Facing the Illusion of Inclusion (What if You Are Not as Inclusive as You Think?)

Learn about 4 significant unconscious biases that impact decision-making, 5 areas that are vulnerable to unconscious biases and 5 things you need to do.

24 May 2019 Articles Recruitment Best practices

Diversity & Inclusion

Unconscious bias, as I am sure you know, has been trending for a couple of years now. I often wonder how trends get started and what causes them to end. Regardless, I do know that no matter when we move on to the next trending topic (and we will), unconscious bias and its impact is not going away. 

Unconscious biases and blind spots are insidious and creep up on us. They are subtle and subliminal and not as easy to spot as you think they are. The quality of your day to day decisions is unequivocally influenced by a myriad of unconscious biases throughout the day. Not all unconscious biases are bad; they are, after all, helpful shortcuts for our lazy brains, and in a fight/flight situation they may be just the answer we need for survival. However, they often have a negative impact on our decision making, and at the very least – limit our field of vision. They limit our ability to hire the best candidate when we albeit unconsciously, lean in favor of mini-me syndrome.

We are, for the most part, well-intentioned people. We want to believe that we are fair and equitable in our decision making and that we are advocates and allies for inclusion. However, I would argue that this is only an illusion of inclusion and that our brains are in fact, hard-wired for selfishness and similarity and not for diversity and inclusion.

Here are four significant unconscious biases that impact decisions impacting our diverse relationships?

Affinity Bias: Also known as mini-me syndrome. This is our tendency to be predisposed to surrounding ourselves with people who are like us and aligned with our values and ways of thinking. 

Assimilation: This is the tendency for people from sub-ordinate groups to adjust their behavior to try to fit in and be (more) acceptable to members of a Dominant culture group. For example, women adopting a male leadership style to make it to the C-suite.

Confirmation Bias:
We look to confirm what we already believe. This causes us not to see, or to dismiss information that does not fit with our previous and current thinking. This bias is a derivative of Pattern Recognition. 

Pattern Recognition: The tendency to look for patterns that are familiar. We also see “false patterns” and imagine things are congruent with what we know to be a familiar pattern; i.e. we see what we want to see. 

The Recruitment, Selection, Appraisal, Career Development and Talent Management processes are particularly vulnerable to unconscious bias and blind spots as we do not realize the impact of our 3-5 second judgements and their propensity toward affinity bias, pattern recognition and confirmation bias. We all look to make ourselves comfortable and we seek to hire people who align with our values; we have a tendency to evaluate and promote people who sound like us, act like us and remind us of people who made us comfortable in the past. We may say we want diverse candidates but only up to a point. Companies hire for diversity and manage for similarity. We may want people who look and sound different, but once they are hired we really want them to conform to the organizational norms and more specifically, to our norms.

We are not as inclusive as we convince ourselves we are. What will you do about that? No matter how much we learn about our unconscious biases they still get triggered. When you are faced with decisions on recruitment, selection, appraisals, career development and talent management you need to:

  1. Mindfully choose inclusion. You need to be consciously aware that there is a diversity of opinions involved, and ensure that people who are different are being listened to. Catch yourself if you are not listening; perhaps because of someone’s accent or vocal tone.
  2. Ensure you have a diverse panel making decisions. 
  3. Mitigate against some people dominating and others remaining silent; this can particularly happen when the leader does most of the talking. 
  4. Behave inclusively – just because you have a diverse group does not mean you are behaving inclusively. 
  5. Monitor your thoughts and actions before making decisions.

It is important to reflect on how your unconscious biases show up and what you can do to be more aware and manage their impact on the quality of your decisions as you mindfully choose inclusion.