Tackling unconscious bias: changing processes and mindsets

While unconscious bias training gets a lot of focus as a way to advance diversity and inclusion, it’s important to remember the most effective approach is a tailored and comprehensive one that doesn’t just focus on changing mindsets.

Working from the premise that ‘it’s easier to change your processes than your people', Iris Bohnet from Harvard Kennedy School encourages companies to redesign their processes to prevent biased choices and encourage greater diversity in the first place.

As Bohnet says: ‘Start by accepting that our minds are stubborn beasts. It’s very hard to eliminate our biases, but we can design organisations to make it easier for our biased minds to get things right.’[1]

That’s why, in our consulting work, we focus on both hard-wiring diversity and inclusion principles through re-designing organisational processes, and soft-wiring through leadership programs and education.

In our consulting work we focus on both hard-wiring diversity and inclusion principles through re-designing organisational processes, and soft-wiring through leadership programs and education.
— Dr Katie Spearritt

We often review recruitment, succession planning, and promotion policies and outcomes to determine whether unconscious biases are impacting decisions. We revise job descriptions and advertisements to ensure they have a mix of words typically associated with male and female characteristics, to attract a diverse talent pool.

We also work with clients to develop diversity goals and dashboards to track the objectives they set out to achieve.

How one company is embedding change

Adapting site facilities and re-designing processes to anticipate greater diversity. Photo: Getty Images.

Adapting site facilities and re-designing processes to anticipate greater diversity. Photo: Getty Images.

A good example of the combined approach to process and mindset change comes from one of our clients – the project division of a global resources firm with whom we’ve partnered over the past year.

This is an organisation seriously committed to increasing diversity and improving inclusion across all sites.

A working group of business representatives drive the initiative, with the team meeting weekly (virtually, across a number of continents) to share challenges and progress.

Each meeting starts with a safety share, and an inclusion and diversity share.

Some of the tangible steps the team has taken over the past six months include:

  • Refreshing induction and recruitment processes to reduce bias
  • Creating new employment brand visuals, including new posters and graphics in offices to reflect greater diversity
  • Setting meaningful targets for a more inclusive work environment and greater demographic diversity across their operations, and
  • Developing new infrastructure guidelines to design more inclusive mine/project site facilities.
You can’t be what you can’t see.

The guidelines for upgrading or designing new facilities build on the simple notion that ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ – in other words, adapt our facilities now to anticipate greater diversity.

The guidelines include facilities to improve gender inclusion, accessibility, and spaces to support employees to meet diverse religious, cultural and spiritual needs. Provisions for flexible working arrangements are there too.

These inclusive design principles will be familiar to those working in financial and professional services firms, but they’re far less common in traditional resources or manufacturing organisations in Australia. In fact, they remain challenging concepts for many, given the historically male-dominated Anglo workforces. 

Along with these tangible changes, leaders have taken part in education programs to build inclusive leadership capability and reduce bias - the soft-wiring that's part of building awareness and driving behavioural change.

The progress that's already occurring across this operation is evidence of the value of a mix of initiatives, tailored to the organisation’s specific challenges.  

We're reminded of the advice from global consulting firm McKinsey on diversity and inclusion: ‘There is no single way to make change happen; companies need a whole ecosystem of measures’[2].

 

Katie Spearritt is CEO of Diversity Partners. For more information on our services, please contact us at info@diversitypartners.com.au.


Did you know?

  • The gender of the people currently doing the role will influence who is seen as most suitable for it

  • Where someone behaves in a stereotype-inconsistent way, they will be less likely to be hired or promoted.

Source: Binna and Jo Kandola, The Invention of Difference: the story of gender bias at work, 2013


References

[1] Iris Bohnet points to the well-known example of behavioural re-design when orchestras started having musicians audition behind a curtain, making gender invisible. This simple change helped to increase the fraction of women in US orchestras from less than 10 per cent in the 1970s to almost 40 per cent today. Interview with Iris Bohnet by Gardiner Morse, 'Designing a Bias-Free Organisation', Harvard Business Review, July/August 2016.

[2] McKinsey Insights, ‘Moving mind-sets on gender diversity: McKinsey Global Survey Results’, January 2014. (http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/moving-mind-sets-on-gender-diversity-mckinsey-global-survey-results)