It is estimated that our brains unconsciously process over 11 million pieces of information per second. Now, compare that to the 40 pieces per second that it processes consciously. Quite the discrepancy. Our brains, more specifically the amygdala, must process and categorize all of the surrounding information for survival purposes. But due to our instincts and inability to consciously process everything at all times, we react and make decisions based on information that was processed unconsciously. This can manifest as unconscious bias.
This applies to everything we do, not just survival. There are various forms of unconscious bias that creep into our personal and professional lives – affinity, attribution, beauty, confirmation, gender, halo and horn effect.
Unfortunately, research shows that the results of diversity training, also called unconscious bias training, can vary greatly, with the overall results often ineffective.
So the question becomes how do we move from unconscious bias to conscious inclusion?
The impact of diversity and inclusion on the workplace
For some, the answer to the above question is simple – let’s just ignore it and go about our business. However, that is a response that places both employees and the company at risk.
Numerous studies and statistics demonstrate that companies who embrace diversity and inclusion are more likely to outperform companies who do not.
For example, according to McKinsey’s Delivering Through Diversity report, “Gender and ethnic diversity are clearly correlated with profitability.”
There are additional benefits to diversity and inclusion in the workplace. They include:
- A better understanding of your customer base
- Enhanced team performance
- Greater innovation and creativity
- Improved onboarding and retention
- Increased productivity
- Enhanced employer brand
- Improved talent pool
Statistics show that when cultivated properly, D&I initiatives are highly beneficial to any company. But it still begs the question, how?
First, it is important to understand in-depth the desired outcome. In this case conscious inclusion.
What is conscious inclusion?
Conscious inclusion is, “when we strategically execute a practical approach to driving the thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors that allow us to value and leverage differences to achieve superior results.’”
In other words, it is not enough to simply be aware of your unconscious biases. You need to consciously change your behaviors to be more inclusive.
On an organization level, this begins with understanding where unconscious bias occurs, whether it is embedded systemically within the company (i.e. policies) and where changes can consciously be made.
Moving to conscious inclusion
So, how do you move from unconscious bias to conscious inclusion?
ManpowerGroup has developed Seven Steps to Conscious Inclusion to advance women in leadership. These same steps can be adapted and applied to your organization.
1. Change yourself first
Change needs to be authentic. Identify your unconscious bias through the Harvard Implicit Association Test (IAT).
2. Leadership has to own it; don’t delegate it
Too often, D&I strategies fail due to delegation and lack of support from the top. Ultimately the c-suite needs to own D&I.
“For commitment to be authentic and aligned with business strategy, change must flow from the top and be demonstrated by the leadership team. HR can help facilitate and support it.”
3. Flip the question – Ask “Why not?”
Challenge your assumptions. Instead of saying an employee or potential employee lacks experience for a job or a promotion ask, “what can we do to make this better?”
4. Hire people who value people
“If we hire people who value people, they will figure out how to optimize all human potential, including women. They will be open to strategies that support One Life – balancing the integration of work and home, measuring success on performance and quality of output, not presenteeism. They will support people to plan and manage for career ‘waves’, not ladders.”
5. Promote a culture of inclusion; programs alone don’t work
Decades of research shows that generic programs and one-off training simply does not work. Changing the culture and promoting conscious inclusion lies with senior leadership and key decision-makers.
HR is there to strategize and help facilitate this change (i.e. raise awareness via training). Make a commitment to inclusive leadership and watch how the effects trickle down throughout the entire company.
6. Be explicit – When and where?
Simply increasing representation does not move the needle. Representation needs to occur at every level and within every department.
Looking at overall company numbers is not enough, the data needs to be examined at the microlevel. Encourage and coach employees to succeed. Help them obtain the experience and exposure they need to advance.
7. Be accountable – Set measurable and achievable outcomes
Change takes time and determination. Make D&I a strategic objective. Without measurable outcomes, the goal will fall flat. Ensure that the decisions being made contribute to achieving D&I goals as opposed to hindering them.
Embed D&I practices throughout your organization
Conscious inclusion is attainable. However, in order for it to be embraced as an organizational culture, it must be embedded throughout every initiative, practice, level, department and objective, from the top (c-suite) to bottom (entry-level). Only then will you see the needle move just a little closer to that end goal.