New year, new thinking - accelerating progress on diversity

To accelerate diversity and inclusion progress in Australia and New Zealand in 2018, we think it’s important to focus on how your organisation is leveraging diversity of thinking approaches and diversity of background to improve decision-making and organisational performance.

In a recent interview, Dr Katie Spearritt spoke about ways to reduce unconscious biases in decision-making, so we gain the benefits of diversity of thought and background.

Q: Are business leaders getting more serious about diversity of thought?

We’re seeing a growing interest to apply the research on cognitive diversity in the workplace. For example, a CEO of an industry superannuation fund contacted us to explore how bias might be getting in the way of effective decision-making on his team. His team was gender balanced and culturally diverse, and he appreciated the different perspectives that brought.

The CEO wanted to go further, to identify the team's preferred thinking approaches so they could consciously bring different perspectives to decision-making as they launched new products and expanded their market.

Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

We’re also seeing more and more focus on the importance of diversity of thought for ethical decision-making and corporate governance. 

Groupthink and confirmation bias have contributed to some big ethical failures in history. That’s why one global resources organisation we’ve worked with explicitly advises its leaders to ‘hear from the quietest person in the room’.

 

Q: Can you share some practical things that leaders can do to encourage different thinking approaches?

Before making a key decision in a meeting, we encourage teams to reflect if they’ve considered a range of different thinking approaches and credible alternatives, as well as unconscious biases that might impact their decision-making.

This usually means consciously slowing down our thinking. ‘Slow thinking’ is a recognised strategy to build inclusive leadership capability, and helps us avoid the error-prone biased decisions that can come from automatic ‘fast thinking’.

Director of St James Ethics Centre, Dr Simon Longstaff, has said ‘the greatest pressure on modern leaders is the absence of time to stop and think’. That’s something we hear time and time again, and it can be helpful for leaders to remember we all have a choice to call a ‘time out’, however brief it might be.

While seeking feedback from others is essential, some leaders go further by appointing a ‘devil’s advocate’ in meetings to normalise challenge. It’s important to rotate the devil’s advocate too.

One CEO we know routinely tells colleagues that ‘you have an obligation to disagree with me’ to reduce confirmation and sunflower bias.

It’s also important to think about basic things such as where you hold meetings and who gets invited. Decision making experts emphasise the importance of hearing from people who are ‘cognitively peripheral’ – who have information that is not generally known – rather than having discussions with people who share similar knowledge. 

As you make a key decision, ask the team if they’ve considered a range of different thinking approaches and credible alternatives, as well as unconscious biases that might impact their decision-making.

That’s why we suggest using different communication channels to receive input on a project or idea. Some team members will probably be more comfortable providing an alternative view in a follow up email or direct phone call rather than in a team meeting.

HR leaders can track employee perceptions of opportunities to contribute to decision-making and speak up through annual or pulse engagement surveys – that’s a valuable contribution to business success.

Q: Do experts on diversity always get it right?

If only! For a start, we’re human so we’re prone to biases just as anyone else is.

Adapting to different thinking and learning styles is challenging for us too.

Recently a client asked us to facilitate a workshop for senior leaders in a range of locations around the world. We were reticent, as our preference is face-to-face learning to build conversations. But we decided to give it a go, asking one of our team members used to working in virtual global operating environments to help us re-design content.

We ended up with some new tools and our client reach has now extended from Melbourne to Mongolia!


 

Contact Diversity Partners at info@diversitypartners.com.au or phone us on 1800 571 999 if you'd like to talk through ways to progress diversity and inclusion in your firm this year.

To read the original interview with Peoplecorp Recruitment Specialists, please see: http://www.peoplecorp.com.au/hr-spotlight/interview-dr-katie-spearritt-ceo-diversity-partners/