Nudging the unconscious mind for inclusiveness
Die Autorinnen Tinna C. Nielsen und Lisa Kepinski
Tinna is working as a developer, trainer, change manager, strategy developer, project manager focused on developing inclusive cultures and organizational structures. Her passion is to develop new innovative approaches to Diversity & Inclusion and innovative collaboration at the intersection between anthropology, psychology and behavioral economy. Tinna is the founder of the non-profit organisation, Move The Elephant for Inclusiveness that spreads inspiration to work with Inclusion Nudges in organisations and institutions in as many domains as possible (www.movetheelephant.org).
Lisa brings over 20 years Inclusion & Diversity (I&D) experience as a global D&I executive with AXA, Microsoft, & Hewlett-Packard, and most recently as the Founder of the Inclusion Institute focused on D&I research, consultancy, training, & coaching. Her special expertise in organizational development integrated with D&I make her a unique resource for change at all levels, from the individual to the systems level. For many years, Lisa has been on the advisory boards of Catalyst Europe and W.I.N., is a founding member of a European-based Global D&I Network, & a faculty member for the Conference Board D&I Academy teaching new D&I leaders. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Social Psychology and a Master’s degree in Linguistics, with a specialization on gender communications. She is based in Germany and US.
Die US-Amerikanerin Lisa Kepinski arbeitet seit über 20 Jahren im Bereich Inclusion & Diversity (I&D), war diesbezüglich unter anderem für die AXA, Microsoft sowie Hewlett-Packard tätig und ist darüber hinaus die Gründerin des „Inclusion Institute“, das sich auf die Erforschung und die praktische Anwendung von I&D spezialisiert hat. Den Beitrag für dieses Dossier hat Lisa Kepinski zusammen mit Tinna C. Nielsen entworfen, die als Global Head of Diversity, Inclusion & Collaboration beim internationalen Molkereikonzern ARLA Foods engagiert ist.
Den erfolgreichen Umgang mit Unconscious Bias sehen die Autorinnen als eine der zentralen Herausforderungen für Unternehmen und Führungskräfte im 21. Jahrhundert. Um mit einer „inclusive culture“ – einer Unternehmenskultur, die Vielfalt vorbehaltlos als Chance begreift – nachhaltig erfolgreich zu sein, bedarf es aus ihrer Sicht nicht nur deren rationale Begründung. Entscheidend sei vielmehr eine grundlegende Anpassung des Verhaltens aller Mitarbeiterinnen und Mitarbeiter, insbesondere der Führungskräfte. Sie sehen akuten Handlungsbedarf, das „Unbewusste bewusst zu machen, um wertschätzende und objektive Bewertungen und Entscheidungen fällen zu können“.
Wie kann das geschehen? Die Autorinnen stellen mit den „Inclucion Nudges“ ein Paket pädagogischer Interventionen vor, die helfen, Unconscious Bias zu vermindern, und gleichzeitig Alternativen zu stereotypisierten Denkmodellen aufzeigen. Der Vorteil dieser Methode sei, dass „Nudges“ relativ leicht anzuwenden sowie schnell zu verinnerlichen sind und somit die Umsetzung von I&D-Maßnahmen in Unternehmen auf breiter Basis voranbringen können. Ein kleiner Anstoß mit großer Wirkung.
Die Autorinnen unterscheiden drei Arten von Nudges. Bei „Feel the need“ geht es darum, die Notwendigkeit von inklusivem Verhalten persönlich zu erleben, statt diese anhand abstrakter Zahlen und Fakten zu verstehen. Ein typisches Beispiel ist, Führungskräften die Erfahrung des Ausgeschlossenseins zu vermitteln. Mit dem „System/Process Nudge“ lassen sich Personalprozesse sowie -strukturen analysieren und anpassen. Zur Veranschaulichung nennen die Autorinnen ein Beispiel, bei dem es um die einseitige Auswahl von Nachwuchskräften für das Senior Management ging. Um die in einem Unternehmen identifizierte „gläserne Decke“ – eine unsichtbare Barriere, die ab einer bestimmten Hierarchiestufe den beruflichen Aufstieg von Frauen verhindert – durchlässig zu machen, wurden die personellen Auswahlprozesse durchleuchtet.
Es zeigte sich, dass im Rahmen der Talentidentifizierung Frauen die Frage „Sind Sie bereit, eine internationale Stelle anzunehmen?“ häufiger verneinten als Männer – wie sich zeigte aufgrund möglicher Familienplanungen. Die Männer gaben auf Nachfrage zwar ebenfalls an, dass ihre Familienplanung sie abhalten würde, eine internationale Stellung anzunehmen. Diese Bedingung dokumentierten sie jedoch nicht mit einem „nein“, sondern vertrauten darauf, dies im Falle eines Falles schon zu regeln. Vor diesem Hintergrund wurde die Frage umformuliert: „Können Sie sich vorstellen eine internationale Stellung an irgendeinem Punkt in der Zukunft anzunehmen?“ Dieses einfache „Nudge“ bewirkte, dass die Zahl der hochqualifizierten Kandidatinnen sprunghaft anstieg, während es bei den Antworten der Männer keine signifikanten Änderungen gab. Durch diese simple Intervention konnte das Unternehmen auf ein wesentlich größeres Potenzial zurückgreifen, berichten die Autorinnen.
Beim „Framing Nudge“ geht es darum, einen Sachverhalt in einem erweiterten Zusammenhang darzustellen. Dadurch, dass etwas in einem neuen Licht erscheint, so die Idee, lassen sich bislang unbekannte, womöglich nützliche Einsichten gewinnen. Beispielsweise war es bei einem Unternehmen üblich, Personaldaten hierarchisch und nach Mehrheiten sortiert zu nennen. Weil der Vorstand zu 92 Prozent von Männern besetzt war, vermittelte sich der Eindruck, es handele sich um ein männlich geprägtes Unternehmen. Tatsächlich repräsentierten Frauen nicht nur den Großteil der Mitarbeitenden, sondern auch die Kundschaft bestand aus über 80 Prozent aus Kundinnen. Die Lösung war, verzerrende Mehrheitszahlen nicht alleine stehen zu lassen, sondern sie um dem Hinweis auf anderen Relationen zu ergänzen.
An einem weiteren Beispiel aus der Praxis demonstrieren die Autorinnen, wie effizient „Nudges“ wirken können: Im Rahmen der Diversity-Aktivitäten bei ARLA nehmen alle Führungskräfte an einem zweitägigen Workshop teil, um zu reflektieren, inwiefern Unconscious Bias Führung, Zusammenarbeit und Leistung beeinflussen. Unter anderem werden Führungskräften Lebensläufe zur Beurteilung vorgelegt, die identische Qualifikationen mit unterschiedlichen persönlichen Merkmalen im Bezug auf Geschlecht, Hautfarbe, Nationalität und anderen kombinieren. Dass ihre Beurteilungen anhand objektiver Kriterien wie dem Lebenslauf nicht wie erwartet gleich ausfallen, verblüfft und sensibilisiert die Teilnehmenden. In der Folge gewinnen nicht nur die Diskussionen um I&D an Gewicht, auch in der Praxis zeigt sich, dass zum Beispiel bei der Personalrekrutierung mehr Wert auf Vielfalt und Heterogenität gelegt wird.
Nudging the unconscious mind for inclusiveness
The Inclusion & Diversity (I&D) business case is clear and most leaders support for it. We rationally understand it. As a next step, many organizations are focusing on raising unconscious bias (UB) awareness in an effort to foster an inclusive culture. Yet, why don’t the right intentions and efforts lead to greater results? The authors, Tinna C. Nielsen & Lisa Kepinski, assert that a rational understanding of the business case and UB awareness is not enough to truly realize the needed cultural and behavioral change.
Brain researchers estimate that the unconscious system of the brain controls about 80-90% of our responses and actions . We make many unconscious implicit associations which limit our perception. For example, often the word “leader” is implicitly linked with White Western men, and we struggle to picture leaders beyond this view. These types of connections are unconsciously embedded in all of us and affect our own and organizational behaviors much more than we think. In terms of creating a diverse and inclusive culture, the unconscious brain is one of the biggest challenges for organizations and leaders in the 21st century. It is time that we put an end to the argument that “time will change the status quo” or a belief that “with the next generation, diversity and inclusion will no longer be an issue”. Research clearly shows that the unconscious system of the brain has not evolved much, and certainly not kept pace with dynamics in our current complex, global society. Successful organizations and leaders in the 21st century will be those that manage to help the brain make more inclusive and objective evaluations and choices, and one that can realize on our good intentions.
Inclusion nudges in the practice of Inclusion & Diversity
Kepinski & Nielsen argue that behavioral changes towards more inclusiveness require that we “outsmart” our brain. Both have used the techniques of behavioral economy, e.g. Nudging  and Switch , to succeed with this change.
A behavioral nudge is a relatively soft and non-intrusive mental push that changes the way the brain makes choices and behaves. The authors have developed a framework for a specific kind of nudges that they design to promote more inclusiveness in their organizations. They call these “Inclusion Nudges”, which are practical interventions that motivate, create buy-in, shift the mode of thinking, and target key choice points in organizational-, thought- and change- processes to mitigate unconscious bias and guide the thought process towards more objectivity. They are designed to gently push the brain in the direction of inclusiveness without incentives or punishment.
In 2013, the authors joined forces to further develop and share their framework of these techniques with the purpose of inspiring as many people as possible and creating a global sharing initiative. Designing these nudges is something everyone can learn and all internal agents of change ought to master. It has the capacity to profoundly change the way practitioners address inclusion and diversity.
Inclusion Nudges: Overview & Examples in the practice if I&D Work
The authors work with three types of Inclusion Nudges that target challenges in various stages of the employee lifecycle, organizational culture, and team culture.
1. “Feel the Need” Nudge
The intent of this type of Inclusion Nudge is to make people (the brain) feel the need for change rather than having only a rational understanding of the need for inclusive behavior. This is about motivating by tapping into feelings. One way to do this is using so-called “eye-opening” experiences, e.g. by showing and illustrating the status quo and the implications of our actions and decisions instead of talking about it. This is about telling the motivating story hidden in the data. This is about showing what we lose instead of talking about what we gain. This is also about mobilizing a group of people to influence an individual in the direction of more inclusiveness (sometimes called the “follow the herd” dynamic).
I&D leaders tend to be well-versed with their data (internal employee demographics & external benchmarking). Yet despite how often they share data with leaders, it tends to not be the sustainable catalyst for a lasting organizational shift. All too often, the data creates distance from the topic and it gets lumped with other day-to-day monetary/data decision making processes rather than treated as human/organizational culture topic. Also, at times, I&D leaders have seen the data request be used as a form of resistance through leaders continuously asking for more data but not moving towards personal change leadership and action ownership. Experience and research bears out that both the emotional side and the rational side of the brain needs to be linked for deeper commitment to action.
So in addition to data, a focus on raising visibility on the impact of exclusion can be very useful. There are various formats that can be designed to share employees’ experiences when they did not feel included and generate a discussion on the resulting loss implications on engagement and productivity. These “Feel the Need” Nudging techniques have been used by both authors with great effect on senior leadership support and drive for change and on significant behavioral changes in middle management. The emotional experience triggers a deeper commitment and more sustainable results than only showing the data/numbers. “Feel the Need” Nudging techniques can help to round out the view on inclusion in the organization and trigger greater commitment to change.
2. “System/Process” Nudge
The intent of this type of Inclusion Nudge is to help people (the brain) make better decisions by altering elements in organizational processes. This is about helping the unconscious & automatic system of the brain make less subjective evaluations, reduce the complexity at key choice points, leverage diversity of thought, and make more objective decisions. It is about changing ways of working, tweaking the process or practice and laying out alternative choices, e.g. by changing the default and asking people to opt-in instead of opt-out.
With this type of nudge, I&D leaders team up with the system or process owners to examine where there are critical choice points which may be introducing biased decision making and impacting the results with a lack of inclusion. The authors feel strongly that this type of deep dive review on the root cause of core issues and identification of key decision points is one of the principle areas where the practice of I&D needs to focus on much more. Often, the authors see across the I&D field a tendency to seek out so-called “best” practices, apply them to one’s own organization, and yet find little change resulting. For example, just look at how many organizational mentoring programs have been aimed at women, sometimes over decades, yet with very little increase of women in top executive levels (certainly not in proportionate to the number of women who have been through “women’s mentoring” programs). It would be far more effective to examine and identify what are the key reasons for less women at the top, then find out what are the choice points where fewer women in the pipeline are seen, and design a nudge on that choice point which would generate better decision making and more inclusive results.
In Ms Kepinski’s experiences, one of these related to the requirement of international assignments for promotion to senior-level roles. This is a good expectation for development of global leaders. Yet the review showed significantly less women opting in for expat opportunities. Digging deeper on this revealed that the point where women dropped off was on the internal talent profiles where there was a question, “Are you open to an international assignment?”. A majority of women HIPO talents responded with “no”, whereas a majority of male hipo talents responded with “yes”. Further investigations revealed that most women answered that question with a view of their life at that moment, rather than in the future (“I can’t possibly do this now, I have these commitments.”, “I would struggle with family needs.”, “I am not ready”, etc); whereas, most men answered that question with a view of the future (“When the chance comes up, then I’ll see if I can make it work.”, “There’s nothing concrete now, so why not say yes? I don’t want to limit my career.”, etc). This revealed a very different way of perceiving the question, and resulted in far less women talents in the pool for international assignments and subsequently in the pipeline for senior executive roles. So, the question was changed to “Would you be open to consider an international assignment at some point in the future?”. This simple “System/Process” Nudge resulted in a much higher response rate from women HIPO talents than previously ever seen before (and no decrease in the male response rate).
Another example of a powerful process nudge is with the often-cited experience originating from recruitment in some symphony orchestras . Faced with very few women in orchestras, and wondering why only white men were competent enough to be in the orchestras, a practice was introduced of auditioning behind a screen in order for the evaluation committee to only focus on listening to the music. The result was that 40-50% of the most talented musicians are now women, and the ethnic composition of the most competent also changed significantly. As a next step some of the orchestras now lay out carpets on the floor behind the screen in order for the evaluation committee members not to be able to hear the shoes on the floor. The challenge is that the brain unconsciously detects the sex of the candidate from the sound of the shoes and is thus gender biased in the evaluation of the musician. This concept of blind auditions to select talent has transcended to light entertainment with “The Voice”, a reality TV talent competition show, originally created in the Netherlands by John de Mol and now franchised in over 20 countries around the world. Since identity information disturbs the evaluation of qualifications, companies could benefit from anonymizing the candidates in the initial screening of applications by hiding information such as picture, gender, age, and more. This can be done by designing the electronic recruiting system to hide this information and by requiring search companies to anonymize the list of candidates for top management positions. This “Process Nudge” is a simple trick that does not cost much, but makes a big difference in terms of living up to our intentions with I&D.
3. “Framing/Anchoring” Nudge
The intent of this type of Inclusion Nudge is to make people (the brain) perceive an issue differently by altering the frame or the anchor of a thought process. This is about creating a new discourse and changing all the connotations of the words associated with inclusion, diversity, gender, equality etc. This is about asking new kinds of questions to kick-start a new kind of thought process that will help promote inclusiveness as ‘a need to have’ and not ‘a nice to have’.
An example of this type of “Framing/Anchoring” Nudge is seen in use by the fairly new approach of labeling our field as “Inclusion and Diversity” (I&D) rather than what has been traditionally used as “Diversity and Inclusion” (D&I). This trend tends to be more centered in Europe rather than North America and arises out of the European perspective that the beginning point (or “Anchor”) in the work is on Inclusion first. Another “Framing/Anchoring” Nudge is on ensuring that in data reports to show all groups, and list the majority first. For example, on gender data reports, show both male and female data. This allows for a full context discussion, and it can be jarring to the thought process to read that (for example) 92% of senior leaders are men, as opposed to 8% senior leaders are women. Our brains are used to seeing women as the minority (even though they are actually the majority of the population, consumer decision makers, university graduates, and more). It feels harder to explain a majority data result, and seeing the numbers together offers the chance to really question “Why?”, and look to where bias decisions may occur.
These three types of Inclusion Nudges (Feel the Need, Systems/Process, and Framing/Anchoring) have been successfully used by the authors, with many examples of each type.
Case study: Impactful behavioural change at Arla Foods
In Ms Nielsen’s role as the Global Head of Diversity, Inclusion, and Collaboration at Arla Foods, one of the largest dairy companies in the world, she is working strategically with unconscious bias and Inclusion Nudges (and so are the managers) in order to achieve an inclusive and innovative collaborative culture that contributes to the global business strategy.
The foundation of this work is a systemic and cultural transformation. One of the most important enablers Arla is the implementation of a two-day I&D development session for leadership teams. The leaders gain insight into how the unconscious mind influences their leadership, how behavioral patterns and group dynamics affect their collaboration and performance, and how they can change this to strengthen their management and business.
In this Arla Foods Leadership Development session, the first kind of Inclusion Nudges (“Feel the Need’) is used as an eye-opener on how we tend to evaluate performance, network, who we seek out for input, how we give feedback and more. In an exercise developed by Cook Ross Inc. , each participant evaluates one candidate and rates the candidate’s qualifications and potential for a position/promotion. Before the exercise, the leaders often express that in real life, they choose the most competent person because the evaluation is based on objective qualification criteria. The participants believe that they are each getting a different candidate to evaluate. What they don’t know is that in the exercise, all the resumes and applications of the candidate they were each given are exactly the same, with only the photograph, name, skin color, and gender changed to be different. In debriefing the exercise, they learn that despite all having the same resumes and applications, they have each often evaluated the candidates very differently. With this eye opener, the conversation changes substantially, and leaders are then more motivated to apply new practices in the existing recruitment processes to make better (more objective, rational, and reflective) decisions on who is the most competent candidate. The result of this work in Arla Foods is that leaders and managers stop hiring alone, use diverse recruiting teams, divide the interview into two parts, and they even come up with other similar ‘system/process’ nudges.
Another type of Inclusion Nudge used in Arla Foods is to change the frame and thus our perception of diversity (which drives our behavior). Arla has, for example, instead of setting targets for gender equality or percentages of minorities in the workforce, set a team composition objective that focuses on reducing the homogeneity in four demographic factors in order to achieve better performance: a maximum of 70 % of team members of the same nationality/ethnicity, gender, generation and educational/professional background. With this frame, the implicit associations is not: gender=women, but is instead: less homogenous teams=performance and innovation.
The initial results of this approach in Arla Foods is promising. Among the 380 people who have so far been 'nudged', and now 'nudge' themselves and each other, they have changed behavior in several ways. They compose working groups, project groups and teams in accordance with the team composition objective. The leaders experience more constructive group dynamics and new ways of collaborating and solving tasks. A dairy reported a 25 % increase in the success rate of recruitment and the annual engagement survey show a 19% increase in the employees experiencing that their differences are being used more. Leaders report that they are much more conscious about challenging 'us' and 'them' groups and more actively seek out diverse perspectives and input.
A paradigm shift
This starts with each of us, first by recognizing that we are all biased in our thoughts and decisions, and embrace that as a natural part of being human. We should learn more about some of our own patterns, so that we can start paying attention to these, and most importantly, challenge these in our daily actions. Indeed many organizations have launched extensive unconscious bias awareness training programs. However, awareness alone will not generate the change needed for greater inclusion. The insights and learnings must be applied. This can occur on both the individual and organizational level and nudging towards inclusion is a powerful enabler.
Recommended next steps:
1. You can start by testing your own implicit associations at https://implicit.harvard.edu/
2.Conduct awareness sessions on Unconscious Bias within your organizations.
3. Use an efficient brain trick to challenge your unconscious reaction by asking yourself questions such as: "If ‘he’ was a ‘she’ would I react the same way?" Or "If she was not 25 years old but had 25 years of experience more than me, would I have listened differently?".
Examine the Organization:
Conduct an organizational scan to identify the top inclusion issues and scan for where bias may occur at key choice points.
Design Inclusion Nudges at these key choice points to assist in achieving the intention for greater equity, fairness, and inclusion.
Join the community focused on inclusion nudges:
Share your Inclusion Nudges with the authors for incorporation into the next edition of Nudging the Unconscious Mind: Practical Tips for Inclusive Behavior by Nielsen & Kepinski, and receive more Inclusion Nudge information for further inspiration (details on the guide and contact details for the authors are below).
Ross, H. J. (2011). Reinventing Diversity.Transforming Organizational Community, Strengthen People, Purpose, and Performance. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc.
Thaler, RH & Sunstein, C. R. (2008). Nudge. Improving Decisions about health, wealth and happiness. London: Penguin Books Ltd.
Heath, D. & C (2010). Switch. How to Change things when change is hard. Crown Business.
Nielsen, T. C. & Kepinski , L. ( 2014) . Nudging the Unconscious Mind: Practical Tips for Inclusive Behaviour. (in press).
Marks, M. (2001) Blind auditions two key hiring musicians. Princeton Weekly Bulletin. Retrieved 8-12-2012.
Cook Ross Inc. http://www.cookross.com
Introduction to Nudging the unconscious mind: Practical tips for inclusive behaviour by Tinna C. Nielsen and Lisa Kepinski
A guide on Inclusion Nudges will include selected content from D&I, CSR, HR, & business leaders, which will be compiled and authored by two experienced D&I professionals (Tinna C. Nielsen & Lisa Kepinski). The guide's aim is to help reduce the gap that is often felt by organizational leaders after launching unconscious bias awareness sessions and then asking "What next?". This guide will offer simple, practical techniques, which we are calling “Inclusion Nudges" and are designed for behavioral change to create a more inclusive environment. Inclusion Nudges are purposeful interventions at key choice points where bias may occur and are the next step for effective return on your investments in unconscious bias training.
Join us in this project by offering your examples of Inclusion Nudges to reduce bias in acceptance, processes, and perception. By becoming a contributor, you will receive a complimentary copy of the guide for your own use (to be only shared with contributors). You may contribute your Inclusion Nudge examples either by completing a template (provided by the authors) or through an interview with one of the authors. Your submissions will be reviewed by the authors and final decision on published content will rest with the authors. Inclusion Nudges offered will be credited to the source contributing them (unless you prefer to be anonymous). The first version of the guide will be published by the end of February 2014.
If you’d like a wider intervention on the topic specifically for your organization, then please contact the authors to discuss about scheduling Unconscious Bias & Inclusion Nudges Learning Labs.