Diversity and Unconscious Bias - The Journey Continues
Author: Eric Jelenje, PMP
Welcome or welcome back!
Last month, we kicked things off with an introduction to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB), and its significance to organisations in the past, present and future (reminder anyone?). In thinking about how to continue the conversation this month, I recently watched a Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, about how the big social media companies have successfully delivered bespoke experiences for their millions of customers. Imagine how empowering it is for Big Tech (yes, that’s who you think they are) to be able to give you, the user, a curated experience that keeps you hooked.
Now, using this example is not to stir up any debate on ethics or morality. Rather, I am using this to show how effective and beneficial it has been for the Facebooks and Googles to traverse Planet Earth and its visually, linguistically and culturally heterogeneous 7 billion-plus inhabitants.
Put simply, we travel more. We experience new cultures and languages. We get to hear the voices of those with alternative viewpoints to ours. We learn from and teach others. This is modern day society, in which you and I are shaped by a multiplicity of variables. Big Tech understands this very, very well, leveraging technology to collect huge amounts of assorted data to create a “digital you”, an electronic clone mimicking your very being. Imagine the power gained from having this much information and being able to process it to your organisation’s benefit.
This multiplicity is what we refer to as Diversity, described by prominent author and DEIB expert Verna Myers as that “richness in backgrounds, cultures, religion, sexual orientation, marriage status, political views”, and more. Whether knowingly or unknowingly, we have embraced Diversity. Think of the music or cuisines you enjoy, indeed the multiple languages you speak. You will likely agree that you are better because of it.
As we have embraced Diversity, we have simultaneously internalised beliefs about others that influence our judgement of them. With Unconscious Bias, we create misconceptions about people because of previous interactions, their age, gender, race or name. The outcomes are almost always in the negative, with potentially extreme consequences in the form of sexism, racism and general disparity.
It follows that organisations need to understand diversity and bias in their many forms (an organisation is its people, right?)
The benefits? A healthier bottom line, for starters. Research by the global consulting firm McKinsey and Co established a positive relationship between staff diversity and profitability, particularly amongst organisations with gender-diverse leadership teams. Organisations also benefit from improvements in creativity and innovation, which, according to Forbes, translates to better products and more “persuasive marketing”, through “multiple perspectives being brought to the table”.
Leveraging diversity is also key to attracting and retaining premium talent. Millennials and Gen Z, two of the post-1980 generations shaped by the digital age and motivated by diversity, will account for over three-quarters of the global labour force by 2025; diverse organisations are ahead of the pack in recruiting the best of these generations. On the back of dwindling populations in some parts of the world, the Baby Boomers are working for longer; diversity-inclined organisations will keep them on board to facilitate knowledge sharing, mentoring and succession planning.
With so much to gain then, what can organisations do? How do you as business and project leaders begin to navigate Diversity?
Start by initiating a process of unpacking and comprehending Diversity. That is, ask the question, “What is Diversity and what would it look like for us?” One perspective is by looking at your workforce (most important resource, hint hint!) The common diversity lenses include gender, age, ethnic and physical ability, which are by no means exhaustive but a great starting point to helping establish a baseline to inform the future.
At the same time, working to understand unconscious bias helps with tackling any disparities across an organisation. Initiating and sustaining conversations through team building, mentoring/buddy programmes and deliberate training for staff helps them bond and collaborate better.
Crucially, the tone should be set from the very top. Leading by example is infectious. Show those around you that you value the uniqueness they bring to the table and they will follow suit. Collectively, such efforts effectively support business goals. From there, strategies to broaden your talent, leadership, customer base and markets can be deployed.
This is of course an abridged version of actions but the possibilities are endless: Using generational diversity to enhance talent acquisition and retention, cultural diversity to support growth strategies, gender-based diversity to nurture future leaders, it all begins with an awareness of diversity and unconscious bias. That sets things up perfectly to move towards achieving Equity, our theme for June.
What are your experiences with diversity and unconscious bias? What are the most common diversity lenses you have come across? Have you been biased or experienced bias? How do you feel about the two issues now? Food for thought!
See you next month!