It is well established that diverse teams avoid the dreaded “groupthink”, the practice of minimizing conflict and reaching a consensus decision without thinking critically about alternative ideas or viewpoints. According to Irving Janis, the social psychologist who coined the term, groups are most vulnerable to groupthink when its members are similar in background, when the group is insulated from outside opinions, and when there are no clear rules for decision making.
In your team there are probably 20-year old interns eager to learn and coworkers with different life experiences and varying perspectives stemming from different backgrounds, cultures, and even religious beliefs. You will probably hear all of their suggestions, but are you really listening? Will you write them all down, or give precedence to opinions expressed by those who share a similar background with you? This has historically been an issue for women, who have found that when they speak up in a meeting, it is often ignored until a male coworker voices the same idea.
Last year, Harvard Business Review interviewed 24 CEOs from around the globe who ran companies and corporate divisions that had earned reputations for embracing people from all kinds of backgrounds. Great Leaders Who Make the Mix Work featured Ernst & Young CEO Jim Turley, who delves into the uncomfortable realization that he was allowing these groupthink dynamics to take place at EY when a woman at the company pointed it out to him. He immediately corrected his behavior.
It’s not just men who can be guilty of allowing these conditions to take place. Even members of marginalized groups can silence the voices of those who are not like them. As a matter of fact, for 30-years there has been research conducted around the “think manager, think male” phenomenon. Women have been proven to be just as prone to assigning leadership traits to men and not other women like themselves.
Reducing Your Bias When Hiring
Hiring someone with whom we share similar backgrounds, beliefs, or values is usually done unconsciously, and it is important to stop hiring workers simply because they are similar to us.
Unconscious bias prevents both male and female leaders from hiring those who might be the most qualified and could therefore give the business the competitive benefits, growth, and productivity it needs.
It is important to note that bias may have grown during the economic downturn. Sarah Churchman, leader of diversity and inclusion at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), introduced “open mind” training to PwC for all employees. It began with face-to-face sessions about unconscious bias with leadership teams, but has since expanded to e-learning delivered to all staff, along with reminders to “do something different.”
Recently, when speaking to Personnel Today, Churchman said, “We know that there is more stress in the workplace since the downturn, and when people are stressed and have high cognitive overload, their rational thinking goes out of the window and they tend to ‘revert to type.’”
According to Business Management Daily, the hiring process is less biased if each name and address featured on a resume is covered so the information is only revealed after the decision has been made. This requires all the interview questions to be the same for each candidate and different interviewers should meet every candidate.
Reducing Unconscious Biases
To choose the most qualified candidates, it is important to reduce unconscious biases. This can only be done by recognizing the assumptions made solely because of one’s background, gender, beliefs, values, or appearance. As Howard J. Ross says in Fighting the Bias in Your Brain, “We’re all biased and becoming aware of our own biases will help us mitigate them in the workplace.”
Dan Robertson, Director of the UK’s Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion says affinity bias can actually hinder performance becaues managers are found to socially distance themselves from people who they don’t have obvious similarities with.
Robertson goes on to give four tips to deal with help employees address unconscious bias at work, which include encouraging staff and managers to recognize that we all have biases and they are normal and often do not have major effects on our behavior toward others. Secondly, Robertson suggests creating an environment that makes open and honest conversation about differences easy to have. He also says managers and staff should stop worrying about choosing the right thing to say. Such anxiety makes bias control more difficult. Lastly, he says, organizational leaders and managers should role model inclusive behaviors.
Once we recognize our own unconscious biases, it is important to overcome them and this can be done by meeting new cultures and learning about different values. The more familiar we are with different people or beliefs, the easier it will be to understand and accept them. This step will help a leader be fair and objective when choosing new team members, basing the choice solely on the talent their business is looking for.