Diversity drives better results- and unconscious bias is the barrier
Diversity exists in as many shapes and forms as its definition suggests. For organizations, the most important forms of diversity are generation, race, culture, gender, identity – and all of those deeply influence the way we think, feel and act.
A young millennial has a hard time stepping into the perspective of an elder, experienced person. A man often doesn’t notice the little clues aimed at excluding a woman from their discussion. Anyone from a majority, cultural or race, may scoff at what seems to them an overly sensitive disposition from the member of the minority: “It is just a harmless joke”
Those factors are deeply embedded in our unconscious and even so we are increasingly becoming aware of their existence, we cannot truly understand the intricacies.
And we do not have to!
What we should do however is develop curiosity and an appreciative mindset towards differences.
First of all, quick judgement can reflect badly back on ourselves. It makes us narrow minded and doesn’t allow us to see more possibilities. It keeps us from a new experience, new learning.
Secondly, creating relationships through this appreciative mindset creating mutual understanding, is one of the most powerful ways of getting results – sustainably.
Finally, a solution derived from input of many has the potential to be a better solution for many.
Diversity has wide ranging effect. An organization, which creates a culture of curiosity and appreciation, will be more innovative, more collaborative and more agile – all of it beneficial to compete in these times of accelerated pace and change.
It is hard to start the personal journey towards more openness, curiosity and appreciation, let alone an organizational one
We are evolutionary wired to define our identity as part of a group. Defining our group works easiest by excluding those who are not like us
We are women versus men, we are Westerners versus Easterners, we are white collar versus blue collar – whatever stereotype you wish for, it exists and it holds us back.
Even language is evolutionary developed, argues Marc Phagel, to create a group and to exclude others: “Different languages slow the flow of ideas between groups…”
Herein lie the possibilities of the times we live in
The means to connect have never been greater. The internet has put knowledge at everyone’s fingertips, communication across any distance and with immediacy is common now, and there are more and more people, who speak the same language. “It is virtually inevitable that we will have a single common language in this world”. (Marc Phagel Ted Talk)
So, we will come together – and while it will cost us – it will bring us many opportunities. To make the transition easier, to not join those groups, that want to move back time to a seemingly safer and more stable status quo, we need to work on getting to know, what drives us and confront our own biases, our own blind spots.
Organizations, who want to compete in today’s fast paced world, especially do not have a choice.
Diversity is more than ticking the box with programs and metrics
You have all the right Diversity programs, but it still feels like lip service
Solution: Lead with your heart, intervene, when needed and listen carefully!
Most corporates today have diversity programs. And yet many would argue, that true diversity is not yet achieved. For diversity to work, you need to have inclusion as everyone’s individual value. And we all know, how hard it is to change our own values, let alone an organisations. For a very good example, read the challenge of this NZ CEO.
A cultural journey takes time and with all changes, it starts with awareness. This means, you, all your leaders and your teams need to talk about differences – but not in a political correct way, no, you should foster open discussion and appreciate opposing views.
We are not always rational. Our subconscious dictates more than we know
If you are not conscious about your attitude, how can you do something about it?
Solution: Take a pause, think and re-evaluate. And make it a regular practice!
Bias is a short cut your brain has to take to be able to deal with the many decisions you make every day. You cannot eliminate all bias. But when the decision matters, you should at least give yourself the chance to think instead of being led by your subconscious. This is the very first step, you can take. Google’s RE Work explains very nicely how bias works.
By the way, not every subconscious processing your brain does is bad. Scientifically this is called heuristics. Have a look at this interview with Gerd Gigerenzer about when to go with your gut.
Be the change you want to see!
The leaders in this company still act biased. Why should I change?
Solution: Change starts with ourselves. And leaders need to be credible role models!
Everyone should start with themselves, because it is simply the right thing to do. But indeed, leaders need to be credible role-models. To start this journey the leaders probably need scientific evidence to trigger their rational buy-in and experience it itself for the emotional buy-in. For the rational, scientific proof, there is a lot of research:
- Formal and Informal Discrimination Against Women At Work: The Role of Gender Stereotypes
- Using Conjoint Analysis to detect discrimination: revealing covert preferences from overt choices
But more important is the personal experience. There are tests anyone can take, like this one from Harvard. More intense personal experiences can be had in workshops, we deliver, where you see your own bias, but in a safe environment. Because, let us be clear: we are all biased. The difference is, what we do about it.
For courage, build alliances
I see bias at work, but I don’t dare to speak up.
Solution: Create alliances to help raise awareness and make informal contracts how to act, when you disagree!
How many times have I heard, that especially women feel “spoken over” in a meeting, not heard, their opinion ignored. There is even a term: Manterrupted.
Oftentimes, it is not easy to speak up as you do not want to sound petty, overly sensitive or defensive. I have been spoken over in a meeting (and believe me, I am pretty assertive myself). Fortunately, a male colleague took up my point, so it did not get lost. This is what you can do: Search out people you trust, male and female, who will speak up for you and bring attention back to you and the argument you are making. And you should do the same for others, of course. In addition, one should in general create expectations and agreements for meetings and decision taking and what to do in case of overlooking or interrupting someone else’s point. This agreement and regular practice will improve the team dynamics in general and really help with the diversity of decision taking.
Creating awareness on the amount of speaking time allocated to everyone, versus reality really helps as well.
Moving from good intentions to action
We all have good intentions, but how to keep it alive in the busy working day.
Solution: Create the right choice architecture with nudges to keep people on their chosen path!
A nudge can remind you to pause / think / reevaluate to keep you from unconsciously taking the wrong decision. It can be mindful, like a regular reminder in form of an email or notification via an app. Or it can be mindless in making the desired behavior the easy one or the undesired harder like removing printers from the floor, your office is on.
Creating the choice architecture for a diverse organization will have many aspects. It can be rational, e.g. reminders, emotional, e.g. through story-telling, physical, e.g. an open lay-out of rooms. It is a very good exercise for a team to come up with their own nudges to foster a diverse environment, e.g. in form of a world café.
Fake it till you make it!
What can I do personally?
Solution: Power Poses, Humor, Breathing!
A very simple personal action, we can take, as a minority, as a woman, to continuously renew the courage it needs to e.g. speak up confidently, is to use Amy Cuddys famous power poses. There is some controversy in academia about the effect on hormones, but the effect on “felt power” is acknowledged and I can testify to it from personal experience
The idea is to “trick” our mind into feeling more powerful, than we are originally. The advantage is, that on a physical, hormonal level, the conditions are created, that we can speak and act with more confidence (testosterone) and less stress (cortisol). This is a simple step we can take immediately, to change the way, we are perceived.
Another, equally effective way is to smile. We all know, that happiness reduces stress and boosts the immune system. So what if we can make ourselves happy. Vera Birkenbihl, a German researcher, talks about 60 seconds fake smiling, that triggers a neuro-physiological response, that helps us feel happy. In a real smile 10 seconds would suffice.
There are many similar simple steps, that anyone of us can start immediately, mindful steps and tools, that take little effort, but can have great effects. The challenge is to create habits and not revert back to old behaviours. How? Create your own choice architecture.
Do women not want it enough?
Not enough women apply for the leadership positions we have. How do we get more of them to step up?
Solution: Talk to them. Consider their reasons for not applying. And consider changing your processes
Now this is a topic, that is widely debated. Is it a woman’s fault for not stepping up to the challenge? Is it their choice? Are there simply not enough capable women, who want the responsibility of leadership? If you ask me, of course I disagree. While there are women, who chose not to and with very valid reasons, there are enough capable and ambitious women, who want the C-Suite or the position on the board.
One reason for women not to apply is the way job profiles are phrased and, yes indeed, our own tendency to only apply, if we fulfill almost all requirements, contrary to men. The solution for this is very simple. Ask, invite or nudge the potential female candidates to apply. Another solution is to carefully rethink the wording of the job profile and in particular to add the soft skills needed for the role. This could give women a boost and will certainly make the final choice better, than if you only look for technical competencies.
Another reason is, that some women – and quite some men – chose very deliberately to not get involved in the politics, that increase the higher you get. The solution for this is easy, but not quickly overcome: Consider actively working against politics (they are detrimental to your organization anyway) and hire more people, who don’t do politics, instead of rewarding those, who play the game to perfection.
And the difficulties apply just as much to women entrepreneurs. They face other, but as significant issues, especially, when they ask investors for funding.
Bias of course plays a part in many career situations, like when asking for a raise. “Stereotypes are that women are supposed to be modest and self-effacing,” she said — and asking for a raise flies in the face of those.
To conclude: women want the funding, the promotion and the raise, but face much higher hurdles to get them.
Change only works, when critical mass is achieved.
Women do not have the same networks. Should there be leadership programs aimed at women?
Solution: Yes! Create a safe space to learn, grow and develop a support group!
There is an argument, that for women to rise to the top, they need to network with men – and this is certainly true. But as with any minority, if you want them to have a voice in your own right, you need about 30% as Critical Mass otherwise they will be silenced.
Considering, that most leaders today still are men, for a woman to attend a development program alone or as one of the few, can sound scary for a woman. To truly develop you need to open up about, what you cannot yet do. To share doubts to truly learn and to try and practice, a safe environment is very important.
Quite some years back, I have attended a one year leadership program for senior business women. Before this program, I had attended excellent leadership programs at GEs Crotonville Campus. And while the GE programs were very, very good, the one distinct difference I felt in the women’s only program, was how fast we opened up to each other. How easy it was to discuss doubts and need for learning. This openness, created a major boost for the effectiveness of learning. And the safe, trusted environment really helped us discover and build our strength.
Explore meaningful leadership
The journey towards more curiosity and appreciation – the core of true diversity - starts with awareness. It starts with ourselves.
It is not complicated to listen deeper into ourselves, but it helps, if we are guided by examples and reminded continually to not revert back to old behavioral patterns.
Trainings, we deliver, on leadership, communication, team building, they all start with raising awareness of the different perspectives we have. And through exploration and mirroring techniques, we start recognizing our blind spots and more importantly, develop simple steps, how to pause before taking instinctive action driven by our unconscious. These skills are extremely useful for any leader and any team, that wants to keep or develop a trusted working environment for higher performance.
But it is not skills alone, that support your journey: The best, albeit at times seemingly slow and cumbersome, way to create inclusion, to stop conflict, to create collaboration and to foster appreciation is through building true understanding with personal experience and exchange among people and groups. This is not a one-off exercise. A workshop or a teambuilding can be a good starting point. But how to keep this alive, when normality and business as usual kicks in again?
To anchor changed behavior, you will need to build in regular interventions and nudges to remind people to stay on their chosen path.
With these NUDGES you create the choice architecture for a sustainable change.
We are here to help
To arrive in this new world, you need new skills, fresh attitudes and the right behaviors for diversity. This leads to better decision taking, but more importantly to a trusted environment, where everyone brings their best, regardless of gender, culture, age, race, sexual orientation, physical or mental challenges.
To create this culture, you will need training programs, communication strategies, and most importantly leaders, who are courageously asking for feedback and willing to continuously self-improve.
We can help you to create the elements for a sustainable and credible change with leaders, who embrace diversity and know how to be inclusive.