Organisations are increasingly accepting diversity as a process of encouraging appreciation of heterogeneity. Many companies have developed a range of diversity and inclusion programmes that teach and train employees to seek out and champion diversity and put aside unconscious biases when recruiting, engaging, and collaborating.
Our unconscious biases affect our ability to think diversely. In the boardroom, which can often function as an echo chamber, finding ways to ensure our thoughts are not ten versions of the same song is critical for innovation. In a world where the boardroom is still made up of two-thirds white men, promoting diversity of thinking is imperative to balancing this statistic.
Unconscious biases are not all harmful. They are akin to shortcuts in our brains and often help us make a split-second decision in times of fight or flight. These micro-thoughts are the product of our background, our culture, and personal experiences and often occur without us knowing. Even the most prominent champions of diversity can fall prey to unconscious bias, negatively impacting individuals' judgement and thinking.
It can be humbling to admit your biases, and that is the first step. Here are some other ways to unpack your unconscious biases to encourage broader diversity of thought.
1. Acknowledge that we all have unconscious biases
We are human, and we are fallible. Admitting that you have unconscious biases is the first step in learning why they are there. There is an excellent Harvard University test you can take to find out more about your own biases.
2. Avoid making assumptions
Never assume that a person cannot perform a particular task without investigating and speaking to that person first. For example, "My manager said that he didn't offer me the position because I have children and there's international travel."
3. Address stereotypes
Being more aware of stereotypes can help you challenge them when they do appear. Stereotypes encourage ingroups and outgroups where there are more differences, leading to echo chambers and narrow thinking. An example of stereotyping bias at play is thinking a person named Mohammed must be Muslim or that any female would be a great communicator.
4. Assess your behaviour
Be aware of how quickly you make decisions - ask yourself if the decision was made objectively or through unconscious bias. Acting fast often means we fall back on our preferences, take a breath, and even "sleep on it" before you make a decision.
5. Set house rules
Setting house rules where only one person can speak at a time and making sure everyone is heard can help to move things forward in the boardroom. Everyone must have an equal share of the air space.
6. Speak out against bias in the boardroom
The most powerful thing you can do in the boardroom is speaking up for others, for example, saying "I don't think Mary finished her point" and directing attention back to the person who was talked over. If you feel something is off - say something.
7. Expose yourself to new experiences
Expose yourself to new experiences, get lunch in a new spot, talk to people of different cultural backgrounds. In the current remote work situation, TED talks can be one great way to do this. This will build your cultural competence and lead to better understanding.
8. Got it wrong? Apologise
Admitting our biases is the first step in the process and will help you broaden your thinking. Apologies show an intent to make mistakes and challenge the status quo. It's better to make a mistake than not try.
Broadening your boardroom's awareness of unconscious bias can positively impact your ability to solve problems and innovate. Similarly to how we need to encourage challenges, we need to promote differences.