as inclusive as we think it is, no matter
how much we may want it to be.
It is a distressing claim and one that
tends to surprise those who are confronted
by evidence that shows their behaviour is
out of sync with their intentions. Research
conducted by Banaji and her colleagues re-veals
that the human brain is hard-wired
to make quick decisions that draw on a
variety of assumptions and experiences
without our conscious awareness.
“We would all like to believe we are
open-minded, fair and without bias, but
research shows otherwise. This is an im-portant,
even if uncomfortable, realization
for most of us,” said Banaji.
Still, savvy business leaders know that
diverse teams are an important compo-nent
of the innovation cycle required to
thrive in today’s rapidly evolving, increas-ingly
global environment. But according
to a new report by RBC and EY, despite
their best intentions, leaders may be un-consciously
inhibiting diversity within
Research on hidden bias reveals that
unconscious preferences are common, and
exist in all of us – creating barriers, limit-ing
creativity and affecting the quality of
relationships we have with those around
us. Unconscious biases can be responsi-ble
for limiting diversity in such a way that
they are preventing organizations from
even getting to “the what” of diversity, nev-er
mind “the how.”
The good news is that by learning to rec-ognize
and manage bias, leaders can work
towards mitigating its impact and maxi-mizing
the potential of their teams while
ultimately increasing the competitiveness
of their organizations.
Outsmarting our brains: Overcoming
hidden biases to harness diversity’s true
potential notes that, in the workplace,
challenges arise when we let our bias-es
affect or shape the decisions we make
in and on behalf of our organizations.
Whether it’s an unconscious discomfort
with one group or, more commonly, a
preference for another, hidden biases can
affect everything from hiring and promo-tion,
to team and project assignments, to
openness, to new sources of ideas and in-novative
THE BUSINESS CASE FOR
Experience tells us that to win in their
market, companies need to hire the
market. Diversity has emerged as a
business-critical factor in the ability to
attract clients and partners, innovate
and retain and cultivate the best talent
amidst a changing population and of-ten-
unpredictable business conditions.
Diverse and inclusive teams make stron-ger
teams, and strong teams make better
business decisions. But if an organization
isn’t fostering an inclusive environment at
the same time, this can backfire.
HIDDEN BIAS: WHAT IS IT AND
WHERE DOES IT COME FROM?
As mentioned, a hidden – or implicit –
bias is a preference for or against a person,
thing or group held at an unconscious lev-el.
This means we don’t even know that
our minds are holding onto this bias.
Research on hidden bias reveals that in
spite of the best intentions, most people
harbour deep-rooted resistance to the “dif-ferent,”
whether that difference is defined
by such evident factors as race, gender,
ethnicity, age or physical characteristics,
or more subtle ones such as background,
personality type or experiences. More sub-tly,
people may show distinct bias in favour
of the “same,” however, bias can even exist
against the “same” – women against wom-en,
These implicit biases are not conscious-ly
created; they are products of our brain’s
self-generated definition of normal, ac-ceptable
or positive. They are shaped by
many factors including past experienc-es,
our local or cultural environment and
the influence of our social community or
“Having a bias is only human. The only
shame is in making no effort to improve.
And human beings are an improving spe-cies
– we have been improving ourselves in
every way over millennia,” said Banaji.
Tips for avoiding biased behaviour
■■ Increase purposeful mentoring and coaching. Sponsor people who are not like you.
■■ Be proactive about recognizing people’s different capabilities and help prepare them to take on challenging assignments.
■■ Consider who might consistently feel like an outsider and take steps to actively address the situation.
■■ When preparing for interviews, establish clearly defined, measurable criteria against which all candidates will be evaluated.
Invite a colleague from HR or another business line to sit in on the interview and validate that you are applying the criteria fairly.
■■ Set reasonable parameters around the nature and amount of help you will offer to special
connections to ensure such opportunities are distributed equally.
■■ Attend professional affinity groups and inclusiveness events to enrich your understanding
of the diversity of perspectives in your organization, industry or community.
■■ Evaluate your actions daily. Be extra-alert to the types of situations in which you are particularly vulnerable to hidden biases.
■■ Seek out regular feedback on your own behaviours and actions from trusted, yet objective, colleagues.
■■ Be wary of quick decisions involving people, pause to consider your unstated assumptions.
28 ❚ MARCH/APRIL 2014 ❚ HR PROFESSIONAL