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Creating diverse and inclusive work cultures What Works

For far too long we have been stuck in a ‘diagnostic’ phase of inclusion management. I for one am researched out. I say this as a trained social scientist. I can (literally) list 101 ways in which social scientists, social psychologists and behavioural economists have demonstrated how unconscious bias impacts thinking, behaviours and decision-making.

But it’s time to move the conversation on. To take what we know in order to ramp up the pace of change. To move the dial on institutional decision-making and personal behaviours. To re-focus our minds from the what to the how. How to make effective and inclusive change happen.

So, I look to Iris Bonnet, a professor from the Kennedy School of Management at Harvard University, for insight and guidance. Her book, What Works: Gender Equality by Design, is timely. She takes an evidence based approach to this critical question.

Drawing on her insights, here are 6 things that science tells us what works when seeking to reduce bias and to promote diverse and inclusive work cultures:

1.    Employing people analytics: To identify bias within organisational decision-making, businesses need to get smarter in how they collect, track and analyse diversity data. This process helps to identify trends and patterns covering a wide range of decision-making areas from hiring, project allocation and promotions. Organisations should also build in tracking devices to help them to identify informal or ‘hidden’ behaviours such as time with senior leaders or time with clients. This can be done through keeping a weekly diary.

2.    Checklists and Reviews: I have come to the (liberating) conclusion, based on evidence from social psychology and behavioural science that, on our own, we as human beings can’t be trusted to make rational and fair decisions. We need help. Employing reviews and checklists have shown to be effective bias mitigation tools. When hiring:

  • review job descriptions and person specifications for bias language

  • introduce ‘Blind’ decision-making processes

  • agree a set of decision-making criteria and questions

  • follow the script in the right order

  • use a scoring system

  • aggregate the results

  • introduce neutral observers to help mitigate bias

3.    Change the default: Making agile working the new norm: As long as we continue to operate under the current flexible working model women will continue to face gender benevolent bias, impacting career developing and contributing to the gender pay gap. Organisations should:

  • scrap time-based working arrangements and make agile working part of the wider company culture

  • re-position the debate by engaging and encouraging men and other leaders to ‘leave loudly’. (PepsiCo Australia and New Zealand)

4.    Leadership role models matter: The lack of diverse role models in today’s corporate world is a legacy of historical discrimination, that continues to set present day perceptions of what corporate leaders do and should look and sound like. Thus, businesses should use a wide range of diverse role models – gender, LGBT, BAME – to challenge traditional viewpoints and perceptions of who can make it up the corporate ladder. Businesses should:

  • ensure they have portraits of a range of diverse and successful leaders in their meeting rooms, in recruitment campaigns and annual reports

  • rotate conference presentational slots or Town Hall meetings with diversity in mind

  • question for instance all male conference panels or one-dimensional client teams

5.    Group norms: Don’t play the game of tokenism, but do consciously work towards diversity in team meetings, on client project teams or at client pitches. Specifically:

  • ensure diverse groups are given the same airtime as others in team meetings

  • introduce rules for inclusive decision-making, such as asking for ideas on paper / e-mails before meetings

  • adopt the principle of Amplification

6.    Increase transparency and accountability in decision-making: Transparency in decision-making includes sharing information on diversity and inclusion metrics. Making information public increases accountability and is likely to affect behaviours as well as decision-making. Specifically:

  • introduce a range of diversity and inclusion targets and KPIs: ’What gets measured gets done’

  • ask department heads to publish data on diversity covering recruitment, retention and promotions. Individuals who know that they are likely to be held accountable for their own decisions are more likely to adopt inclusive decision-making

It’s time. Time for implementation. To move from awareness raising to action. This framework is a critical starting point. And I for one am excited by it.

Written by Dan Robertson, Director of - The Global Diversity and Inclusion Company. Dan is highly respected as a subject matter expert on workplace diversity & inclusion management, unconscious bias and inclusive leadership.  Connect with Dan: / +44 7946 466 18.

Following the success of our 'What Works?’ breakfast event held on the 21st February, we are delighted to be hosting a follow-up webinar. Facilitated by Dan Robertson, global expert on D&I from VERCIDA Consulting, this 60 minute webinar seeks to move the conversation forward through providing an evidenced-based framework. From reducing biases, promoting diverse and inclusive work cultures, inclusive recruitment, to the retention and progression of diverse employees. Please email marketing on to register for the event.