You Don’t Really Want Diversity, Do You?

Anthony Haynes writes: This week we’re delighted to publish this stimulating and forthright guest post by Mason Donovan and Mark Kaplan. We invited the post after coming across their new book (for details, please see below) and are grateful to them for obliging so handsomely.

Mason Donovan and Mark Kaplan write: Okay, consciously all of us, well most of us, understand a diverse group of individuals are healthy for the growth of any organization.  In the UK companies spent over £700 million on recruitment advertising during the height of the recession.  Add on the billions more globally and it is easy to see there is a considerable investment in acquiring talent.  A big consideration in the investment of these advertising dollars is casting a net for a diversity of candidates.

Yet quite a bit of this money is going to waste because of a little thing called unconscious bias.  Before you get defensive, realize that there are decades of scientific research that proves we are all biased.  It is human and pervasive.

A 2004 study by University of Chicago and MIT sent out 5,000 resumes to over 1,200 companies.  The resumes were identical with one exception; the name.  One had a “black-sounding” name and the other a “white-sounding” name.  The black sounding name resumes were 50% less likely to receive an interview than the white sounding names; yet they were exactly the same resume.

Later studies followed a similar path with the same results.  Companies investing heavily in acquiring the best people were losing half of that investment due to some reactions in our amygdala – the part of our brain that has a primary emotional response role in our behavior.

This is not to say the résumé reviewer has any bad intent.  Matter of fact, they most likely have the best of intent to get the best people in the door.  Who wouldn’t want their company to grow?  But yet, unconsciously, they are selecting more on their emotional responses than a conscious reflective level.  Our conscious minds say, “Yes, diversity is good and we will invest heavily to achieve it,” while our unconscious brain says, “Oh, I haven’t had enough good experiences with this group of individuals so I am not going to put them in the interview pile.”  In quick reactive decisions, the unconscious brain wins each and every time unless we have raised our awareness of the way we make decisions.

Companies investing in development to increase the awareness around bias will arm their team with a tool to mitigate its effect.  Although it is unconscious, the decisions can be brought to a conscious level with the proper development and practice.

masonIf you really want diversity, then it does require more than just casting a wider net.  It requires developing the team so their biases don’t cut holes in that net.  After all, you really do want diversity, don’t you?

Mason Donovan and Mark Kaplan are principals of The Dagoba Group, a global diversity and inclusion consultancy focused on delivering measurable returns. They are co-authors of The Inclusion Dividend:  Why Investing in Diversity & Inclusion Pays Off (Bibliomotion, 2013). 

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