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Unconscious bias the enemy of diversity and inclusion

Friday, Aug 5, 2016, by Sheryl Blythen

One of the biggest barriers to gender diversity in the workplace is unconscious bias, says Diversity Works Chief Executive Bev Cassidy-Mackenzie. Gender diversity has been in the spotlight this week due to Saatchi & Saatchi executive chairman Kevin Roberts’ resignation following comments he made on gender bias in the advertising industry. Cassidy-Mackenzie says New Zealand organisations have made significant progress in the area of gender diversity, however all their hard work can be undermined by unconscious bias. “Research shows that unconscious biases against women operate at all levels and impact women’s career choices and progression,” she says. “Unconscious bias is the enemy of an inclusive workplace culture.” Cassidy-Mackenzie says that neuroscientists have proved people are predisposed to prefer those similar to themselves. Known as affinity bias, this is most evident in recruitment and selection, where hiring managers often appoint someone similar to themselves in order to feel more comfortable. “Biases like these can limit gender diversity in an organisation,” says Cassidy-Mackenzie. Unconscious bias also plays a part in determining whether women move into leadership and governance roles in an organisation, she says. A recent international study with more than 2000 participants showed that people have a stronger implicit association between men and leadership. But organisations can mitigate the impact of unconscious bias with awareness strategies and training for teams, says Cassidy-Mackenzie. “We can’t eliminate our unconscious biases totally but research shows that awareness is a mitigation strategy in itself.” Unconscious bias training delivered by a skilled facilitator can also help people understand how these biases affect the decisions they make in the workplace. “It helps staff look at unconscious bias as it may be operating within the context of their own organisation and to develop strategies to minimise its impact.” Harvard expert Dr Lisa Coleman, the university’s Chief Diversity Officer and Special Assistant to the President of Harvard, will be sharing the latest research on unconscious bias at the Diversity Summit NZ 2016 later this month. The Summit will be held at Auckland’s Sky City Convention Centre on August 23. Get more information at www.diversityworksnz.org.nz  

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