Unconscious Bias

Re-setting your inclusion and diversity strategy in 2019

Image: Raw pixel.

Image: Raw pixel.

Let’s invite one another in. Maybe then we can begin to fear less, to make fewer wrong assumptions, to let go of the biases and stereotypes that unnecessarily divide us … There’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become.
— Michelle Obama

The start of the year is a natural time to reflect and reset diversity and inclusion strategies, and we’ve found plenty of inspiration from Michelle Obama’s recently published memoir, Becoming.

While it might not make traditional c-suite reading lists, we think there’s many important personal insights and practical strategies to help make workplaces - and societies - fairer and inclusive.

 Here’s four that particularly resonated for us. 

The surprise people registered to her life story ‘that an urban black girl had vaulted through Ivy League schools and executive jobs and landed in the White House’ made Michelle Obama mindful of a larger obligation, as First Lady, to children in general and girls in particular.  

‘There had been so many times in my life when I’d found myself the only woman of colour – or even the only woman, period – sitting at a conference table or attending a board meeting or mingling at one VIP gathering or another,’ Obama writes. ‘If I was the first at some of these things, I wanted to make sure that in the end I wasn’t the only – that others were coming up behind me.’

It’s an eloquent reminder of the value in paying it forward when we’re the ‘only’ or the ‘first’ or when we notice others who are the ‘only’s’ in our teams, especially in the light of recent McKinsey showing that women who are ‘only’s’ have a significantly worse experience than women who work with other women.

Secondly, Michelle Obama’s gratitude to the people who ‘waved her forward’, who did their best to ‘inoculate me against the slights and indignities I was certain to encounter in the places I was headed – all those environments built primarily for and by people who were neither black nor female’ is testimony to the importance of executive sponsors, allies, and employee networks who support and actively advocate for greater diversity in the firms where we work.

Michelle Obama implemented numerous initiatives in her time at the White House. One less well known was a leadership and mentoring program at the White House for twenty girls from high school around Washington, D.C., pairing each teen with a female mentor. These were girls from a range of backgrounds – girls from military families, a teen mother, a girl who’d lived in a homeless shelter, and girls from immigrant families. It was set up, she says, because she wanted these girls to ‘feel comfortable and confident in any room, sitting at any table, raising their voices inside any group.’ Small program (in political terms at least), big impact.

And this led to our third reflection: what ‘small program, big impact’ can we each lead, or contribute to, in workplaces to make a difference for diversity and inclusion this year?

At the end of the book, Michelle Obama explains the title of the book: ‘…becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self’. Her words have the effect of encouraging us all to do better.

In sharing her story, she wants to create space for other voices ‘to widen the pathway for who belongs and why’. Those particular words hit a deep chord, because we regularly hear stories in workplaces of ways in which people feel a lack of belonging because of micro-aggressions, exclusive language, conscious and unconscious biases. The good news is that we also hear, and share, lots of practical examples of inclusive leaders taking pro-active steps to clear the pathway and challenge long-held biases.

The ending is uplifting. She writes: ‘For every door that’s been opened to me, I’ve tried to open my door to others. And here is what I have to say, finally: Let’s invite one another in. Maybe then we can begin to fear less, to make fewer wrong assumptions, to let go of the biases and stereotypes that unnecessarily divide us … There’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become.’

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So, as we start the year in earnest to guide organisations on their diversity and inclusion journey to create better workplaces, here’s a few questions we’re sharing with clients and among our own team based on these reflections:

·      How can we lift others up, particularly those who are the ‘only’s’ in teams and organisations?

·      How can we better recognise and support the role of sponsors and employee networks that provide strength to diverse talent?

·      What ‘small program, big impact’ can we lead in our workplaces this year to accelerate diversity and inclusion progress?

·      How can we widen the pathway for who belongs and why?

We look forward to opportunities with new and established clients to help progress your organisation’s diversity and inclusion objectives in 2019, and we hope this is the year you make great strides on your journey.

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New e-Learning solution helps leaders create more inclusive workplaces and challenge unconscious bias

Diversity Partners is thrilled to offer a new eLearning program, Creating Value Through Diversity and Inclusion, in partnership with Learning Seat, an award winning eLearning solution provider to businesses across Asia Pacific.

The program helps leaders optimise the benefits of diversity of talent and ideas, and challenge unconscious biases in the workplace.

It’s designed for managers and leaders across all industry sectors in Australia.

Diversity Partners and Learning Seat have built an eLearning solution:   Creating Value through Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity Partners and Learning Seat have built an eLearning solution: Creating Value through Diversity and Inclusion

The program complements our popular face-to-workshops for executives and senior leaders, and is an effective way to reach large audiences across multiple locations.  It's also an opportunity to refresh the key learnings covered in our workshops - especially when managers are about to recruit, review performance or decide on annual promotions/partnerships.

The program consists of three learning bites, which can be purchased separately or together as a bundle.

Learning bite one explores the value of diversity of background (such as culture and gender) and diversity of thinking approaches, and the characteristics of an inclusive work culture.

The second learning bite builds awareness of unconscious bias, a key barrier to diversity progress in organisations. In the workplace, unconscious biases can impact our recruiting choices, how we allocate work, and key business decisions.

The eLearning solution is an effective way to reach large audiences of leaders across multiple locations.

The third learning bite includes practical strategies for tackling unconscious bias and creating a more inclusive and high-performing team culture.

On completing the learning bites in the bundle, learners should be able to confidently reflect upon – and challenge – their own thinking, decision-making processes and leadership approaches to create more inclusive workplaces.

The training is optimised for smartphone delivery and responsive across all devices – allowing users to complete their training on the go, any time.

You can find out more about the course here, with the option to sign up for a free trial.

Learning objectives

Learning Bite 1 – Understanding Diversity and Inclusion

·     Define what diversity means, and the characteristics of an inclusive work culture

·     Identify the benefits of workplace diversity and inclusion

Learning Bite 2 – Understanding and Challenging Unconscious Bias

·    Identify examples of unconscious bias in a workplace setting

·    Recognise unconscious bias occurring in a workplace setting

Learning Bite 3 – Strategies for Tackling Unconscious Bias

·    Identify different strategies for tackling unconscious bias in a workplace setting

·    List actions that you can take to become a more inclusive leader

Target audience

The content contained in this bundle is suitable for managers and leaders across all industries and sectors.

Contact us to find our more at info@diversitypartners.com.au, or go directly to the Learning Seat website link.

 

Our partner, Learning Seat, is an award-winning eLearning company based in Melbourne, Australia. Today more than 500 companies rely on Learning Seat to manage their online training and compliance, to over 700,000 learners.

 

 

 

 

 

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)

When seemingly small things mean so much: inclusive leadership actions

Many of us have probably experienced a thoughtless action at work such as not being introduced in a meeting, being left off an email distribution list, or others taking credit for our work.

By itself, this might seem inconsequential.

But when this happens consistently over time - like a leaky tap - it can leave those on the receiving end feeling isolated and excluded.

It was Professor Mary Rowe of Massachusetts Institute of Technology who coined the term ‘micro-inequities’ in the 1970s to describe small and often unintentional unfairnesses toward those who are perceived as different.

Micro-inequities are often the result of unconscious bias or not understanding cultural differences. They're subtle but erode confidence, explains Australian scientist Dr Jill Rathborne on micro-inequities in the male-dominated world of science for example. 

We all need to be aware, consciously, of these on a day-to-day basis if we’re to create inclusive workplaces of the future.

The good news is that there are many relatively simple things we can do to reduce unconscious bias and micro-inequities. Mary Rowe called these ‘micro-affirmations’: ‘tiny acts of opening doors to opportunity, gestures of inclusion and caring, and graceful acts of listening’.

It might seem obvious, but the impact of these inclusive actions on individuals and team cultures in our workplaces can be very significant. They help everyone feel a greater sense of belonging and reduce unconscious bias.

We all need to be aware, consciously, of micro-inequities on a day-to-day basis if we’re to create inclusive workplaces of the future.

Here's ten inclusive actions (drawing on research and discussions in our leadership workshops) that can make a positive difference to everyday interactions, meetings, and decision-making.

Inclusive interactions

1.    Acknowledge people when you pass them in the office, especially those not part of your ‘in-group’.

2.    Ask for permission before calling someone by a nickname (and think about who has a nickname and who doesn’t).

3.    Ask for the correct pronunciation of an unfamiliar name – make an effort to get it right.

4.    Be mindful that small talk at the start of a meeting may leave some feeling excluded - make an effort to invite everyone into the conversation.

Inclusive meetings

5.    Introduce all people in a meeting with equal level of acknowledgement.

6.    In your team meetings, appoint a devil’s advocate (and make sure to rotate this role) to reduce groupthink.

7.    Be especially attentive to virtual team members who dial into meetings.

8.    Consider when and where a meeting should be held and who is invited, to maximise diversity of thought and perspective.

Inclusive decision-making

9.    Next time you’re making a key decision, actively seek out multiple perspectives (especially those different to your own) to avoid confirmation and sunflower bias.

10.    Use different communication channels to receive input on a project or idea - some team members will be more comfortable providing a follow up email or direct phone call rather than speaking out in a team meeting.

These tips, and many others, are explored in our Inclusive Leadership: Challenging Unconscious Bias workshop for leaders and employees. We'd love to share more with you - please contact us for a chat.

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Are you really recruiting the best person for the job? Challenging unconscious bias

We know leaders mean well when they share with us that they always hire the ‘best person for the job’.

And we know it can be unsettling when they learn that there are all sorts of hidden biases – unconscious biases – that can impact our decision-making about who is the best person for the job, among many other decisions we make everyday in business.

There’s now extensive research from the fields of business psychology and neuroscience to show we are all biased, even though we like to think that we always apply logic and reason in our decision-making. The reality is we all have these biases so ingrained we hardly notice them.

That’s why we find it useful in our consulting work to highlight a range of cognitive biases that impact decision-making and inhibit diversity progress. It’s powerful when the examples come from leaders in our workshops, particularly when they reflect on what perspectives may have been missed when making key decisions due to affinity bias, groupthink, and sunflower bias among others.

We also draw on research like the study by Yale University social psychologist, John Bargh, in which subjects primed with the concept of the 'elderly' while doing a simple task later walked more slowly when leaving the experiment than subjects in the control group who read words that were not related to the elderly.

Having bias isn’t bad – it’s natural. We naturally gravitate to people who are like us – it’s called affinity bias – particularly in social situations. We like to have our views confirmed rather than challenged (confirmation bias) and groups in the workplace have a tendency to align with the views of leaders, especially when the boss speaks up first (sunflower management).

Having bias isn’t bad - it’s natural.

But this becomes a problem in the workplace when subtle biases and stereotypes associated with different demographic groups lead us to overlook or unintentionally exclude some people and groups in the workplace.

We've compiled some practical tips for leaders to reduce the potential for unconscious bias when recruiting and ensure decision-making is genuinely fair and objective.

We've framed these tips as ‘when-then’ statements because psychologists have shown that having a specific and tangible intention plan is more likely to lead to behavioural change. Put simply, it's about creating 'instant habits' to help us reach our goals. In her 2014 HBR Spotlight article, social psychologist Heidi Grant says that if-then planning increases the likelihood of individuals reaching their goals by 300%.

By making ourselves aware of the possibility for bias, and by taking a simple action, we can reduce (and in some cases even eliminate) unconscious bias.

Our team has compiled a few tips:

When you’re preparing your job advertisement, then …

  • Proof read your role advertisements with a diversity lens to ensure the language is inclusive. It’s important that descriptions have a mix of words associated with male and female characteristics to attract a diverse talent pool. Words such as 'dominant' and 'competitive' have a masculine connotation'; words such as 'committed', 'interpersonal' have a feminine connotation.

When you’re briefing a recruiter or agency, then …

  • Share your expectation of receiving the broadest possible candidate pool. Ask recruiters to provide you with gender-balanced and culturally diverse shortlists for management roles. Explain that you would like them to focus on seeking a range of diverse skills and experience.

When you’re preparing to shortlist candidates, then …

  • Consider receiving the shortlisted CVs as 'blind CVs' with references to gender, age, disability and ethnicity removed. This will ensure you assess each candidate fairly against the requirements of the role and have a diverse mix of talent in your candidate pool.
  • Ask candidates if they have any special requirements for the interview (these may include access requirements to the interview premises, resource or support requirements).

When you’re setting up a selection panel, then …

  • Ensure you ask a diverse group of leaders to sit on the panel, including at least one male and female representative of equal decision making authority. Train those leaders to recognise unconscious biases and encourage them to provide feedback to each other.

When you’re interviewing, then …

  • Focus on the candidate’s skills, experience and knowledge.
  • Use competency-based questions that relate to the inherent role requirements and ensure everyone is assessed on the same questions.
  • Give every candidate the same amount of time so they have equal opportunity to demonstrate their strengths.
  • Appreciate benefits of diversity of thought in team make up.
  • Give adequate time to the process. Stress, time pressures, and cognitive overload can exacerbate our unconscious biases.

And a final crucial point …

  • When finalising the remuneration package, ensure there is no gender pay inequality.

If you'd like to know more about our programs to help reduce bias in decision-making, please call us on 0429 185 700 or email info@diversitypartners.com.au

 

Cognitive biases muddy our decision making. We rely too heavily on intuitive, automatic judgements, and even when we try to use reason, our logic is often lazy or flawed.
— Jack B. Soll, Katherine L. Milkman, and John W. Payne, 'Outsmart Your Own Biases', Harvard Business Review, May 2015