“Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” Verna Myers
Recently I participated in a webinar for Team Management Systems on the topic of Cognitive Bias and Teams and during it I asked the participants a question – “Does your organisation focus more on Diversity or Inclusion?” The answer was very enlightening – 83% said the focus was on Diversity with only 17% responding that the focus of their organisation was on Inclusion.
The fact that Diversity has been getting most of our attention should not come as too much of a surprise. Most organisations have been achieving real progress in their efforts to create diverse workplaces. What surprised me, however, was the fact that Inclusion was getting so little attention. I think we assume that inclusion will naturally follow from achieving a level of diversity, but the findings from neuroscience are suggesting otherwise.
The quote at the top of this page helps us realise that Diversity does not guarantee, or even promise, Inclusion. As humans, we are social beings who want and need to connect with others, but our brains are also designed to put our survival first. We are continually looking out for what, or who, might be a threat to us and we are on constant alert to spot potential dangers in our environment. We pick up on ‘difference’ as a potential danger and we categorise people who are different to us as ‘foes’ before we see them as friends.
What Neuroscience is Telling Us
We are hardwired to take thinking shortcuts. In order to make sense of overwhelming amounts of information, we rapidly and automatically classify people by gender, ethnicity, age etc. We create mental shortcuts and handy scripts to enable us to use our brain efficiently. For example, we might have a script running that says ‘all nurses are female, all surgeons are male’ and not even be aware that this is influencing our perceptions of others. More importantly, these perceptions affect how we act towards them. These biases and judgements are happening continuously, and they are doing so outside of our conscious awareness.
We are designed for bias and we feel more comfortable with people who are like us. This is the Similarity Bias at work. We can more easily understand each other. We ‘get each other’ and we think in similar ways. This is the basis of ‘Group Think’ and can lead us into believing that our limited perspectives are correct and poor decisions can result without the challenge to our thinking which can come from people with a different perspective.
High Performance but More Discomfort
In diverse teams, the work feels harder (see ‘Diverse Teams Feel Less Comfortable – and That’s Why They Perform Better’ by David Rock et al). Where there are differences in how people see the world, discussions can feel disjointed and even tense. Individuals need to explain their views and justify their decisions to others. This provides better outcomes, but it requires more time for people to be heard and more patience for different views to be considered.
So how can we strengthen Inclusion in teams? Below are 6 ways to ensure a more inclusive approach –
1. Learn about bias and increase our awareness of how our brains work
2. Use a Personality Profiling tool (such as Team Management Systems Profiles) to help people understand each other and see similarities and differences
3. Create opportunities to work together in mixed personality groups
4. Allocate time in meetings for sharing different perspectives
5. Apply a disciplined approach to discussions and decision making
6. Learn how to manage conflict productively
Mindset is Important
Finally, make sure the leader of the team wants to be inclusive. We should not assume that every leader has an inclusive mindset. Our leaders are human too and have the same wired-in biases as the rest of us. We may need to sell the benefits of focusing on both Diversity and Inclusion and then help see a practical way to get there.
We are helping clients improve their approach to Diversity and Inclusion through a number of the programs we offer under our BrainSmart banner:
• ‘Getting to Grips with Unconscious Bias’
• ‘Harnessing Team Diversity and Inclusion’
• ‘Dealing with Change and Building Resilience’
• Customised leadership and team-based programs (please contact us on 0417 231 494)
If you would like to listen to the recent webinar : HOW TO: Unlock team potential by re-thinking Cognitive Bias please click here