Nudging our Brains Towards Inclusion

When it comes to inclusion, our brains need a nudge. With the best intentions, humans . . . even the most “woke” among us . . . can and do frequently default to automatic-pilot decision making, especially when the people we’re making decisions about are different from us (and that means everyone else on the planet).

Our brains have evolved to be good enough, most of the time, notes Sukhvinder S. Obhi, Ph.D., the director of a neuroscience center at McMaster University. However, we still need to stay vigilant about our brains’ natural tendency to stereotype and shut down.

That concept is at the core of the work we’ve been doing with huge, medium and small organizations since 2014.

Here is a refresher on our brain defaults.

  • Since childhood, our brains have been absorbing repetitive data (like stereotypes and advertising slogans and jingles) and this repetition creates “implicit associations” that kick into gear in our daily lives.
  • Some of the most powerful and heavily imprinted implicit associations in many people’s “automatic brain” are about race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation and age, among others.
  • If we aren’t mindful (paying careful attention to our thoughts and decision processes), we default to the imbedded implicit association of bias, which is frequently negative and may ascribe “inferior” to the “other.”
  • We can (and should) use our intentional brain – think of it as the clutch on the engine, or the rider on the “wild elephant” – to disrupt conditioned patterns of thought and biases in order to be more inclusive, fair and equitable.

Convert Judgements to “Nudge-ments”

I encourage you to “nudge” your mind, the minds of others you work with, and our decision making at work. These “process nudges” can serve to minimize bias and create greater belongingness while gaining access to a broader range of talent we might be missing out on when we allow our blind spots to run the show.

Credit here to Tinna Nielsen and Lisa Kepinski for their book for managers, Inclusion Nudges Guidebook. The DCC team used the book at our January 2019 retreat as an opportunity to “sharpen our saw” and to create more examples for what managers can do during their day to be more inclusive leaders.

Talent Acquisition Nudges

Prior to reviewing a stack of resumes (or even one resume), remind yourself to not allow the following to impact the manner of reading of the person’s experiences: name, address, university, Greek letter organization affiliation, years of graduation, etc.

Before conducting a candidate interview, determine if there’s anything going on in your private or work life that may prevent a fair, focused and unbiased interview. Consider rescheduling if you need to. Research shows that medical student interviewees are rated lower on rainy days than on sunny days.

Ask yourself if the candidate you are interviewing reminds you of someone you know and if that’s creating a positive or negative “projection” on the answers they share and interaction you are having. Adjust accordingly.

Team Meeting Nudges

Start a meeting with a personal learning about inclusion from a book you’re reading. Incorporate this idea of having an “inclusion moment” before every meeting. A few books to check out:

Quiet by Susan Cain

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Inclusion Nudges by Tinna Nielsen and Lisa Kepinski

Before a meeting, remind people to be more mindful of listening to understand, vs. listening to be understood (credit to Franklin Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.)

Talent Readiness/Succession Planning Nudges

Before performance reviews or succession planning, review 2-3 common biases that may enter into the process you’re preparing to undertake. This primes the brain to PREVENT the bias trap from “taking over.” Go to this link to review some of the most common bias errors in talent decision making:

Make sure you are keeping photos of people you’re speaking about on the screen so that visual representation is observable: color, gender, age etc.  Studies show that seeing the people you are making decisions about prompts you to assess whether bias is impacting your process.

We’ll be sharing more nudges in the future. Try your hand at least one of the above ideas and let us know the outcome.