with managers and engages them in producing small wins to effectively minimize bias in people processes. 

Inside the Black Box of Organizational Life: The Language of Performance Assessment 

This research examines the language used to describe the performance of men and women in formal performance evaluations– to assess the exact mechanisms by which gender bias inserts itself in evaluations. Through an analysis of the language of a random sample of written manager performance reviews at a Fortune 500 technology company, and the numeric ratings associated with those evaluations, we find that while performance reviews contain clear descriptions of meritocratic factors, there are nonetheless important differences in the language used to described men and women’s performances. 

The Role of Critical Assignments in Advancing to Technology Leadership

Our initial research into criteria suggests that visibility of specific projects and to specific leaders within an organization is one of the most important factors in accessing senior technology leadership roles. In 2017, in partnership with a global technology company, we have launched a project to understand how critical assignments factor in technical career paths, the mechanisms of access, and the potential areas of bias.

Intersectional Leadership

An intersectional gender lens shines the light on the voices and perspectives that have been historically overlooked and marginalized in discussions of gender. This particular lens fosters both more comprehensive research on gender discrimination and more inclusive pathways for evidence-based solutions. Our current findings suggest that narrow definitions of leadership that reinforce a “white-male” stereotype, layered onto biased assumptions about who can enact these behaviors without negative consequences, has the technology industry engaged in a cycle of homogeneity in leadership ranks that disproportionately disadvantages women and men of color. Our research will diagnose how these factors affect women and men of color and of different class, orientation, and ability in the technology workplace, and identify specific solutions for change.

Puncturing the Pipeline: Barriers to Recruiting Women 

In order to increase the percentage of qualified women within technology companies, we must first examine the impressions that companies make through their recruiting. In this study, researchers observed 84 recruiting sessions on an elite West Coast college campus. The research pinpoints deterrents, including a lack of women on recruiting teams, diminished roles on recruiting teams for women, and use of stereotypically masculine language and imagery.

Read the full paper

Gendered Perceptions of Cultural and Skill Alignment in Technology

Based on a survey of about 1,800 technical men and women in seven Silicon Valley companies, Lab researchers demonstrate that women do not see themselves as aligning with the cultural image of success in technology – one that signals masculinity and “geek” traits. They further demonstrate that this lack of cultural alignment is a top predictor of intentions to stay in technology careers, commitment to the profession, and perceptions of supervisor treatment.