Diversity

Intentionally inclusive: everyday actions to create more respectful and inclusive workplaces

Being an inclusive leader requires us to understand, and fundamentally challenge, the biases and privileges entrenched in dominant Anglo male work cultures that the #MeToo phenomenon has begun to uncover.
 

The #MeToo movement has shocked many by highlighting that making harassment illegal, and having policies and training, has not actually made workplaces free from harassment, let alone genuinely inclusive. 

It turns out that introducing anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies is much easier than challenging established practices. As we hear increasing allegations of ‘boys club’ work cultures and ‘lecherous’ behaviour by public figures, we often find that people have known about the behaviour for a long time, but haven’t felt able to challenge it.

Catherine A. McKinnon wrote in the New York Times last week of women alleging sexual harassment, over decades of her research, that ‘even when she was believed, nothing he did to her mattered as much as what would be done to him if his actions against her were taken seriously’. The women’s starting inequality made it hard for them to push for action and change. But, she says, right now, ‘power is paying attention’.

‘Perhaps it takes a moment like this’, as Australian journalist David Leser says, ‘for men to truly wake up.’

In workplaces, it has to be leaders – men and women – who drive greater inclusion. Beyond policy statements, it is a bigger and more challenging goal to create a psychologically safe, inclusive work environment.

How do you make your organisation a place where all employees feel they belong, can speak up about inappropriate behaviour they experience or observe, and feel valued for their unique talents and perspectives?

It doesn’t happen by accident, or through goodwill alone. Being an inclusive leader requires us to understand, and fundamentally challenge, the biases and privileges entrenched in dominant Anglo male work cultures that the #MeToo phenomenon has begun to uncover.

It’s up to all of us to challenge inappropriate behaviour and take action.

Leaders must intentionally choose to be inclusive in how they behave and the decisions they make. If we’re not consciously inclusive, as former Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick said, it’s likely we’re unconsciously or unintentionally excluding people.

This matters to organisations because diversity of people, background, opinions and ideas is proven to deliver better decisions and generate breakthrough insights. It’s why so many organisations are actively committing to being more diverse and inclusive.

But it is a challenge. The reality is that all of us can find it demanding to include diverse thinking approaches, or people of different gender or from different backgrounds, in our work activities. 

When people come from differing backgrounds, or put forward a different perspective to ours, it’s often uncomfortable. We naturally gravitate to people who are like us (called affinity bias), and we like to have our views confirmed rather than challenged (confirmation bias). 

In organisations, this plays out in a few well-worn habits. We follow what’s been called the ‘usual suspects bias’ to automatically hire or promote people who are like us, because we feel comfortable with them and trust them to get the job done. Groupthink is generated.

We wind up with ‘mirror-tocracies’, far from the meritocracies we all want, where the best skills and ideas flourish. And we can have workplaces where ‘lad cultures’, ‘pervy’ behaviours, dismissive comments, unconscious bias, and outdated stereotypes prevail.

Taking intentional actions to make your work environment more diverse and inclusive goes well beyond avoiding potentially costly harassment complaints. 

 

It’s up to all of us to challenge inappropriate behaviour and take action.

For those in leadership roles, here's some ways to practice intentionally inclusive leadership.

·     Invite feedback from peers and team members about your behaviours, so you know if people are feeling consistently included, and so you can adjust if you need to before problems potentially escalate.

·     Recognise personal biases that may impact your decision-making (remember we all have biases).

·     Make a positive effort to learn more about the experiences of people not in the ‘in-group’.

·     Actively seek out diverse views in your meetings – explicitly invite different perspectives, including from people who are usually quiet.

·     Consider where and when team meetings and social events are held, to avoid inadvertently excluding some people. For example, instead of always having team drinks in the evening, mix it up with some morning teas during the week.

·     Challenge stereotypical comments, assumptions, and language. If a woman manager is called ‘aggressive’, is that about her behaviour, or about someone thinking she should be warmer or softer because she is a woman?

·     Ask explicitly for diversity on recruitment shortlists, speaking panel representations, and in succession planning. 

·     Notice and call it out if some people are given nicknames but others aren’t. It’s an everyday way to make some people feel in and others excluded.

·     Provide flexible work options, using changing technologies, to give a more diverse team opportunities to be involved.

·     Talk with your teams about the proven benefits of diversity and an inclusive work culture (some organisations start meetings by highlighting positive examples).

For organisations, it’s also fundamental to refresh recruitment, promotion and other talent management practices that have typically privileged dominant Anglo male cultures in Australia.

Taking intentional actions to make your work environment more diverse and inclusive goes well beyond avoiding potentially costly harassment complaints. Numerous studies show the benefits include better decision-making, higher employee engagement, more innovation, and better financial performance.

What business leader wouldn’t want to achieve that?

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

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