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Modeling for Improved Organizational Staff Diversity

Modeling for Improved Organizational Staff Diversity

We cannot all succeed when (more than) half of us are held back.

This slightly modified quote is from Malala Yousafzai, the courageous young woman who stood up for her right to be educated. It summarizes the ethos of presentations at the International Systems Dynamics Conference held in Frankfurt and online in July 2022 which focused on improving diversity within organizations. Systems Dynamics modeling is being used in various ways to understand the mechanisms by which more than half of the world’s populations are being held back, and to support evidence-based solutions for change.

In the first plenary, Jeroen Struben presented a model to explain why women chess players drop out of competitions in their late twenties, never to return. The data from the Netherlands showed that the presence of peers and role models, and the culture of the broader community were major explanatory factors. There is also a project that will look at women chess players with and without children, which is already finding that family caring commitments have a large impact on women’s decisions.

Suzanne Manning (disclaimer: that’s me) also highlighted the impact of caring responsibilities on women, on career progression in a social science research team. In a qualitative model of mechanisms that were holding women back, factors such as family commitments and expertise in ‘softer’ science disciplines like sociology and indigenous knowledge (compared to expertise in more quantitative systems dynamics), were partially career-limiting.

The model of Inge Bleijenberg looked at mechanisms to explain why ‘ingroups’ of white, upper-class men hold a pay advantage over ‘outgroups’ (everyone else) in academia. Her model showed that while the human capital of both groups was quite similar, the ingroups made more and higher wage claims which were more likely to be accepted. This model shows how structural bias is built into our systems.

Several presentations addressed systemic bias, with models that were used as heuristic tools for organizations to make changes to increase staff diversity. A common theme was that organizations needed to be shown the things that were within their control and to realize that business-as-usual was not good enough to make a difference. Systems Dynamics models were key for getting organizations to make these mental shifts. Amin Dehdarian from EDGE had a process for gender targets set within a framework of representation, pay equity, policies and practices, and organizational culture. Systems Dynamics models were used to show how effective the strategies could be. A similar approach was taken by Hugo Herrera, who used microworld simulation models to help organizations develop a coherent suite of strategies for decreasing their gender pay gaps. Ivan Taylor, Takuma Ono, and Saraj Koul presented their case study of a model for increasing diversity in organizations applied to Twitter that have a vision of 25% of their US staff being from disadvantaged groups by 2025. Like the other models mentioned in this post, their data shows that improving fairness and diversity in recruitment and promotion are key aspects for improving diversity in the organization. They do acknowledge that their model does not currently account for the intersectional nature of disadvantage, which is future work for them.

All of these models have been used to gain a greater understanding of why some people in our organizations are held back, not because of their skills, knowledge, and experience, but because of their demographic characteristics and the systemic bias that goes with it. Systems Dynamics has been used in these cases to explain, spark discussions, and generate solutions. With these tools to hand, perhaps we can all succeed in this world, rather than just a select few.

  • Gender segregation dynamics: Women participation and performance in competitive chess in the Netherlands. Presenter: Jeroen Struben.
  • Recognizing systemic gender bias: Career advancement case study in a science team. Presenter: Suzanne Manning.
  • Gender and ethnic pay inequality in academia: A formal systems dynamics mode. Poster: Inge Bleijenbergh.
  • System dynamics modeling to set effective gender targets. Poster: Amin Dehdarian.
  • Tipping the scales: Using microworlds to uncover systemic issues driving organizations’ gender pay gap. Presenter: Hugo Herrera.
  • A System Dynamics Model to assist leaders to increase diversity in their organizations applied to Twitter’s 25/25 vision. Presenters: Ivan Taylor, Takuma Ono, Saroj Koul


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