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Long-term reinforcement is necessary to deliver the big performance gains available from addressing unconscious bias

IDC Best Practice: Oct 2011

Long-term reinforcement is necessary to deliver the big performance gains available from addressing unconscious bias

I have just been reading a review of best practices for addressing unconscious bias in organisations. Regular readers may remember that I wrote about this in the March 2011 Best Practice where I commented that this requires senior management to understand the existence of unconscious bias in their organisations due to their masculine cultures and its potential negative impact on the performance and advancement of women. This review noted that most of the organisations started interventions into unconscious bias (UB) with their top teams, usually by bringing in an outside consultant to present the concept and facilitate a dialogue. This was then cascaded to other layers of management by an in-house training programme. Finally, to bring it to a still broader audience, many organisations developed UB e-learning courses. The review also noted that some organisations have found that interactive theatre can be an effective training approach.

Most significantly, the review observed that any training needs to be reinforced as UB is built into the way organisations operate and that when individuals are experiencing business stress they are likely to revert to old biases when making decisions. However, it did not address the vital issue of how UB is reinforced. Addressing UB is a long-term strategic issue; because it involves transforming the prevailing masculine culture into one which is more inclusive for everyone and more truly meritocratic. IDC’s deep experience of delivering culture change has meant that we have had considerable success in reinforcing this change.  For example, in the case of one client, for which we designed and delivered a UB intervention in its offices worldwide, the reinforcement involved office heads being required to generate Diversity Action Plans (DAPs) following UB workshops, which all of their staff attended. We also trained internal diversity change agents to work with each of the offices to support them in the implementation and delivery of their DAPs.  Feedback showed the overall UB intervention effecting positive change by: breaking down barriers between UK and locally recruited staff; challenging gender perceptions in the workplace and wider society; empowering previously reticent groups of staff to contribute more to gender inclusivity, e.g. women being more willing to take on jobs culturally considered more appropriate for men in their Region; male participants publically committing themselves to champion equality for their female colleagues. Women in many offices said the programme had re-energised and empowered them to move the gender inclusion agenda forward. In another client example, senior managers at UB workshops, which used interactive theatre, identified the behaviours they needed to demonstrate in order to transform its highly masculine culture to one which was more inclusive of everyone. The extent to which they were successful in practising the behaviours was assessed by 3600 surveys.  It resulted in: the percentage of women directors and managers increasing; increasing the number of new women graduate hires to become higher than their sector benchmark; its employee engagement survey UK inclusion index increasing by 5-6 points.

Addressing UB is not only critical to enable the advancement of more women, and other underrepresented groups, into senior management it also delivers a productivity dividend through enhanced engagement.  A UK Government sponsored Report, Engaging for Success (Macleod & Clarke, 2009), showed that:

1.      Engaged employees in the UK take an average of 2.7 sick days per year; the disengaged take 6.2. The CBI reports that sickness absence costs the UK economy £13.4bn a year

2.      70% of engaged employees indicate they have a good understanding of how to meet customer needs; only 17% of non-engaged employees say the same.

3.      Engaged employees are 87% less likely to leave the organisation than the disengaged. The cost of high turnover among disengaged employees is significant; some estimates put the cost of replacing each employee at equal to annual salary

4.      67% of engaged employees advocate their company or organisation against only 3% of the disengaged. 78% per cent would recommend their company’s products of services, against 13% of the disengaged.

IDC has considerable successful experience of enabling clients to gain the performance and meritocracy benefits from effective UB interventions and would be pleased to discuss this with you.

Dr Ian Dodds, iandodds@iandoddsconsulting.com, 30 Sep 2011


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