Discouraging Bias, Encouraging Inclusion

By Rina Goldenberg Lynch

In my first blog of this month, I spoke about starting to build a foundation for a company-wide culture that reaps the benefits of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI).  I also posited that, once you get to this coveted stage of the journey, you won’t need to invest as much in EDI resources as previously, because EDI at this stage is becoming a part of everyday business.

There are, however, a couple of EDI interventions that need to be continued on a long-term basis.  Luckily, they are not cost-intensive and, with time, become part of the usual checks and balances included in the running of organisations.

Bias Monitors
We know that being human also means being biased.  Acknowledging this is the first step to making more meritocratic decisions, free of (or at least less burdened with) bias.  The obvious challenge with bias is of course that most of it is unconscious.   So, subconsciously, we assume an idea is not worth listening to or that someone is less capable, even though we have no evidence to support this. Without thinking, we ask the usual suspects to serve coffee at a meeting or take notes. We make jokes or share sweeping generalisations about entire cultures without realising the impact on others.

A Bias Monitor can help us keep bias at bay.  A bias monitor is a volunteer (or someone who is asked to be one) who takes the role – usually in meetings – of drawing attention to bias, as and when it arises.  When the bias monitor sees or hears an assumption or rash judgment or a statement that conveys a hidden bias, they draw attention to it by simply stating what they see.  In this way, everyone becomes more aware of biases, and the team can work together in  addressing them.  Having a dedicated bias monitor also takes the pressure off those who tend to experience bias – usually members of an underrepresented group at work – and makes it easier for everyone to take the comments more seriously, seeing them in a neutral, well-intentioned light.

Appreciation Monitors
Just as we want to minimise biased behaviour in the workplace, we also want to encourage inclusive behaviour.  Statements such as ‘Please challenge my viewpoint’, ‘What do others think?’ or ‘Isn’t this what you were trying to say before as well, Joanne?’ are all examples of behaviours that aim to include others’ views and perspectives.  These types of behaviours may go unnoticed, so it is helpful to have an Appreciation Monitor who looks out for them and points them out, so that others might copy them.  In a similar way to the Bias Monitor, the Appreciation Monitor keeps their eyes and ears open for inclusive behaviours and draws attention to them as and when they appear.

Continuing to remind ourselves of what bias looks like and what inclusion feels like reinforces a culture that’s mindful of EDI long after we have stopped thinking about it.  Monitors ensure that EDI doesn’t dissipate and that organisations that have invested time and resources into creating a strong EDI foundation maintain the value and rewards of their investments.  After all, we are all human, and sliding back to familiar territory can be easier than we think.