Innovation

Focus on the process: reducing bias in decision-making

Decision-making experts suggest we move from the individual to the collective,  from the decision maker  to the decision-making  process  to reduce the impact of unconscious bias.

Decision-making experts suggest we move from the individual to the collective, from the decision maker to the decision-making process to reduce the impact of unconscious bias.

If we’re serious about building fair, inclusive workplaces, mitigating bias - both conscious and unconscious - is well recognised as an important step. As individuals, many of us are now aware of actions we can take to challenge cognitive biases in our workplaces.

But the reality is it’s hard to control our automatic or default judgements. That’s why decision-making experts suggest we move from the individual to the collective, from the decision maker to the decision-making process.

These new processes and adjustments can help us evaluate information more objectively and make sound decisions. They can also contribute to greater diversity - in thinking approaches and demographic background. (And a quick scroll-through of our blog leaves you in little doubt that’s a driving force and passion for us!)

This can include creating processes to track and measure the diversity of people hired and promoted, and using this data to identify and address issues. Another proven way to reduce unconscious bias is to undertake what is known as “blind hiring”, where CVs are received anonymously, with references to name, gender, age, disability, schools, hobbies and ethnicity removed because information often impairs our ability to make fair judgements.

Creating checklists, such as agreed criteria for decisions or structured questions for interviews, also helps to reduce bias in decision making.

The reality is it’s hard to control our automatic or default judgements. That’s why decision-making experts suggest we move from the individual to the collective, from the decision maker to the decision-making process.

When organisations work at reducing the effect on bias in their decision making processes, a study by McKinsey of more than 1,000 major decisions – including investments in new products and M & A decisions – showed higher returns on investment.


Here’s a few more tips to help mitigate bias in decision-making processes:

  • In team meetings, appoint a ‘leader of the opposition’ or ‘devil’s advocate’ and rotate the role

  • Introduce a protocol at the end of team meetings where team members can provide anonymous feedback (perhaps on a post-it note) on how included they felt (via a score of 1 - 5) and one thing in the next team meeting that would help them feel more included.

  • Use different communication channels to receive inputs on a project - some people are more comfortable providing inputs via email or direct phone call rather than in a team meeting.

These are the types of actions we discuss with leaders in our education programs to encourage good decision-making. We also conduct reviews of key HR policies and processes to reduce the potential for bias.

If you’d like to know more, please email info@diversitypartners.com.au or chat with us on 1800 571 999. Having worked with tens of thousands of leaders in more than 300 organisations, the team is well equipped to answer your questions or design an appropriate solution to help your organisation challenge unconscious bias, improve decision-making, and progress diversity.

Getting diversity on the radar

If there’s one website most of us rely on daily, it’s the Bureau of Meteorology. The Bureau provides information, forecasts, services and research relating to weather, climate and water to Australians everywhere.

The Bureau has a proud history – it has been in operation for more than 100 years - and today employs around 1,600 staff to deliver these essential services.

Historically, the Bureau has been a male-dominated organisation. During the 1970s and 1980s, historian David Day observed the Bureau aspired to ‘strict impartiality’ between male and female applicants. But few women held leadership positions, and proposals for women to take on observer roles at weather stations were met with resistance.  

Fast forward to 2018 and a concerted effort to progress gender equality and diversity, led by the CEO and executive team, has seen some impressive steps forward.

This follows an extensive diagnostic process Diversity Partners led for the Bureau at the beginning of 2017. Through interviews, focus groups, and data analysis, we identified ways to accelerate progress towards gender equality. 

We talked to people at all levels across all states, and reviewed pipelines for hiring and succession to come up with key actions – some immediate, some longer-term.  We then worked closely with key stakeholders to develop the Bureau’s Gender Equality Plan, launched in October 2017, and Diversity & Inclusion Commitment. 

Since then, as part of an implementation phase, the Bureau has held workshops for leaders and provided resources for hiring managers to recruit fairly and objectively. It's now closer to that ‘strict impartiality’ in hiring and promotion processes, as awareness of. unconscious bias is much higher.

The results are encouraging. At the beginning of 2017, as we began the diagnostic process, the gender composition of the Bureau’s workforce was 30% females. It’s now 34%.

The percentage of women in senior leadership (SES and EL2U) increased from 28% (as at June 2017) to 31% (June 2018) and the percentage of women in STEM is up from 26% to 28%.

The Bureau’s Diversity & Inclusion Statement is a key component of the Gender Equality Action Plan and is now visibly displayed in head office and regional offices throughout the country.

‘The Bureau strives to be the model of an inclusive culture where diversity of thought and background is valued. This provides better outcomes for our people, customers and the Australian community.’

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The statement has four key commitments:

·       developing and promoting an equitable, respectful and inclusive workplace culture where our people are engaged, are valued for their uniqueness and feel they belong; 

·       bringing together people with different backgrounds and ways of thinking, which helps drive better decision-making, innovation and overall performance; 

·       ensuring we recruit from the broadest talent pool, reflective of our customers and the communities with which we work; and 

·       supporting the use of flexible work arrangements at all levels to enable our people to balance their personal and professional commitments. 

The Bureau of Meteorology's progress shows what can be achieved when a comprehensive and rigorous approach is taken, involving everyone from senior leaders and front-line employees. It shows the value of setting metrics and conducting regular reviews. 

And it highlights the importance of connecting diversity and inclusion efforts to the values, services and customers of one of Australia’s most important organisations.

 

Source: David Day, The Weather Watchers: 100 Years of the Bureau of Meteorology, 2007.

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/

Developing a commercially-responsive Diversity and Inclusion strategy in 2018

In 2017, Diversity Partners undertook 20 diagnostic and strategy engagements to set the course for action to achieve more diverse and inclusive workplaces in Australia and New Zealand. These engagements have been for a range of organisations, including top ASX firms, local subsidiaries of global firms, public sector agencies, and emergency services providers. 

Setting the course for diversity and inclusion progress needs a methodical approach.

Setting the course for diversity and inclusion progress needs a methodical approach.

We've also reviewed the talent management policies for a number of organisations to reduce the potential for unconscious bias and diversify talent pools.

Here we share five insights from our experiences in co-developing strategies with clients this year.

Five Insights

  1. Developing a diversity and inclusion strategy is an opportunity to clearly articulate how the  selected actions will advance organisational priorities, align with values and behaviours, meet customer needs, and help create the cultural change we all want to see in workplaces.
  2. Among leading organisations, the outcomes typically go beyond achieving certain demographic targets (e.g. percentage of women in leadership) to meaningful measures correlating levels of inclusion with innovation and productivity metrics. For example, resources giant BHP has quantified the benefits, finding that 'our most diverse sites outperform the company average on many measures, such as lower injury rates, and greater adherence to work plans and production targets,' according to CEO Andrew Mackenzie.
  3. A robust D & I strategy is not an easily templated strategy. It's a carefully considered plan that addresses specific organisational challenges and biases, demographic gaps, and policy shortfalls.
  4. Governance matters. It might seem simplistic, but it's really important to spell out who has responsibility for what, including the role of a diversity steering committee if one exists.
  5. Being realistic about plans for year one, two, and three keeps the momentum going.
  6. Linking internal efforts with external efforts (e.g. corporate social responsibility initiatives) helps stakeholders to make deeper connections about the value of diversity and inclusion.

One of our longer-term strategy engagements this year was with the Bureau of Meteorology, resulting in the launch of their Gender Equality Plan in October. Chief Scientist and Group Executive Science & Innovation, Dr Sue Barrell, recently shared her feedback on the partnership:

"We started our journey by engaging Diversity Partners to research challenges and opportunities for us. Their research was extremely thorough, drawing on inputs from hundreds of team members and a range of data points relating to recruitment, retention, flexibility usage, and promotion. From this, we worked with Diversity Partners to develop a comprehensive action plan.
This has been an exemplary partnership and we acknowledge the commitment, professionalism and passion of the team who worked closely with us, our ‘friends’ on this journey."

With the ever-growing focus on diversity and inclusion in the community and in workplaces comes a responsibility to set well-crafted, commercially-savvy strategies with tangible actions and accountability to drive progress. That's a responsibility we take very seriously at Diversity Partners.

 

Please contact us at info@diversitypartners.com.au if you'd like to discuss ways we can work with you to advance your organisation's diversity and inclusion efforts in 2018.

 

Innovation thrives with diversity

Innovation is underpinned by team diversity and inclusive workplace practices. That's the conclusion of a great deal of research across the fields of leadership, business psychology, and human resources in recent years.

The variety of perspectives and thinking approaches that diverse teams bring to decision-making helps to reduce biases such as groupthink - one of the biggest barriers to innovation.

The theory is being translated into practice in many Australian and New Zealand companies, as more and more leaders see the value of diversity of thinking and background for innovation.

For example, the CEO of an industry fund recently contacted us to explore how bias might be getting in the way of effective decision-making and innovation among his team. His team was gender balanced and culturally diverse, and he appreciated the different perspectives that brought.

But he wanted to go further, to identify their preferred approaches so they could consciously bring different perspectives to decision-making as they launched new products and expanded their market.

It reminds us of a recent quote from Apple's CEO, Tim Cook: 'Our best work comes from the diversity of ideas and people.  We believe in a modern definition of diversity — the big D — which supports creative friction and its contribution to making better products.'

For companies wanting to understand more about the links between innovation and diversity (both cognitive and demographic), we've found the following studies particularly useful. You can click on the links to see the full articles, or contact us for more information.

 

  • In a strategy execution exercise, researchers found teams with greater cognitive diversity perform faster. Diversity in knowledge processing (how people create knowledge in the face of problems) and perspective (how they deploy their own expertise versus orchestrating the ideas and expertise of others) were highly correlated with team success. (Alison Reynolds and David Lewis, 'Teams solve problems faster when they're more cognitively diverse', Harvard Business Review, 2017.

 

  • Employees who felt more included were more likely to report innovating on the job i.e. identifying opportunities for new products and processes and trying out new ideas and approaches to problems (Catalyst: ‘Inclusive Leadership the View from 6 Countries’, 2014).

 

  • A study in the United States of the performance of 1,500 companies over 15 years found that more women in top management improved the performance of firms that were heavily focused on innovation (Catalyst: ‘Why Diversity Matters’, 2013).

 

  • “The ideas and solutions that an intellectually diverse team generates will be richer and more valuable due to the wide variety of perspectives that inform them. Diversity of thought and perspective can protect your team from groupthink and can spark creative abrasion, a process in which potential solutions are generated, explored, and altered through debate and discourse” (Harvard Business Review: ‘Measure Your Team’s Intellectual Diversity’, 21 May 2015).

 

  • When measuring how diversity affects a firm’s ability to innovate, researchers reported significant benefits from both inherent diversity (such as gender, culture) and acquired diversity (traits gained from experience). They referred to companies whose leaders exhibit at least three inherent and three acquired diversity traits as having two-dimensional diversity. Their conclusion: companies with 2-D diversity out-innovate and out-perform others.

'Employees at two-dimensional companies are 45% likelier to report that their firm’s market share grew over the previous year and 70% likelier to report that the firm captured a new market.' (Sylvia Ann Hewlett et all, ‘How diversity can drive innovation’, Harvard Business Review, December 2013 - How Diversity Drives Innovation).

Innovation